By Amanda DiPaolo
If there is one thing the Nashville Predators can count on for the 2011-2012 season it is solid defense. The Predators have captain Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, one of, if not the best, top pairing in the NHL, anchoring the blueline. Kevin Klein and rookie Jon Blum played solidly together down the stretch and into the post-season. This leaves Cody Franson and Francis Bouillon under contract with the big club next season to round out the Predators top-six defense corps.
Ryan Ellis, the Predators 2010 first round draft pick and Memorial Cup winning defenseman, will play his first year of professional hockey, with all things being equal, in Milwaukee. Roman Josi is also a highly touted prospect who just finished his first full season with the Admirals. In 13 playoff contests, Josi scored one goal and recorded 6 assists for 7 points. Additionally, the Predators recently signed Mattias Ekholm, the Swedish Elite League’s rookie of the year. Ekholm is also likely to play his first North American season next year.
Even if Bouillon cannot resume play because of a concussion that ended his season in January, with the strong defensive prospects waiting for their chance to play in the NHL, left out of the mix, then, is Shane O’Brien.
The unrestricted free agent had 2 goals, 7 assists and a team-leading 83 penalty minutes appearing in 80 games for Nashville. O’Brien also appeared in all 12 playoff games for the Predators.
“I would love to come back here,” O’Brien said about the possibility of returning to Nashville. “There are great guys. Great city, the fans are awesome. Nashville is a great place to live. I think we can win here.”
After Nashville was eliminated from the post season, O’Brien tweeted “Smashville Thanks for a great year you guys were the best!” speaking past tense as though he had played his last game in a Predators uniform. While it might be a numbers game with the Port Hope, Ontario native being the odd-man out, O’Brien explains the situation differently.
“That’s the business side of the game. You can’t play this game forever. You have to take care of yourself and your family,”he said. O’Brien also commented on the length of his next deal, suggesting that he was looking for more than a one-year option.
“I’ve moved around quite a bit here now. It would be nice to get a three or four-year deal somewhere where you could settle in,” O’Brien said, adding that it helps you as a hockey player when you get to know your teammates.
O’Brien, who started his career in Anaheim and has also played for Tampa Bay and the Canucks, said no contract discussions took place during the season. “That stuff has a way of taking care of itself. We will see what Mr. Poile has to say and see what happens,” O’Brien said about the off season plans to find an NHL home come fall.
In a year that saw the Predators win their first ever playoff series, O’Brien calls the year a good one. “We accomplished a lot of things as a team, as an organization. We should be proud of a lot of stuff that went on this year. It is definitely something I will remember forever.”
While O’Brien talks as though he has already moved on, if given the opportunity the opposite would be the case.
“I would definitely come back here in a heartbeat — we have great guys and a great team,” he said.
Free agency period begins July 1st.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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