The Predators suffered through a 41 point 2013 season after averaging 101 points each of the three previous seasons. Nashville looks to rebound and return to the playoffs this season. Nashville made a bit of noise in the offseason when they signed former Blackhawk Viktor Stalberg to help boost their offense. They also brought in Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom, Matt Hendricks, Carter Hutton and Bryan Rodney. They are hoping to get contributions from prospects Filip Foresberg and Seth Jones as well.
Dirk Hoag, who does a great job over at On The Forecheck, stops in to give us a better look at the 2013-14 Preds.
I didn't see any substantial dropoff in Weber's play, I think you have a combination of factors which worked against him last season. Missing Suter is obviously huge, and even though Roman Josi shows tremendous potential as a top-pairing defenseman, there was an adjustment there getting used to working with Weber. The team in general stunk pretty badly last season as well, particularly over the final month when injuries struck some of the key players and kids were called up from Milwaukee in droves.
How happy were Preds fans to see Seth Jones fall to you in the draft? How long until he finds himself paired with Weber?
That was an interesting story, because on the one hand, nobody drafts & develops defensemen like Nashville, so this could be a great fit for years to come. On the other, many fans were hoping that this might finally be the year that the Predators drafted a 1st-line quality center. While there has been some teasing that a Jones/Weber pair could be on the way, I'd have to think that it won't happen on a regular basis this year.
The Predators were tied with the Panthers as the lowest scoring team in the league last year. Will they improve this year, or will it be another year relying on defense and goaltending to win games?
Signing Viktor Stalberg was a step in the right direction (of course, now he's hurt and will miss a few weeks to start), but this team still has pretty much a pop-gun offense. Have you checked the salary charts? The fact that Paul Gaustad (at $4 million!) is Nashville's 2nd-highest-paid forward this season speaks volumes about their goal-scoring prospects.
Is Filip Forsberg ready to be a full time NHL player or does he still need some seasoning?
The reviews continue to be very positive on Forsberg, and what has been remarkable is all the talk about consistency, which usually isn't the buzzword around a teenager. I would think playing heavy minutes in the AHL for a few weeks or months would help him get used to the North American game, but with Stalberg on the shelf at the moment, the Preds may need whatever talent they can find in the lineup.
Pekka Rinne is coming off his worst season as a pro and offseason hip surgery. Is he ready to carry the load and return to his elite form?
So far things look good with Rinne, as he's pitched shutout hockey during four periods of pre-season action. The story to watch is to what extent he plays on back-to-back nights, or a five-games-in-eight-nights stretch at the end of October. If there are complications with the hip that inhibit his ability, this team could be in deep, deep trouble.
Which one of the free agent acquisitions are you most excited about?
Stalberg was an absolutely perfect signing - a guy with a certain amount of demonstrated ability, perhaps with some untapped upside potential, inked to a reasonable contract ($3 million for 4 seasons) that helps meet a glaring team need. Naturally, he had to go get himself hurt against the Lightning in a stupid exhibition game. Don't these guys come with a warranty?
What needs to go right in order for the Predators to compete for the Central Division crown and return to the playoffs?
Twin asteroids obliterating the cities of Chicago and St. Louis would provide the most realistic boost to Nashville's chances of a division title. As for the playoffs, they'll need Pekka Rinne back in top form for the entire season, talent to overcome inexperience on defense, and get enough offensive contributions from a cast of characters to piece together a winning season. For my money, there are just too many questions to be answered here, and it will likely take another year before the Preds return to the playoffs.
Thanks again to Dirk for answering my questions. The Blackhawks and Predators will meet five times this year. The Preds will come to Chicago on March 14th and 23rd. The Hawks will travel to Nashville on November 16th, December 17th and April 12th, but us Chicago fans are not welcome. Yeah, good luck with that!