Predators see youthful roster as reason for hope, motivation
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Nothing takes away the joy of a great regular season quicker than losing early in the playoffs. The Nashville Predators will try and use the disappointment of being ousted in the first-round to drive them during this offseason.
''There is a lot of positives, and that's great,'' Weber said Monday. ''Now we can build off of that. ... We need to be motivated to be even better. The young guys that were great can improve that much more, and the older guys that had good years as well we can still keep getting better and lead by example.''
The Predators rebounded after missing the playoffs the past two years by going 47-25-10 with 104 points in coach Peter Laviolette's first season. They ranked either first or second in the Western Conference between Jan. 4 and March 13.
The Predators finished the season losing 19 of their final 27 games, a skid that cost them the franchise's first division title. That also landed the Predators an opening series with Central Division rival Chicago. The Predators blew a 3-0 lead in the opener and a 3-1 lead in Game 6 in a series where they outshot, outhit and outscored the Blackhawks only to lose in six games. It was their sixth first-round loss in eight playoff appearances.
Yet Nashville had eight players make their postseason debut this year. Forsberg, the rookie who led the team in scoring with 63 points, came through with the franchise's first hat trick in the playoffs helping the Predators win their first elimination game.
''It's definitely good going forward,'' defenseman Roman Josi said. ''We know we have a young team, and we can play against the best teams.''
Here are some things to know about the Predators as they head into the offseason:
LAVIOLETTE EFFECT: The coaching change definitely resulted in the improved offense Nashville general manager David Poile wanted. A franchise that had struggled to score at times wound up with four 20-goal scorers for the first time since 2007-08, ranked third in the NHL averaging 31.9 shots per game and third in goals for/against in five-on-five play. The aggressive system freed up defensemen so much that they scored at least a point in all but eight games.
REST PEKKA RINNE? The goalie now is a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, but Rinne didn't look like himself down the stretch. Carter Hutton played in 18 games largely because Rinne missed eight recovering from a knee injury in January. Rinne is going to the World Championships to play for Finland.
YOUNG DEFENSE: Josi embraced his third season paired with Weber by scoring a career-high 55 points, leading all of Nashville's defensemen. He also ranked second in the NHL with 209 blocked shots. But this corps remains very young with Seth Jones the youngest of a trio who just finished his second NHL season along with the older Mattias Ekholm and Victor Bartley. Ryan Ellis just turned 24 and scored a career-high nine goals.
WEBER'S HEALTH: The Predators announced Monday that Weber dislocated his right kneecap when he was hurt midway through Game 2 and had surgery last week to repair his knee. His recovery will take up to six weeks, giving him plenty of time to train this summer.
OFFSEASON ROSTER WATCH: The Predators have seven pending free agents, though Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher said Monday they want to return. Ribeiro proved worth the risk of the one-year deal signed last summer. He led all Nashville forwards averaging 18:44 of ice time while playing all 82 games. He finished second on the team with 62 points, and his 47 assists were a franchise record for a center. Fisher scored 39 points in his 59 games, and his defensive skills make him a key player.
MORE ROSTER MOVES? Nashville has five restricted free agents looming, and center Colin Wilson and center Craig Smith could be tied up with extensions. Wilson had a career-high 42 points and set a franchise record scoring five goals in the Chicago series. Smith played in all 82 games and tied for second with 23 goals with the Predators going 14-3-3 when he scored a goal.