While setting the expectations for the season it is important to note that the Nashville Predators have been good at hockey for a long time.
The Nashville Predators have amassed two division crowns in two years, a President’s trophy, a Stanley cup finals appearance, a Western conference title; just to name a few of the accolades.
This team has the experience and the tools that it takes to be successful in this league, the question isn’t can they take the next step, but rather will they?
To establish the Predators credibility here is a lesser-known stat: Nashville holds the second-longest active playoff streak (5).
The Nashville Predators rank right behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (13), tied with the Washington Capitals (5) and just in front of the San Jose Sharks (4). The Boston Bruins, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Toronto Maple Leafs are each tied with 3.
Roster Moves Since the First Playoff Run In the Active Streak
To set realistic expectations for the season it is only fair to examine and evaluate the past and current rosters during recent playoff runs.
The Predators currently have 9 players on their roster that were there for the first playoff run in the 2014-2015 season. 13 players from 2015-2016, 16 from 2016-2017, 19 from 2017-2018, and 24 from their most recent playoff run in 2018-2019.
Additionally, the Predators added Matt Duchene who would have been the top Predator in points with 70, 2nd in goals (31), and 3rd in assists (39). Oh, and Duchene did that in just 72 games.
For the second time in the last five years, the Predators have amped up their offense by adding an elite playmaker.
The first time the Predators did this was by trading Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen. The season prior to the trade, Johansen tallied 71 points in 82 games. That would have been first on the Predators followed by Filip Forsberg with 63.
The big difference between adding Duchene this season and adding Johansen in the 2015-2016 season is that now the Nashville Predators have two dynamic playmakers not on the original roster during the 2014-2015 season.
Not to mention that Viktor Arvidsson only played in 6 games that season and has since emerged as a star.
What is Different This Season?
Since winning the Presidents Trophy in the 2017-2018 season the Predators have lost 9 players: P.K. Subban, Kevin Fiala, Ryan Hartman, Scott Hartnell, Alexei Emelin, Pontus Aberg, Mike Fisher, Anthony Bitetto, and Cody McLeod.
Since then the Predators have added 9 significant players: Matt Duchene, Rocco Grimaldi, Dante Fabbro, Eeli Tolvanen (appeared in 3 games that season), Rem Pitlick, Daniel Carr, Dan Hamhuis, Steven Santini, and Mikael Granlund.
On paper, this team looks better than the President Trophy winning Predators, but can they put all of the pieces of the puzzle back together?
What Will it Take?
The bread and butter of the Nashville Predators recent success have relied on three key things: Goaltending, JOFA, and defense.
Each of these three things has helped propel the Predators but also allowed some of their weaknesses to be overshadowed.
This season the defense has taken a hit, but this is an unknown variable that could propel the success of the team or could hold the team back.
Dante Fabbro has elite potential but his small sample size of NHL games makes his impact this season hard to predict.
On the third pair, a healthy Dan Hamhuis and his future partner will play a big part in determining whether or not the defense as a whole has taken a step backward or forward.
Unlike the defense, the Predators offensive depth should be much deeper. Secondary scoring is key and Matt Duchene provides an elite skill-set that should propel the players around him.
Whether JOFA is paired together or split up (with the second line of Duchene, Turris, and Granlund), the secondary scoring should be more consistent than in years past.
Adding Craig Smith to the third line after back-to-back 20+ goal seasons creates a mismatch against opposing teams.
Along with Smith, the unknown potential of players such as Grimaldi, Tolvanen, Pitlick, and Carr make the bottom six more intriguing to watch.
Regardless of Rinne’s play, Saros is an emerging star who could be a difference-maker this year. Saros is elite and by most standards could be a starter on almost any NHL team.
If these three aspects all come together at the right time then Nashville should be poised to compete. Not just for the Central Division title but also for the Western Conference crown.
The Competition In the Central Division
Coming off back-to-back Central Division titles and adding offensive power, the Predators should be in prime position for a cup run…right?
It sounds easy on paper but the central division is loaded and is touted as the toughest division entering the season.
Colorado has plenty of young talent and only improved their arsenal this offseason, St. Louis just won the Stanley Cup, Dallas torched the Predators in the first round of the playoffs last season, Chicago looks to be better than last year, Minnesota has a few question marks but seems to always be in the mix, and Winnipeg has been the Nashville Predators kryptonite.
These central division matchups could make or break the Predators season and each division game will become more and more crucial as the season progresses.
The Current Odds to Win the Central Division
St. Louis +425
Just like we saw last year, this division seems to be pretty evenly matched with 5 strong contenders. This may be the strongest division in all of hockey but the Colorado Avalanche are the clear favorite going into the season.
Conclusion and Prediction
As many Predators fans know, it’s not about who has the best record.
Usually, it’s which team gets hot at the right time. Whichever team heats up towards the last stretch of the season could take this division and make a deep playoff run.
It is hard to make predictions in hockey with so many unknown variables such as injuries, player regression, emerging superstars, and young talent.
NBC Sports has predicted the Nashville Predators as a definite playoff team and most experts would agree. The lingering question is, how far should they get?
Regardless of the final regular season standings, anything less than a Western Conference finals appearance would be disappointing.
With so many playoff veterans, skilled players, and a window that seems to have started closing on the Predators, this season is crucial.
Prediction: The Predators will finish around 102 points, two more than last year.
This is a fair prediction based off of a team that has an improved offense, less defensive depth, and solid goaltending.
It is also a fair prediction since the Predators will be competing in a division that has also significantly improved this offseason.
This is only the beginning and with plenty of unknown variables, no one knows what lies ahead. Regardless, this is a crucial season and it is time for the Predators to succeed while the core roster remains intact.