So summer 2014 has come and gone and David Poile has done his level best to bolster his Predators and put them back on a path to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. I’ve written fairly extensively on the changes made on the ice and behind the bench.
But for a broader perspective, let’s shift the focus to the Western Conference and the Central Division to evaluate the club’s prospects for a top-eight finish.
Of all the NHL divisions to occupy, the pesky Preds had to pick the newly formed Central. The only division in the NHL to send five – count ‘em – five teams to the playoffs last season. And what’s more, nearly every Central Division team improved during the offseason.
Chicago adds Brad Richards; St. Louis signs Paul Stastny; Minnesota grabs Thomas Vanek; last season’s remarkable surprise, Colorado, adds key experience in Danny Briere and Jarome Iginla; and perhaps the greatest concern to Smashvillians, Dallas ropes in Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky. Adding another formidable layer of offense to what was already a strong and improving line up. See Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
If you gulped as these transactions were made, you’ve got a pretty good feel for the way things stack up in the West.
Here’s the task for the Preds as I see it. The West is comprised of three tiers of teams: the elite tier, the struggling/rebuilding group and the middle tier. Take the second category first. The Predators, given their current make up, should finish above Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg. However, that’s by no means a given. There may be a Colorado-like surprise to come out of that group… but not likely.
At the same time, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Preds break into the elite group either. The Kings, Ducks, Blues, Blackhawks and Sharks are very likely to make up some combination of the top five. And it’s just as likely that one member of the Western elite will go on to hoist the Cup by the time it’s all over.
So that shifts the focus squarely to the middle tier. The challenge for your 2014-15 Predators is to knock the Coyotes, the Wild or the Avalanche out of the Nos. 6-8 seeds. Looking over those three, it would seem to me that the Avs are the most apt to re-appear in the postseason. That puts Arizona and Minnesota squarely in the Predators crosshairs. Season matchups versus the Wild – and there are five – should be just that… Wild. “Suuuuterrrrrr!!!!”
I’ve made this point before, but realignment makes for more interesting, more meaningful matchups earlier in the regular season. That couldn’t be more true for the 2014-15 Predators and the road ahead. Strap in and enjoy the ride… should be fun!!