So many times during this season with the Nashville Predators, I have been asked to make comparisons of this year’s team to others.
First off, the most valid Predators team to use as a measuring stick would be the 2006-07 edition, which finished with 110 points. That team finished third overall in the NHL, scored a club-record 272 goals, was eighth in goals-against and third on the penalty kill.
With Peter Laviolette coaching the Preds, our study also has to include the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes. That was his first full season with Carolina, coming out of the lockout. Those Hurricanes also had the third-best record in the regular season, 112 points. They were third in the League in offense, but 17th on defense.
This season’s Predators have flirted with the best record in the League, and have a good balance between offense and defense, with Top Ten rankings in both areas.
Nashville had six 20-goal scorers in 2006-07: David Legwand and Jason Arnott tallied 27, Paul Kariya had 24, Steve Sullivan and Scott Hartnell each scored 22, and J-P Dumont had 21. We should note here that Nashville had a Hall of Famer nearing the end of his career in that lineup also, in Peter (no relation to Filip) Forsberg.
However, Steve Sullivan missed the last 25 games of that season with a back injury and did not return to the lineup until midway through the 2008-09 season. Martin Erat and Hartnell both had late season injuries as well. However, Alexander Radulov had 18 goals in 64 games after his promotion from the Milwaukee Admirals and then added three more in the playoffs.
Full lineup and stats: Nashville Predators 2006-07
The 2005-06 Hurricanes had six players score 20 goals or more, as 20-year-old Eric Staal led the way with 45 (and 100 points). Justin Williams and Rod Brind’Amour each added 31, Erik Cole had 30. Matt Cullen (you recognize that name) scored 25 and Cory Stillman pitched in 21. Late that season, the Hurricanes added veterans Doug Weight and Mark Recchi. That would be Weight’s first (and only) Stanley Cup and the second of three for Recchi - just another part of an incredible career for him. (He also won in 1991 with Pittsburgh and in 2011 with Boston).
Full lineup and stats: Carolina Hurricanes 2005-06
The current edition of the Predators features four 20-goal men as of this writing. James Neal has 22, Filip Forsberg and Craig Smith have tallied 21, and Colin Wilson has 20. With over 10 games remaining, both Mike Fisher and Shea Weber have a shot at joining that group.
Full lineup and stats: Nashville Predators 2014-15
In 2006-07, Buffalo won the President’s Trophy with 113 points. Detroit also had 113, but had three fewer victories. With 51 wins, the Predators had the tiebreaker over Anaheim, also at 110 points. However, the three division winners in each conference had the top three playoff spots in order of points. Thus, second-place in the Central meant the Preds were the fourth seed in the West, setting up their ill-fated first-round series against fifth-seeded San Jose.
With two divisions in each conference now, the playoff set-up differs, in that they are based more on divisional standings. The two division winners in each conference are ranked first and second by points, and they face the eighth and seventh (respectively) finishers in the conference. Then the second and third teams in each division meet in the first round. That way, it is conceivable that one division in a conference could end up with five teams in the playoffs with just three from the other division making it.
There is a major difference in goal among the three teams in this study. The 2006-07 Predators had Tomas Vokoun leading the way until blood clots shortened his season after a 27-12-4 start with a 2.40 goals-against average. Chris Mason stepped in and went 24-11-4 with a 2.38 GAA. The Stanley-Cup champion ‘Canes had Martin Gerber in net for 38 regular season wins, but 21-year-old Cam Ward carried the load in the playoffs, playing 23 of the 25 games and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the postseason.
This season, Pekka Rinne has been dominant in goal, near the top of the NHL in wins, goals-against average, and save percentage.
Backing up the offensive firepower of the 2006 ‘Canes were Frantisek Kaberle (then 32) and Oleg Tverdovsky (29); Bret Hedican (35) and Mike Commodore (26), plus Niclas Wallin (30) and 1999 Preds draftee Andrew Hutchinson (the youngster of the group at 25). Veterans Glen Wesley (36) and Aaron Ward (32) were slowed by injuries in the middle of the season.
See: Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators lineups (Jan. 13, 2006)
On defense, the 2007 Predators had a very young group: 2003 draftees Shea Weber and Ryan Suter (21); and 2001 pick Dan Hamhuis (23). Greg Zanon was 26, Kimmo Timonen 32, and Marek Zidlicky 30.
See: Nashville Predators Western Conference Quaterfinals Game 1 Lineup (Aprill 11, 2007)
This season’s Nashville defense has one returnee from 2007: Captain Shea Weber (now 29). Cody Franson is 27, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis are all 24. Seth Jones is 20. The depth players on defense are Anton Volchenkov (33) and Victor Bartley (27).
In the 2006 playoffs, the Hurricanes beat Montreal in six games, New Jersey in five, and needed seven games to dispose of Buffalo in the Eastern Conference Final. They took a 3-1 series lead in the Cup Final over Edmonton, but then lost in overtime in Raleigh, then were shutout in Game 6 in Edmonton. They then came back to take the Cup on home ice, 3-1 in Game 7.
The Predators’ 2007 postseason was almost over before anyone realized it. San Jose blew a two-goal lead in the first game, but then won in the second OT on a goal by Patrick Rismiller.
The Predators received two goals each from J-P Dumont and Peter Forsberg in Game 2’s 5-2 win and headed to San Jose tied at a victory apiece. Two wins in San Jose set up the Sharks to clinch in Nashville, and that’s what they did in Game 5.
The Sharks lost in six games against Detroit in the second round, then Detroit lost in the Western Conference Final to Anaheim. The Ducks went on to defeat Ottawa for the first Stanley Cup in California history.
What happens this time around for the Predators?
There’s only so much analytics and history can tell us, and I don’t think we can rely on them to accurately predict playoff outcomes. So just get set to take in the most intensely enjoyable time of the hockey season!