As we approach the beginning of the inaugural BEARD Hockey season, we have a look
specifically at a Central Division favourite, the Nashville Predators.
The Predators are an interesting group led by a boisterous GM, Scott Davidson. They boast an incredibly gifted offense and a middle of the pack defense, all the while placing little value to the backstop.
Many pundits have written about PP, and PK, even toughness. Others are making their predictions as the season approaches but its the games that will decide it all.
Experience is on the Predators side starting right from the top of the organization. How it will shake out is anyone's guess but the Predators are loaded in confidence.
The pre-season didn't start as planned for this group falling in the first game 5-2 to Florida with basically a full lineup. Davidson was quoted as putting the blame onto the league commissioner as he was still working out simulation bugs.
Night 2 then saw a better effort with a win over the lowly Flyers. They then followed that up with a look at the likely opening day roster in a 7-3 drubbing over the Avalanche. The Predators then took nights 4 and 5 to have a prime look at their future sitting down Bergeron and Laine and putting Colin White, Anders Bjork and Ondrej Kase together as the top unit and the kids shined against division rivals in a 5-3 win over Dallas and 4-3 overtime win over Chicago.
The final pre-season game for the Pros saw a jumbled lineup with another dominating win over the Wild with back up goalie Chris Driedger getting first star.
Going 5-1 in preseason means something or maybe means nothing, but what we really want to know is the answer to the 5 burning questions in Nashville this year….
1. Who is number 1 in Nashville?
With a one-two punch down the middle of Bergeron and Couturier, it begs the question of who is the number one center?
Early season lines show Couturier as the line 1 center, but what is the plan? When it came time to save a guy some early season wear and tear it was Bergeron who sat down. Is age the reason, or is he just taking one for the team?
Both guys are the obvious leaders of the team. Both have very similar games and both are defensively responsible and elite face-off men. Couturier was drafted first, however it's Bergeron who was named team captain. This is a story I don't see an answer too until the numbers pan out at seasons end.
I believe you will see both of these elite centers flipping back and forth from first or second line based on matchups and streaky play. What is known is that both will be workhorses on the PP and PK as well and lead the forwards in minutes played.
Luckily for Nashville if either gets fatigued, David Krejci is the 3rd line center who is also easily capable as a first line center.
2. White, Kase and Bjork: Who comes up first and what's best for their development?
Colin White, Anders Bjork, and Ondrej Kase have been touted as the "next Preds" as early as next year ever since they were drafted in the Dispersal Draft. Why these guys and how realistic are these players to be difference makers? All 3 are under longer term contracts at great prices and are already semi-developed and quite capable now as every day pro players.
Given the age of Joe Thornton, and the unknown longevity of Milan Lucic, you would have to think that there will be spots available to these younger players. That leaves the Preds' early draft picks time to lead the AHL squad and gain their development. It's nice to have these guys that can be slotted in at a moments notice and not skip a beat in the pro lineup.
Expect to see White and Bjork start the year in the farm as they are waiver eligible but expect to see them as any injury occurs. Kase on the other hand was slotted for the farm but after an
incredibly strong preseason will begin the season in the Pros and will be in the opening day
lineup and NOT on the 4th line….
3. How does carrying extra roster players affect things in Nashville?
Due to waivers and position battles, Nashville looks to enter the season carrying an extra
forward and an extra defenseman. This was not the original plan, however it's where they
Both Kase and Clifton were expected to start the year on the farm but both will be on the Pro roster on opening day. Clifton staying means that he will be fighting for ice time with guys like Coburn, Pateryn, or even Grzelcyk. Kase has put himself in a position to be in the opening day roster but who is out is anyone's guess.
Lucic and Paquette are the likely candidates to come out opening day, but even a leader like Joe Thornton could require the odd day of rest.
There are plenty of positives to carrying the extra position players but there are negatives too. Having these extra bodies around means that extra finances are used on the cap and were the likely cause of Carter Hutton being moved out. A decision couldn't be made on moving a Lucic or a Paquette at this time. Coburn wasn't and option either as he was just acquired in the past few weeks and would have lost those assets then for nothing.
Hutton was the only option and re-acquiring Hogberg from waivers made this decision easy.
The other negative is that Nashville made it known they wanted to upgrade that 6th
defenseman hole after the draft. But that cap space they once thought they had is no more.
Expect this situation to clear itself up in the early part of the season where 1 or possibly 2
guys could in fact be moved out, even though they aren't currently being actively shopped.
4. 82-0...how realistic is it?
Well, it's certainly not out of the question by any means for this squad. You do however have to keep in mind that the sim can be quirky and there is the small possibility of injury derailing a game or two.
The only other thing that could possibly cost Nashville a win is if Aaron Sanderson's favourite goalie Martin Jones was ever to lay an egg. Then, 82-0 might not happen.
5. How does the division stack up?
Basing this off of the preseason, we will work backwards.
Minnesota had a wonderful 0-6 record in the preseason. It's as if they played Nashville every
game, however it was just the once. They do have an incredible captain in Seth Jones as
much as his talents may be being wasted in Minny, and bright spots in Larkin and DeBrusk. But aside from that, it's placeholders for developing talent.
St. Louis achieved better results with a 1-5 record. Now explain to me this: you have a
generational center, the league's two best, if not top 3 defenseman, and the league's best young goalie...and still can't win. It's as if the GM said "yep! ok I'm good now" and took the rest of the draft off.
Dallas won't be happy with a 2-4 preseason record. Now there was a lot of rotating of personnel, however most of his elite players played 4 or more games. I do expect more from
this lineup. Chabot and McAvoy lead the back end. Zibanajed, Voracek, Bailey and the
Nylander boys provide lots of scoring. Rask is a great goalie. Expect this team to compete.
Colorado probably overachieved this preseason going 3-3. This is also a team looking to build with youth. Suzuki, Tkachuk and Provorov are the future of this team. Duncan Keith looks like he's destined to be a trade deadline deal and Foligno and Backlund are just begging for another opportunity.
Chicago with a mediocre 3-3 has a fairly balanced, veteran-laden team. With that said, in a move similar to that past Blackhawk legend Mike Keenan might do, GM Dan Bacon has put basically his entire team on the block to try and land one superstar. Crazy like a fox they say, however with all the depth gone, who's gonna play with said star? I sense turmoil in the windy city this season.
Winnipeg went 4-2 this preseason basically doing that all on their own without any real guidance from the general manager. Having the leagues best goalie will allow for some wins. They have a very balanced solid defense but aside from just a couple of scorers on the wing it's pretty slim. Not sure if they were aware but there is a position in hockey called "center". Clearly they weren't aware because they don't have any capable ones. This team had a much better preseason than you'll see moving forward.
Arizona as a 4-2 squad is well built...right up until the net. Aaron Sanderson is worried about Nashville's "good enough to get by" goaltending, but what about this shit storm! They should manage to be carried fairly well, however, by Point and Kopitar's 200-ft games and a great balance of leadership, offense, and defense from the d-corp. If Kessel can avoid those desert hot dogs then this team will be a playoff team regardless of goaltending. Land a goalie and they become a team to watch.
Where do they all end up at season's end?
4. St. Louis
With the regular season around the corner, we will learn the actual answers to this and the other 5 burning questions! Enjoy the season everyone!