Expectations for the Nashville Predators remain high as they get healthier, but things are more complicated now in a crowded division race.
The biggest fear heading into the regular season just a few months ago was if the Nashville Predators could translate regular season success into postseason success; to prove that their trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 was no fluke. The end result of this season will tell us a lot as this roster is arguably better than any Predators roster ever, when at full strength.
It’s actually pretty remarkable that the Predators are where they are in standing after losing their top stars to lengthy injuries. The likes of losing Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, P.K. Subban, Kyle Turris and Colton Sissons to long-term injuries is a tough pill to swallow. Their absence certainly was a direct contributor to the recent six-game losing streak.
The Predators are, in my book, one of the top three teams in the Western Conference. You can argue all day about whether it’s them or a couple other teams, but the main point is they’re still very much in the conversation of winning the conference again.
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Will defend the division crown?
Of course, we want the easiest path through the playoffs and want that path to ultimately run through Smashville. However, we have to be realistic about how competitive and difficult winning the Central Division is currently. It’s not the end all be all. We, unfortunately, found that out in last year’s playoffs.
The expectations for the Predators at the midway point hasn’t really changed. They’re built for a deep run in the playoffs, no matter the playoff seed they finish with. Scratching and clawing for a wildcard berth is not something we want to see, but finishing somewhere in the top three of the division is very realistic.
There are four teams that have the rosters to really compete for the top three spots. Those teams are Nashville, Winnipeg, Colorado and Dallas. One of those four will be on the outside looking in and have to sweat it out for wildcard positioning. We should in no way expect the Predators to be included in that. Going into the last handful of games down the stretch, the Predators need to have their playoff spot wrapped up.
You can make solid arguments for all of the four mentioned teams to win the division, but it really comes down to Nashville, Colorado and Winnipeg. I hate to make this prediction, but it won’t shock me if the Predators come up short of first place. It won’t be the end of the world. The Predators have to stay focused on entering the playoffs healthy and with the right mindset.
Are they going back to the Stanley Cup?
Even though they had a six-game losing streak, I’m very impressed with how an unlikely cast of players have stepped up to keep the Predators where they are in the division. In fact, their most recent win over an elite Toronto team puts them back in first place.
There’s no reason to be shy about expecting the Predators to go deep in the playoffs, and avoid a second round exit. Assuming they’re fully healthy, they have one of the most complete rosters in the NHL. Oh yeah, and Pekka Rinne is rounding back into Vezina Trophy form. If he keeps trending upward as the season rolls along, the Predators will cruise into the playoffs.
It’s a bold prediction, but I’m taking the Predators to catch fire like they did in 2017 and return to the Stanley Cup to take on Tampa Bay. I love how everything is coming back together with players getting healthy. They’ve shown me something by not collapsing over the last month, even though December wasn’t pretty.
I’m predicting a rematch of last year’s first-round meeting of Nashville and Colorado, only this time in the Western Conference Finals. It will be epic, fun and full of emotion. This time the Predators avoid getting ousted in seven games as they did against Winnipeg and will get to recapture the joy that we felt in 2017. I’ll save a Stanley Cup Final prediction for another day.