Crafty off-season moves and budding young core help motivated Predators
13.6 seconds. That’s how close the Predators were to taking command of their first round series with eventual champion Chicago. But Barry Trotz’s crew couldn’t hold off the Blackhawks, even on the power play, and watched the series slip out of their grasps in that nightmarish Game 5. Nashville looks to use that moment as motivation this season.
“It hasn’t been sitting well this summer,” defenseman Shea Weber stated. “It’s tough not to think about it. Everyone knows what could have been. It’s over with now, but that motivation’s there that we know we can play well enough to beat the team that won the Stanley Cup. It’s a good way to set the bar for us and we know what we have to do to be ready for this year.”
“We gave them (Chicago) a good run,” Joel Ward added. “They won the whole thing, and it made it a few tough sleeps for sure… that could’ve been us. You try to take the positives out of it, but stay hungry this time around.”
One of the biggest changes the Predators made this off-season was the transition to Weber as captain once Jason Arnott was traded in June. However, the 6’4” all-star defenseman isn’t going to change his game with the ‘C’ on his chest.
“I’m not going to go away from my game, not going to change who I am. Obviously they felt I was the captain for a reason, so I’m not going to go out and be something I’m not,” Weber said. “I’m going to go out and play hard, play physical, and try to contribute at the other end whenever I can.”
The Predators front office decided to part ways with Arnott after an inconsistent 2009/10 campaign and concussion issues.
They replaced him when GM David Poile opened up his checkbook to ink Matthew Lombardi to a three-year deal. Lombardi is coming off a career year (53 points in 78 games), and should fit in nicely with his world-class speed and solid two-way play.
Poile also traded for Sergei Kostitsyn, who is expected to add scoring depth on the second or third line.
Defensively, the Predators made a couple tweaks as well, moving Dan Hamhuis’ negotiating rights to the Flyers in exchange for Ryan Parent back in June. If you remember, Parent was a former first-round draft pick of the Predators. He is back in Nashville to help a penalty kill unit that ranked 28th a year ago.
Later on in the off-season, Poile signed six-year veteran Aaron Johnson to add to the depth of the blueline.
A lot of outsiders are making a big deal about the Predators losing both Arnott and Hamhuis. The fact of the matter is, Arnott is no longer reliable to stay healthy and had worn out his welcome in Nashville (plus has just one year left on his contract); while Hamhuis’ asking price was simply too high for them to afford.
Poile did an admirable job filling those holes and putting this Preds club in a position to compete for their sixth playoff berth in seven years.
- Ryan Porth
Additions: Matthew Lombardi, Sergei Kostitsyn, Ryan Parent, Aaron Johnson, Matt Halischuk, Jonas Andersson
Subtractions: Jason Arnott, Dan Hamhuis, Dan Ellis, Denis Grebeshkov, Dustin Boyd, Mike Santorelli
Fresh Faces From the Farm:
- Three defensemen could vie for one of the final defensive spots on the final roster: Jonathan Blum, Alexander Sulzer, and Ryan Ellis.
- Goaltenders Mark Dekanich, Anders Lindback, or Chet Pickard could fill-in as the backup to Pekka Rinne.
- Jonas Andersson (a 2nd-rounder in 1999) could be a fourth-liner/depth forward out of camp.
- Forwards Nick Spaling and Cal O’Reilly will also be considered for depth purposes.
X-Factor: Patric Hornqvist
On a team that manufactures goals, ‘Horny’ must keep up and not have a decline from his 30-goal season in 2009/10.
Breakout: Colin Wilson
Wilson should have more opportunities to thrive offensively without Arnott being around.
On the Hot Seat: J.P. Dumont
Dumont had a 20-point drop-off in points from 2008/09 to 2009/10. The Preds need him to step up and come close to his old form.
Bold Prediction: Pekka Rinne will win 40 games in his first season as a starter.
The Final Word: Every year at this time the critics come out and state their reasons why Nashville isn’t a playoff team. Why do they keep doubting Trotz and company? This has been one of the more consistent teams in the NHL since the lockout. If Rinne can take the next step as the full-time starter, look for the Preds to be right there in the postseason again.
RLD Staff Predictions:
Anthony- 3rd Central Division; 6th Western Conference
Patrick- 3rd Central Division; 8th Western Conference
Ryan- 3rd Central Division; 6th Western Conference
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Photo credit: Getty Images
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