Buckle in Nashville Predators fans. The Western Conference just got even better with Erik Karlsson coming to the San Jose Sharks.
With the regular season less than a month away, the road to the Stanley Cup just got even more treacherous for the Nashville Predators, along with every other Western Conference team. The San Jose Sharks just made a blockbuster deal to acquire Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators. A deal we’ve been waiting nearly a year to happen.
The fallout from this massive deal is interesting from the Predators’ perspective. There was never really a concrete thought that the Predators were in play for Karlsson. The overall belief is that GM David Poile is perfectly content with his current squad, hence why the offseason was rather quiet.
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However, the Sharks were already one of the top teams in the West. Adding Karlsson stacks their defensive unit right up against anyone. Even the Predators, who have their own argument for saying they have the best group of defensemen. This will make the Western Conference side of the playoff bracket even more daunting now that the Sharks have punched their ticket as one of the best teams.
Are the Sharks now the team to beat?
Prior to the Karlsson deal, I had the Sharks in the top five of the conference. They already had an impressive roster with the likes of Evander Kane, Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton. They are absolutely loaded and have a nice blend of veteran and young talent. I didn’t have them ahead of the Predators, Golden Knights or Jets. This move obviously affects Vegas the most as they’re in the same division. That division race will be fun to watch to see who gets the better playoff seed.
Karlsson makes the Sharks possibly better than the Predators defensively. We can argue all day about which is better, but it might just be splitting hairs at that point. Bottom line is the Sharks are putting everything into making a run this season as Karlsson has just one year left on his current deal. As a hockey fan, you can’t help but love this move for the league. Karlsson leaves a bottom dweller and joins a team that was just one piece away from making a big jump up the ladder. Here’s what Predators center Kyle Turris had to say about Karlsson going to San Jose:
What this mammoth trade does for me as a Predators fan is realize that the road just got even tougher. It’s already a terror to survive the Western Conference without a superstar like Karlsson in the mix. He’s one of those elite players that can instantly transform an already good team into a Stanley Cup contender. The Sharks now join the Predators, Jets and Golden Knights as the top teams in the West.
After letting the dust settle a bit, the Jets remain the top team to beat. They’re the most balanced and have the best goaltending. This isn’t discounting that the Sharks are now a legitimate threat to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, or that the Predators aren’t firmly in the conversation. As good of a story as Vegas was last season, they take a small step back in their second season of existence. However, you can make solid arguments for all four teams to represent the Western Conference when it’s all said and done.
Did the Predators do enough in the offseason?
This deal begs the question of if the Predators were too quiet over the offseason. With the exception of adding veteran Dan Hamhuis to bolster up the blue line, they really didn’t do much. That might be fine considering the roster is already respectable. Seeing a superstar like Karlsson go to the Sharks makes you wonder if the Predators have been to content with their current roster.
You also have Vegas who made a big move of their own not too long ago. They got veteran forward Max Pacioretty from Montreal, a former captain and someone who makes the defending Western Conference champions a little better. Again, this makes you wonder if the Predators were too complacent over the offseason. They’re an elite squad, but their biggest competitors around them made big upgrades.
With all of that taken into consideration, I still love where the Predators sit. They have a core on their roster that’s been together for a couple years now and built great chemistry. Their top two scorers in Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson may not have even hit their peaks yet. You have a respectable second line led by Kyle Turris that just needs to become more consistent. Then you have some young players led by rookie Eeli Tolvanen that should provide a spark. The Predators have three players in NHL.com’s top ten players in the Central Division. Simply put, the Predators have their place at the table with the top dogs.
Now that most of the major transactions are over with, I see the Western Conference as the superior conference to the East. There will be some elite teams out West that won’t even sniff the Stanley Cup Final thanks to how many other great teams there are. In the conference hierarchy after the Karlsson trade, my conference power rankings look like this:
- Winnipeg Jets
- San Jose Sharks
- Nashville Predators
- Vegas Golden Knights
- St. Louis Blues
The Predators will face the new-look Sharks on October 23 in Nashville.