For the most part, the Nashville Predators can look back at a summer’s worth of player transactions and ask the following question: Are the 2015-16 Predators better than last year’s edition? In this analyst’s opinion…yes.
Here’s a position-by-position look at why.
In all likelihood, the Predators start the coming season with the exact same personnel that carried the goaltending load last year: Pekka Rinne and Carter Hutton. Assuming Rinne is healthy the entire season, next year’s team is already a near certainty to finish higher in the Western Conference standings and to play deeper into the postseason.
Recall that when Rinne went down midway through the second half, the Predators were one of two or three teams that were competing for the best record in the NHL. But, once the Finnish netminder returned, he was unable to regain the form that had him on track to finish with career-best numbers. A healthy Rinne translates into at least an additional 10 points, even on a very conservative estimate.
It’s also worth noting that Hutton turned in a solid three weeks of work in Rinne’s absence. He was instrumental in the club maintaining a very respectable record despite missing their No. 1. My point? If you agree that Hutton improved as a NHL goaltender last season – and I for one believe he did – then the Predators are considerably stronger at this position if Rinne’s healthy and Hutton’s is the No. 2.
This is an interesting and exciting part of the roster. The Predators blue line is regarded as one of the best and brightest in the business. And the good news? The D corps got an upgrade this summer. Subtract Anton Volchenkov and add Barret Jackman and Nashville improves its roster; Jackman is every bit as physical as his departed Russian counterpart. In addition, the former St. Louis Blues D-man is more mobile and is the sort of veteran who will impact this young defensive unit by way of his leadership.
There was far more offseason activity at the forward position than any other area of the roster, although, oddly enough, this position is nearly a dead ringer for last year’s crew. Preds General Manager David Poile was able to lock up both “Mikes,” Ribeiro and Fisher, to contracts before they became unrestricted free agents, while Craig Smith and Colin Wilson agreed to long-term contracts before reaching settlements via salary arbitration.
Having said all that, are the Predators stronger at forward this year? The answer is yes…but how much better? Two things to keep in mind in my estimation. First, Nashville has young players at key positions in their core (think Filip Forsberg, Smith, Wilson, Seth Jones). Specifically, a younger group of forwards who have yet to hit their prime are likely to improve organically in the coming season.
Second, the Preds signed Cody Hodgson following his buyout from the Buffalo Sabres. Hodgson inking a one-year $1.05 million contract draws comparisons to the Ribeiro signing prior to last season, with one important distinction. Hodgson is significantly younger than Ribeiro and might be more motivated to perform well in the coming season in hopes of landing another contract. And it goes without saying, if Hodgson works out, the Predators are that much more dynamic in the offensive end.
It’s interesting; as you reflect on June and July, there seemed to be a lot to come in terms of the volume of transactions the organization made. However, at the end of the day, the roster is largely unchanged, save for the Jackman and Hodgson signings. The point is, the Predators should be more competitive if Rinne is healthy, if a group of mostly younger players can add anywhere from 10-20 percent to their game and if they hit a flyer on Hodgson.
Looks good on paper, though one can never know until sometime after this team takes to the ice in October. Sixty-three days until puck drop!