Last season, the Nashville Predators finished 5th in their division, but only missed the playoffs by three points. What will make 2009-10 any different? Let's find out:
Last Season versus the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC): Reached Tee Time at Game 39/6 January 2009. The Predators started the season on a good note, finding themselves +.5 vs. the PQC at Game 10. For the next twenty games, Nashville played right along the Curve. On 18 December, the wheels came off: The Preds racked up seven regulation losses in a nine-game span, and their season was, for all intents and purposes, over. They continued to slide in Games 41-60, dropping to -4.0 against the Playoff Qualifying Curve. Nashville rallied in Games 61-70, however, improving to -2.5 and threatening to sneak back into playoff contention. Unfortunately, a record of 5-4-3 down the homestretch wasn’t good enough, and the Predators’ streak of consecutive postseason appearances ended at four.
Post Lockout Average versus the PQC: Speaking of fours, Nashville finished the 2008-09 season at 4.4 vs. the PQC. This was their lowest finish since the 2002-03 season, and was well below the Preds’ post-Lockout average of 4.94 vs. the Curve. After finishing a scintillating 5.3 in 2005-06 and hitting a franchise-high of 5.5 in 2006-07, the Music City Boys have trended sharply downward, finishing at 4.55 against the PQC in 2007-08 and the aforementioned 4.4 last season. That trend is evident in On Goal Analysis’ Chasing Stanley (IN) or Tee Time (OUT) calls for the Predators: They were Chasing Stanley on 29 October 2005 and 22 November 2006, but in the 2007-08 season, Nashville played too close to the PQC for OGA to make a call, and did not clinch a playoff berth until the final week of the season. Last season, as mentioned in the first paragraph, the Preds reached Tee Time on 6 January 09.
How does Nashville look heading into the 2009-10 season?
Team Play: ISSUE – Of Biscuits and Baskets. Last season, just three Predators scored more than 17 goals (Jason Arnott – 33, Shea Weber – 23, and David Legwand – 20). Nashville’s 213 goals were good for 24th in the league in scoring. Having (a healthy) Steve Sullivan on board will give the Preds a fourth 20+ goal man, but they desperately need another to jump start Legwand and Martin Erat on the 2nd line. The interwebs are rife with stories and speculation: On one hand, Nashville is pursuing Boston’s disgruntled RFA, Phil Kessel (h/t to On the Forecheck) . On the other hand, Ranger castoff Nikolai Zherdev might be The One; time will tell, but the preseason is underway and time is running out. UPDATED: Looks like Zherdev will play in the KHL this season. The Predators play in what is arguably the toughest division in the NHL. Since 1 July, the Red Wings are the only Central Division rival which can be said to have lost a step, and they were a couple of steps above the rest to begin with. Nashville must add another scoring winger in order to keep up with the Joneses. If not, the Predators and their fans already know the answer to the question, “Is it possible to finish last in the Central Division and still make the playoffs?"
Fantasy Value: Nashville is an interesting case, as the fantasy hockey GM will find the most valuable players reside south of the blueline. First and foremost is All-Star defenseman Shea Weber (81GP, 23-30-53, +1). This guy does it all, and at age 24, he hasn’t even entered the prime of his career. Weber is a keeper in any league. Ryan Suter (82GP, 7-38-45, -16) is another good pick, and his poor plus/minus last season should be seen as an aberration.
In goal, rookie Pekka Rinne (29-15-4, 2.38 GAA, .917 Sv%, 7 SO) took the starting job from Dan Ellis (11-19-4, 2.93 GAA, .900 Sv%, 3 SO) last season. Ellis is in a contract year, however, and early returns indicate he is looking to challenge Rinne for the starting job. This could make for a dicey situation for the fantasy GM. Barring a disastrous training camp, look for Rinne to start the season as the Preds’ number one. If he stumbles, or otherwise shows signs of falling victim to the dreaded sophomore slump, Coach Barry Trotz won’t hesitate to change horses.
Best bets among forwards come in two flavors: Jason Arnott (65GP, 33-24-57, +2) and Steve Sullivan (41GP, 11-21-32, +2). Arnott is widely recognized as the Predators’ top fantasy pick among forwards. Sullivan, however, is a bit of a sleeper. If he plays anything close to 82 games, expect Sully to put up 25+ goals and 60+ points. And speaking of sleepers…IF Nashville acquires a sniper for the 2nd line, expect David Legwand’s (73GP, 20-22-42, -3) and Martin Erat’s (71GP, 17-33-50, -7) numbers to improve by as much as 15-20 points each (of course, Coach Trotz has already indicated that he expects their point totals to improve regardless of their linemate).
Schedule Analysis: ISSUE – In Games 21-30, the Predators play 7 of 10 at home, with just one back-to-back (both games of the B2B are @NSH). Four of the ten opponents failed to qualify for the postseason in 2008-09. This is a golden opportunity for Nashville to pick up much-needed points…an opportunity they can’t afford to waste.
Thursday, come back for OGA’s Season Preview Report on the New Jersey Devils…
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