Hockey season is finally nigh, everyone.
The 21st season of Predators' hockey is upon us if you can fathom it in these dog days of summer. As the birth of a new season brings excitement and a wealth of opportunity for each of the NHL's 31 teams, some will cruise into October supremely confident, some with limited expectations, and some with cautious trepidation.
The Predators should be airing on the latter.
Last season's first-round playoffs exit at the hands of the Dallas Stars was certainly a surprise as much as a disappointment to Preds fans. Outside of the team's steadily atrocious power play, there weren't a lot of glaring statistical downsides that pointed to a shortened postseason.
The Preds wrapped up the regular season with 100 points, which is always a good benchmark to set for a successful team.
Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros combined for a 92.7% save percentage, which ranked an impressive 5th in the league. The Preds' offense scored a middling 162 goals, but another strong season by the goaltenders led to the league's fourth-lowest Goals Against total at 141.
Diving into even deeper Corsica analytics, the team finished ranked 7th in the Corsi+/- category, meaning the Preds were one of the best teams at controlling puck possession and staying on offense.
But the team's positive attributes simply didn't carry over into the playoffs. Blame it on a lack of effort, a power play mired in disrepair, or any other scapegoat of an "Armchair GM"- the Preds just couldn't pull it together. So what does this mean for the 2019-2020 season?
First, we have to look at the additions and subtractions.
Core defenseman P.K. Subban was the most notable trade departure from Music City over the summer. Some questioned David Poile's logic behind the move when the return for Subban came out to just a second-round draft pick in 2020, Steven Santini, and Jeremy Davies. Santini has played in just 114 NHL games with the Devils and Davies is fresh out of college from Northeastern. Poile stated that one of his driving motives was salary retention, considering Subban was eating up around 12% of the Preds' total cap space (spotrac.com). Many suspected this was an omen for the signing of a big-name free agent... which brings us to the additions.
The notion that Poile was "making room" was valid; just 9 days later the GM signed heralded center Matt Duchene to a seven-year, $56 million deal. Duchene has spent the last few years hopping from his longtime team of Colorado to Ottawa in the summer of 2018 and finally spending the latter half of the 2018-2019 season with Columbus. Duchene scored a career-high 31 goals last season and has proven his on-ice vision time and again with 315 career assists. Duchene should be expected to shake up a lacking Preds offense and inject some much-needed change into the power play.
Outside of the Preds' two blockbuster moves, there were a couple more key signings that took place as well.
In May, Poile signed rookie forward Mathieu Olivier and defenseman Jarred Tinordi- both to two-year contracts. On June 4, the Preds gained a new assistant coach in former Spokane Chief's (WHL) head coach Dan Lambert. July brought the signing of Daniel Carr, a former Vegas prospect that could add depth to the left wing behind Filip Forsberg and Austin Watson. The summer's last major transaction was the signing of forward Colton Sissons to a seven-year deal worth $20 million. Sissons set career highs in goals and points this past year and has made quite an impression on Preds coaches and management during his five years with the organization.
As far as setting expectations for the Preds as a whole, it's to say they don't have another solid year coming their way. There isn't a clear superstar on the team, but they've proven in seasons past that you don't necessarily need one to hang banners. Load sharing and success sharing are this team's M.O.; but each cog in the wheel needs to be operating at full octane in order for it work for eight months.
To summarize, here are a couple things that absolutely need to go right in order to clinch our way into June:
- Kyle Turris simply has to bounce back from his miserable 2018-2019. Turris notched only 23 points in 55 injury-laden games played.
-Dante Fabbro needs to slot into a top-four D-role. With Subban gone, the chain links are moving up with Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. Fabbro should ensure fourth line stability at the point.
-Juuse Saros needs more reps. If the Preds plan on protecting Saros from the impending NHL Expansion Draft, he needs to meet the workload of a precariously aging Pekka Rinne.
-Laviolette needs to have a pivotal year. The team brought him in in 2014 to usher out the Barry Trotz Era and to usher in a Stanley Cup. 2017 was the closest we've gotten, but Lavi has been expected to produce tangible results. Laviolette was fired by his past teams (Philadelphia and Carolina) after a five-year tenure. He is entering his sixth season in Nashville.