I thought it would be interesting to ask the other FanSided bloggers of other Central Division teams about their seasons a year ago and get their opinions on the Predators for the upcoming 2014-2015 season.
The first Q&A of the off-season is with Gone Puck Wild, the Minnesota Wild blog here at FanSided.
What was your favorite moment from the Wild last season?
It’s hard to say it’s anything but Nino Niederreiter’s Game 7 OT goal against the Avalanche. You don’t get to see a Game 7 overtime every day and when the chips fall in your favor, that’s the moment of the year.
What is Your worst memory from playing the Predators last season.
The Wild had been building momentum leading up to the playoffs despite having a rough schedule. Their final nine games went like this: Blues, Coyotes, Kings, Blackhawks, Penguins, Jets, Bruins, Blues, Predators. With how the season had gone it looked like that would be a killer stretch with cupcake games against the Jets and Preds in there.
They beat the Coyotes, Kings, Penguins, Bruins, and Blues, and took Chicago to OT. They beat the Jets too, but it was an ugly 1-0 win. Then they finished the season with a brutal beatdown from Nashville. It was tough to watch. The wheels kind of fell off the wagon. It shouldn’t have mattered since the Wild had already clinched a playoff spot, but it made you doubt everything that came before it.
Especially worrisome was that Ilya Bryzgalov looked like he would be the new starter for the Wild going into the playoffs. He had looked good, but we all know how that can go with him. The first goal he let in looked like this:
So, yeah. That made you worry.
Who is your favorite player to watch on the Predators?
Pekka Rinne. I kind of hate him because he always plays pretty great against the Wild, but I have the feeling if I watched more Predator games that I’d think he plays pretty great against everyone. He’s fun to watch.
Also Matt Cullen. I — and probably many other Wild fans — really loved him when he was on the Wild. Great leader. Great in the faceoff circle. Minnesota-born guy. Lots to like.
Who is your least favorite player on the Predators?
Eric Nystrom. His bitterness over his time in Minnesota lends him some sort of special power against Minnesota. He looks angry against the Wild. Plays angry. And manages to upset the apple cart often enough that he’s a frustrating player. Also, I probably harbor bitterness about his game-winning penalty shot last season where Josh Harding had to come into the game and that was the first shot he faced.
If you could have one player on the Predators roster, who would it be?
Shea Weber, right? Reuniting him and Ryan Suter would be great, especially in another city. I can’t imagine how loud the boos would be in Nashville. They’re loud enough for Suter alone after two years away. If I was actually playing GM, the Wild need a starting goaltender, so it should probably be Rinne.
If that one player was rumored to be in trade talks, what would your offer be for said player?
For Rinne it’s tough. He’s worth a lot, but he’s 31, so you can’t hand over the future of the team for the few years of Rinne’s prime that are left. (Am I going to get booed for saying he’s only in his prime for another few seasons? Really though, how many tenders are in their prime in their mid-30s?) To get Rinne, how about Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, and a third rounder?
I’m not good at this. I’d think a player like Erik Haula would be appealing to Nashville. Preds look like they could use a hand down the middle, Haula’s young, showing lots of promise, add in a center or winger who is a veteran role player like Brodziak, maybe a prospect like Raphael Bussieres. I’m sure I’ll get torn up for that. I don’t want to part with Haula. You can’t have him.
What do you think about the Predators acquisition of James Neal; predictions?
I think this was a great move. I’ve heard lots of grumblings about problems with Neal in the locker room, but on paper it looks like a great fit. The Preds should get a number of good seasons out of him and it starts to address the team’s problems on offense, especially with Neal’s strong possession numbers. His linemates in Pittsburgh certainly helped the scoring and the possession, but the impact of his linemates may be overblown. He deserves some credit. I think that’s the Preds biggest issue now — as an outsider — is that they need a center for Neal. Nashville is solid in net (though I have my doubts about Hutton if he has to take center stage again) and the defense is solid and getting better.
The offense was pretty rough last season. The additions of Neal, Mike Ribiero, Derek Roy, and Olli Jokinen should help, but I don’t think they’re strong enough down the middle to compete with what’s happening in the Central Division. They could certainly surprise, but you’re looking at a division with Jonathan Toews and Brad Richards, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza, Paul Stastny and David Backes, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon.
I don’t know that Ribiero, Roy, Jokinen, Gaustad down the middle is at the same level as the rest of the division (with the exception of Winnipeg). If you start looking out into the conference you’ve got pairings like Joe Thornton and Logan Couture (and Joe Pavelski on third line in some configurations), Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter… there are a lot of teams in the West who are deep down the middle.
(Forgive me if there are more accepted projected depth charts for Nashville that feature Matt Cullen or others at center, that’s the one I’d last seen. Regardless, I don’t think there are three centers on the team that can compete with what the rest of the division, even the conference, boasts.)
How long will it take for new Head Coach Peter Laviolette to get the Predators back into the playoffs?
I really think he’s done a pretty solid job so far and I like him as a coach. I wouldn’t bet that they’re in this season, but I could see it happening the season after that if prospects like Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg keep improving. Nashville looks like a team that could be on the rise.