The Nashville Predators played the San Jose Sharks tougher than anyone except for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Nashville Predators certainly need to take notice of how both the Penguins and the San Jose Sharks got to the finals. With GM David Poile’s comments that the Predators are only a player or two away from where they want to be, maybe those two players can help reshape the Preds.
When the Stanley Cup Finals started, many thought that the bigger size and physicality along with the speed of San Jose would be enough to defeat the Penguins. The Pens are built on speed and it showed against the Sharks. They out-shot and were noticeably faster in the finals and in the end helped them win.
The Penguins did the same thing in the earlier rounds against the slower New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals. Those teams also tried to out-physical the Pens and they were able to speed around these teams.
The Penguins made four trade acquisitions that made a big change in their speed and scoring. They traded for Phil Kessel to add to their scoring depth. They gave up prospects but basically changed Kessel for Nick Spaling in their current lineup. A HUGE upgrade in scoring.
They traded Brandon Sutter to Vancouver for Nick Bonino which added speed and nearly the same production at a much cheaper price. They then signed speedy Free Agent Eric Fehr with the savings.They also traded Rob Scuderi for the better speed and puck handling of Trevor Daily on defense.
The biggest difference they made though was the trade of David Perron to the Anaheim Ducks for the very speedy Carl Hagelin. Hagelin, Bonino, and Kessel made up the “HBK” line which was amazing in their run up to and including the playoffs.
They were able to control San Jose and the other teams in the playoffs by using their speed both on offense and defense. In the deciding game six against San Jose, With the Sharks entire season and Stanley Cup on the line, the Sharks could only come up with two shots on goal. A total defensive dominance by the Penguins.
When the Predators were beating the Sharks, they were doing the same way as the Penguins did. They were using their speed to get to pucks and get past the Sharks defense. There were a couple places they didn’t match up to the Pens, though. We will get to that in a minute.
The Predators are not far off from having a team that could play on the same level speed-wise as the Penguins. Five of the front six of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, James Neal, Colin Wilson and Craig Smith are all good in that department.
Behind them, Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons, Miikka Salomaki and certainly Viktor Arvidsson work too. And on defense, there are not many teams that can compete against the speed and puck-handling of Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and even Anthony Bitetto. If Kevin Fiala is ready this season he could be a big speed addition on one of the top three lines.
That leaves us with just a few short holes in speed. Both of the centers behind Johansen, Mike Ribeiro, and Mike Fisher are not quite as speedy as they once may have been. The fourth line will get an upgrade this season with the departure of Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom. That should be an easy speed increase.
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That leaves Shea Weber and Barret Jackman. In the San Jose series, there were times when both of them looked a little slow. We have never been a proponent of trading Weber but if you were to adopt the Penguins style would you need to?
It looks like there are some real speed burners in the Entry Draft around where the Nashville Predators will pick at #17. There will be some Free Agents that might fit in well with a team that is building on speed.
We aren’t sure that the Nashville Predators can match up to the core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel for scoring but we aren’t that far off. The Predators would only need a little more scoring and a little more speed and they might be able to give the Western Conference fits. Certainly something to think about.
Will the Nashville Predators be in “Win Now” mode this offseason or will they build for a couple years down the road with their young core locked up? It is going to be interesting, stay tuned.