The offseason is used by NHL teams–for all intents and purposes–to improve and make changes from last year’s version of the club, and that’s certainly been the case for the Nashville Predators.
Beginning with the hiring of head coach Peter Laviolette, the Predators have been on a mission to alter the path they’ve taken the last two seasons. Nashville has failed to qualify for the playoffs the previous pair of campaigns, and it’s now up to their new bench boss and the collection of players they’ve recently added to reverse those fortunes.
Four reasons the Predators will be better in the 2014-2015 season:
- Reliable scorer in James Neal: During the NHL Draft weekend in Philadelphia, the Predators continued their offseason shakeup by trading for goal-scorer James Neal. Nashville general manager David Poile had expressed his desire multiple times to acquire a top-three forward following the conclusion of the 2013-2014 season, and he made good on his word with the swap for Neal. The numbers for the 26-year-old winger are quite impressive. A former 40-goal scorer who has topped the 50-point mark three times, the forward gives the Predators a legitimate go-to-guy up front. Having an offensive force they can look to in crucial moments is something the Predators haven’t had in a decade–quite a change from last season.
- A Healthy Pekka Rinne: Blaming a poor regular season on injuries is usually a shaky claim to stand on. But when the Predators lost goaltender Pekka Rinne for 51 games last season, the club was put seriously behind the eight ball. Without their lynchpin in net, Nashville’s goals against average (GAA) rose to 2.84 in 2013-2014. That’s higher than the 2.77 GAA put up in 2012-2013 and considerably more than the 2.50 GAA registered in 2011-2012, the last season they made the playoffs. A healthy Rinne will solidify the Predators defense next campaign and give the club a chance to steal some games. Throw in the fact that the Finnish netminder is coming off an MVP performance at the 2014 World Championships in May, and it’s clear that Nashville will be getting a boost between the pipes for the 2014-2015 season.
- Offensive system of Peter Laviolette: The week after he was hired, Laviolette was straightforward in his claim that he’ll make the Predators a more offensive club. “My system has been successful for many years. Primarily, instead of having one guy forward, I send two. The main thing I do is send guys in on the attack,” Laviolette said on a conference call. “We are going to play fast and aggressive [...] The more you play offense, the less you have to play defense.” Expectations need to be kept in check when considering this is a coach in his first year with a new team, however. By teaching a fresh approach to the game, it could take a while for Laviolette’s players to grasp and thrive in his system. But the bench boss does hold a unique statistic in his favor. All three of the other NHL teams coached by Laviolette have seen a boost in the standings the first year he’s managed them, and the Predators are hoping he’ll go four for four.
- A full season of Calle Jarnkrok: If the anticipated results brought by Laviolette have to be contained, then expectations for forward Calle Jarnkrok should be reeled in some as well. The nine points registered in 12 NHL games by the Swedish center in 2013-2014 is too high of a scoring pace to expect Jarnkrok to keep up all of next campaign. Even falling a little short of that production, however, Jarnkrok will still aid the team starting in the fall. If the 22-year-old earns the third-line center spot in training camp–like Poile has mentioned he wants him to–then the Predators top nine will take on more of an offensive look than it has had the past two seasons. Arguably Nashville’s most-talented young forward, having Jarnkrok on the roster for a full 82 games should help to balance the club’s scoring threat across four lines.