Although they will face tough competition from the Jets, the Nashville Predators should win their 2nd straight Central Division Title.
The season is fast approaching, but before the Nashville Predators hit the ice in New York to face the Rangers, I wanted to get my prediction in writing. The Predators will win the Central Division again.
Breaking new ground, I know. Picking the team that won last year is not exactly a “hot take”. Given all the talk about the Winnipeg Jets and how quickly the masses forget, though, it is a prediction I don’t expect to see many of the “experts” make. After all, Winnipeg ousted the Preds in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season, boast the “Finnish Ovechkin” in Patrik Laine, and extended Blake Wheeler, Connor Hellebuyck and Jacob Trouba. They are an exciting young group that should contend in the West.
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The Predators, though, are the better roster.
Say what you want about losing in the playoffs. We’re talking about the better team over an 82-game season. Nashville fits that description.
Here is a rundown of each group of players and a special mini-prediction for each. Be forewarned: I am so optimistic about this team, you can call me Optimist Prime.
There is no doubt that Nashville has the best defense corp in the league. Not even the Sharks adding Erik Karlsson changes that. PK Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis would all be top pairing defensemen on nearly any other team in the league. Subban and Josi are going to be in the conversation for the Norris Trophy. Ekholm and Ellis could be, as well, to be honest.
The under-the-radar aspect of this defense is in the way Ryan Ellis signed his extension. Knowing full well that he could get paid a hefty sum on the market, Ellis chose to work out a deal that would not only make him feel valued and happy in Nashville, but would set the Predators up for salary cap flexibility. This is a group that loves playing together and loves being in Nashville. That is an underrated quality that makes this team special.
Prediction: Roman Josi wins the Norris Trophy and sets a new Preds record for points by a defenseman.
As Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson continue to carry the goal-scoring load, young snipers Kevin Fiala and Eeli Tolvanen provide even more potential up and down the forward lines. In these four players, the Predators have more than enough goal-scoring punch to outscore any opponent.
Add in Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris and Craig Smith and there is high-level skill to be found on every forward line. Teams simply will not be able to overcome the talent-difference consistently over an 82-game season. They can’t. They can score more goals in total, sure. But to do so consistently enough to compete with the depth and talent of this Predators squad? Unlikely.
Prediction: Filip Forsberg breaks 80 points
Pekka Rinne was the Vezina Trophy winner last season and so, in many respects, it is reasonable to expect a bit of a step back from the nearly 36-year-old Finn. Fortunately for the Preds, they have another fantastic Finnish goalie waiting in the wings. Juuse Saros, only 23, is ready to be a starting goalkeeper in the NHL. In 26 games played last season, Saros produced a .925 save percentage, with 3 shutouts, allowing 2.44 GAA. Not bad for the young keeper.
For reference, your 2017-18 Vezina winner had 8 shutouts in 59 games with a .927 save percentage and 2.31 GAA.
Saros is the real deal. Rinne is the number one, but as the season goes on, I wouldn’t be surprised if the transition to Jusse Saros starts to happen.
The Preds are in extremely capable hands regardless of who is in-goal. That bedrock foundation allows the Predators defense to play more aggressively on offense and put extreme pressure on opponents.
Prediction: Saros and Rinne combine for 15 shutouts
Ultimately, anything can happen. Injuries and human nature make every season worth watching. This Nashville Predators team could be the best version yet, however. I’m optimistic that multiple Predators franchise records will be broken and that there is a deep playoff run in store for Nashville.
We are just about a week away from the beginning. There will be ups and downs, as there always is, but stay strong. The Nashville Predators will win the Central Division. Book it.