COACH: Peter Laviolette
2014-15 RECORD: 47-25-10, 104 points (second in Central, lost to Blackhawks, 4-2, in first round)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.76 goals per game (14th); 2.46 goals-against per game (9th); 16.2 power play pct. (25th); 80.8 penalty kill pct. (18th); PDO: 100.0 (17th); Corsi For pct.: 52.7 (5th); Fenwick For pct.: 53.1 (3rd); face-off pct.: 48.9 (21st)
NOTABLE ARRIVALS: C Cody Hodgson, D Barrett Jackman, F Steve Moses
NOTABLE DEPARTURES: D Cody Franson, D Anton Volchenkov, F Mike Santorelli, F Viktor Stalberg
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Filip Forsberg – Mike Ribeiro – James Neal
Colin Wilson – Mike Fisher – Craig Smith
Viktor Arvidsson – Cody Hodgson – CalleJarnkrok
Eric Nystrom – Paul Gaustad – Gabriel Bourque
OUTLOOK: A year after everything changed—new coach, new top forward line, new playing style—the Predators enter the 2015-16 season with almost the same exact team as last season. This conservative strategy has some merit: The Preds played the Blackhawks tough in the first round and Chicago has been weakened by the cap crunch that has cost it Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Brandon Saad, Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom. The Preds are also a generally young squad, so steps forward by third-year defenseman Seth Jones, sophomore winger Filip Forsberg—an early Calder Trophy favorite last season—and prospect wingers Viktor Arvidsson and/or Kevin Fiala, could prove to be more important than any single acquisition.
Standing pat has its risks, though. If the 35-year-old Mikes, Fisher and Ribeiro, falter at all, Nashville will be very weak down the middle. Free agent reclamation project Cody Hodgson, the projected third line center, has battled an injury in camp and is no sure bet to regain his 20-goal form of two seasons ago though the hope is that he’ll be more comfortable in the coach Peter Laviolette’s uptempo system than he was in Buffalo.
Defense remains Nashville’s backbone with three talented, offensively potent pairs led by minute-munchers/Norris Trophy contenders Shea Weber and Roman Josi. With the departure of Cody Franson, grizzled vet Barret Jackman was brought in to lend some edge and help goose the power play. There is, though, genuine concern about how franchise players Weber and goaltender Pekka Rinne have been aged by their prodigious workloads of the past few seasons. Returning from a subluxed kneecap he suffered in the playoffs, Weber may not be able to stave off Jones for the honor of being known as the best right-handed defenseman in Nashville for long. Rinne, who returned to Vezina Trophy-worthy form (he finished second in the voting), struggled after a midseason injury and will turn 33 in November. The ability of backup Carter Hutton or perhaps even one of the rookies in the pipeline, Marek Mazenec or Juuse Saros, to reliably spell Rinne down the stretch will be critical.
It probably won’t be this season, but eventually the Preds will have to choose between their old core or their new one.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Calle Jarnkrok
Advanced stats loved his defensive effort, coaches lauded his hockey IQ, and yet Calle Jarnkrok managed to squeeze out only 18 points as the Preds’ third-line center last season. That total prompted GM David Poile to sign Cody Hodgson, who will displace Jarnkrok from his natural position as a pivot and force him to the right wing. Still high on Jarnkrok's skill and sense, though, Laviolette has played the 24-year-old Swede in the top six on a line with Colin Wilson and Mike Fisher. If Jarnkrok can’t break out with more minutes, better linemates, and less defensive responsibility, he never will.
PREDICTION: 100 points; third in Central