Have the Nashville Predators narrowed the gap in the Central Division for 2024-25?

When you look over what every Central Division team has done so far in free agency, there's no arguing that the Predators did the most to upgrade their team. Is that enough to close the gap?
Vancouver Canucks v Nashville Predators - Game Three
Vancouver Canucks v Nashville Predators - Game Three / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

The Central Division is always a dog fight, and last year was no different with your top-three teams finishing within six points, while the Nashville Predators finished eight points back from third-place Colorado.

The Predators sent shockwaves through the NHL on Day 1 of free agency by signing Steven Stamkos, Jonthan Marchessault, Brady Skjei and Scott Wedgewood. On top of that, that made some huge re-signings with Juuse Saros and Alexandre Carrier.

You look at the other top teams in the Central Division, and they did very little to upgrade. To be fair, teams like Dallas and Colorado didn't need to do a whole lot because their cores are already Stanley Cup caliber. But it does beg the question of how much have the Predators narrowed that gap between themselves and the top teams in the division?

On paper at least, Nashville has narrowed the gap to Dallas/Colorado/Winnipeg

Now I'm fully aware that Stanley Cups and divisions aren't won on paper, and it's likely that the Predators might go through another trail phase where they stumble in October to open the regular season.

JFresh recently put out his very popular standings projections after the first wave of free agency signings, and slots the Predators in fifth place with 96 points. Needless to say, that would be a major disappointment if this were to hold true.

At least it's projected to be a close race and Nashville is separated by just six points from being in second place to Dallas' 110 points. Really surprised to see Colorado so low in his projections at 99 points, and Minnesota way up at 102 points.

When just comparing rosters and top end talent, you have to reasonably put the Predators up there now with the Avalanche and Stars. And yes, the Jets have something to say about that as well, who surprisingly finished second in the division but got knocked out without much of a fight in the first round by Colorado.

It's fair to say that this is still Dallas' division going into 2024-25. Although they did nothing in free agency to get better and their fans were left a little underwhelmed, their core is one of the best in the NHL. Their Stanley Cup window is still very much wide open.

I'm actually more fearful as a Predators supporter of what Colorado has in store for us in 2024-25. I think they're about to have another awakening and go on a tear next season. They too did basically nothing in free agency besides holding onto one of their own in Jonathan Drouin and adding some beef to their blueline with Calvin de Haan.

But again, much like Dallas, Colorado didn't really have to do a heck of a whole lot with the core they already have.

With what the Predators have done in free agency, they should at the very least be right in the middle of the fight late in the season to win a division title. It almost certainly will be another photo finish for the division crown, and I firmly put the Predators in that mix now.

The main reason why the Predators should be considered at least in the mix with Dallas and Colorado now is because they have a legit top-six forward group that can go toe-to-toe with anyone. Stamkos and Marchessault should immediately pay dividends for a Predators power play that was streaky at best, but many times flat when it counted most.

Adding Skjei to the blueline and likely the top pairing with Roman Josi is hard to top. I'll put that top pairing for Nashville up against Colorado's top pairing with Cale Makar and Devon Toews or Dallas' top pairing of Miro Heiskanen and Thomas Harly.

When it comes to goalies, you would think that Winnipeg still has that top spot with Connor Hellebuyck, and Colorado's situation with Alexander Georgiev is much more untrustworthy and really is their main source of weakness on an otherwise loaded roster.

Jake Oettinger, much like Saros, can be streaky at times but when he's locked in, he's Vezina Trophy caliber. If Saros decides to go into beast mode this year and make his case for his first Vezina Trophy, then the Predators should be destined for 100-plus point and a chance at the division crown.

The edge that Dallas and Colorado have is their cores have played together for a while now, while Nashville is going to go through their bumps in the road and that could mean digging themselves into a hole in the standings that they'll have to gradually climb out of.

Just purely based on preseason expectations and what you see on paper, slotting the Nashville Predators in that third place slot is totally fair. I put Winnipeg right there with Nashville, while Dallas and Colorado are still the two teams everyone should be chasing.

But of course we know that the types of players Nashville just signed in Stamkos and Marchessault isn't just for regular season success, but most importantly for playoff success. A franchise that hasn't been out of the first round since 2018 badly needs to prove they can win in the postseason again. It's been far too long.