Welcome back to Puck Drop: NHL Preview 2013-14, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season. Check back often as new teams are added to our Puck Drop page. Today we take a look at the 2013-14 Nashville Predators.
After an impressive 2011-12 season where they finished second in the Central Division and fourth in the Western Conference with 104 points, the Nashville Predators plummeted to the bottom of the league last year during their post-lockout attempt at making their fourth straight playoff appearance.
Needless to say, they failed to do so.
Head coach Barry Trotz and his team finished 14th in the Western Conference and 27th in the entire league with a total of 41 points. Their 16-23-9 performance over the course of the 48-game season proved to be far more than simply a disappointment to the organization. It was an embarrassment.
The only team that managed to win fewer games than the Preds was the Florida Panthers with 15, and with all due respect to Florida’s organization, that, for Nashville, is a pitiful statistic. While there were many different potential reasons for the Predators not succeeding last season, I’m not going to make any excuses for them. However, it’s still worth taking a look at regardless.
Even though Nashville has never been classified as a highly offensive team, their scoring production was atrocious. They finished tied for the fewest goals in the league with an average of only 2.27 per game. In past seasons, their noticeable lack of offense has never been that major of a problem because of their superb defensive play that was always able to compensate for it, and as most NHL fans know, their back end revolves solely around their man between the pipes, Pekka Rinne. Unfortunately, the 30-year old Finnish native struggled immensely last season in net putting up a career-worst .905 save percentage. It’s also worth noting that Rinne had hip surgery in early May of this year, so in my opinion, this upcoming season for the Preds is going to rely heavily on his health.
Hopefully, for everyone in “Music City,” Pekka finds a way to remain intact for the entire duration of their 82-game schedule. If he can’t and the Predators are without him at any point, I don’t believe that backup goaltender Carter Hutton will be any position to lead Nashville beyond the regular season.
This summer was a very active offseason for David Poile and the Predators. After trading away veteran forward Martin Erat to the Washington Capitals in exchange for 19-year old top prospect Filip Forsberg at the 2013 trade deadline and losing Sergei Kostitsyn who left for the KHL, the Preds organization had a significant amount of holes left to fill before this upcoming season was to take place. Ultimately, they succeeded in achieving what they set out to do by making a number of key additions to their lineup.
First off was the signing of free agent and recent Stanley Cup champion Viktor Stalberg to a four-year, $12 million contract. Stalberg will add a greatly needed speed factor to the team that they will appreciate and welcome with open arms.
Next came the addition of veteran center Matt Cullen who they managed to sign to two-year, $7 million deal. This acquisition allowed Nashville’s depth at the center position to grow properly, which is something that they without a doubt needed going into this October.
Lastly, the Preds finished off their offseason signings by handing out two contracts to veteran grinders Matt Hendricks and Eric Nystrom. Both of these players were very subtle additions but will prove to be essential assets to the team with their unique roleplaying styles.
Storyline to Watch
There isn’t much to keep track of when it comes to the Predators organization that I haven’t already mentioned. However, there is one new aspect to their team that I find hilariously funny involving their tickets sales against a specific division opponent for this season. According to Nashville’s President and Chief Operating Officer Sean Henry, there is a set policy in place to keep rival Chicago Blackhawks fans that desire to buy single-game tickets only out of the Bridgestone Arena this year.
Essentially, they are requiring all fans that want to purchase tickets to a Predators game versus the Blackhawks to purchase an additional ticket to a non-Blackhawks game as well. In a nutshell, this means that traveling Chicagoans will be required to pay double the amount of money to the Preds’ organization in order to see their favorite hometown stars hit the ice at Bridgestone.
This is what Henry had to say about the situation:
“We’re breaking down every barrier we can to ‘Keep the Red Out.’ That helps keep Chicago fans at bay, for sure. But what if Blackhawks fans really want to jump through hoops to see their team play in Music City? They’re going to have to earn it. And they’re going to help us continue to grow our roster by building our (revenue at the) gate. It’s that simple. In the end, we’re building something pretty special. If we have to do it off the backs of their fans a little bit, I’m not apologizing for it.”
I personally cannot even believe that this is even a reality, it’s just that ridiculous, but it is, and even though it may not pertain to the actual team itself, it’s definitely worth knowing about.
Players to Watch
Obviously, I think it’s pretty safe to say that we all know the one player to keep an eye out for during Nashville’s 2013-14 season, and that player is none other than their 2013 first round draft pick Seth Jones.
The 6-foot-four, 205-pound defenseman was projected to be the first overall selection in this year’s entry draft but inevitably ended up falling directly into the Preds’ lap as the fourth overall pick.
This could not have come at a better point in time for the Predators organization. After losing Ryan Suter to the Minnesota Wild, they have been without a top defenseman, other than their captain Shea Weber of course, for quite some time. Seth Jones is the definitive answer to where their defensive future lies.
The 18-year old from Arlington, Texas put up 14 goals and 42 assists for a total of 56 points in 61 regular season appearances for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL last season. He also produced 5 goals and 10 assists for a combined total of 15 points in 21 games during their playoff run to the Memorial Cup.
Jones is a proven talent and has all the potential in the world to help the city of Nashville rise back up to the top of the hockey universe, but only time will truly tell whether the rest of the team will be predators or prey come opening night.
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