Can the Nashville Predators Be Cup Contenders in 2012?
Every year it seems as though Nashville comes into the season as an underdog. A team that no one expects to make much noise, and just silently get through the season. This year has been different though for both the team and the fans, coming into the year there were new expectations on the team. Even after losing talent and going younger in the off season it was expected that this year the Predators would make the playoffs and make a run in them. Through 47 games the Predators have 58 points and are in the top 9 in the NHL. They play in the leagues hardest division with 4 of their teams in the top 9 and have a winning record within the division. The big question is whether or not this team can be seriously called a cup contender and what they may need in order to be one.
Let’s start with goaltending, in net the Predators have one of the top 5 and arguably top 3 goalies in the league in Rinne. He currently sits second in wins with 24 only behind Howard and has a .922 save percentage on the year. While his numbers are as spectacular as they were a season ago, his play has remained almost identical. In a season as a goalie you are bound to have bad nights, but Rinne has kept them to a minimum. He has stolen games for the Predators which is what they need him to do some nights. With his 7 year contract coming into play next year the Predators will have cup contender goaltending for the foreseeable future.
Verdict: Cup Contender
With Nashville, everyone around the league knows about their defense core and their ability to develop young defenseman. This year they are showing off both aspects as they have gone very young on the back end but held their own for the most part. Aside from the early troubles with defence, more a majority of the season it has been good for the Predators. With all-star tandem Weber and Suter on the back-end, the defence may only need minor tweaking. Klein, Josi, Bouillon, Hillen and Ellis make up the remaining 5 on the Predators roster and with all being under the age of 27 aside from Bouillon who is 36; the defence has fared pretty well. It obvious that Weber and Suter have done will this season, both are on pace for career years and Weber is a leading candidate for the Norris again this year, but beyond them there have been a few that really stand-out. Both Josi and Ellis have really established themselves as a part of the Preds D-core this year. The interesting part though is that neither started the year in the NHL, Josi was injured during training camp and after a few games in the minors was brought up to Nashville and has remained in the line-up ever since. Even at one point playing top pairing minutes along with Suter while Weber was injured, and fortunately for Nashville did not seem out of place. Ellis on the other hand took some time to make it to the NHL, he was initially given a shot when Klein and Weber were injured and played his first game in Detroit. He played well enough in the following games to warrant the Preds sending down Blum instead of Ellis, who is now a main-stay on the Preds 2nd power play and has 5 points in 11 games. While the defence has been good this year and is slowly improving, adding another veteran defenseman could help improve the team that much more.
Verdict: Almost ready, could use veteran 3-4 defenseman
Now finally to the forwards, an often criticized group amongst Nashville Predator fans and media. While no forward on the team is considered a true game breaker, the ranks are filled with versatile players we can play 200 foot games and are capable of putting decent point streaks together. While the Predators forward depth is not in question their top six is, which is composed of: Wilson, Legwand, Erat, Kostitsyn, Hornqvist, Fisher, and Smith who has recently dropped out but has shown flashes of brilliance in his rookie season. When looking at that list of players none really jump out and scream goal scorer but all are very capable and getting decent point production. This year Erat and Wilson have been the most consistent of the group, having 32 and 24 points respectively. Though the point totals haven’t been there for Wilson this year he has improved since being benched last season in the playoffs and has been a driving force on the power play with his creativity and ability to stickhandle inside of a phone booth. Erat has found his game as of late and has been putting up good numbers recently, especially on 5 on 5 plays which was struggling for the Predators early on in the season. Smith has been the surprise of the season for Nashville, after starting out at a torrent pace he recently cooled off, but is still looking dangerous. The chances are coming but the goals haven’t, which should change soon if he keeps up the work. While this forward group has potential, as always they are missing that key top 6 forward to be that game breaker for the team. Someone that they can throw on the ice at anytime and expect a goal.
Verdict: potential but desperately needs top 6 help
While this team may seem similar to last year’s version of the Preds, they are vastly different. While the team may struggle at times defensively, their offense has been their more than last year to help them out, especially their power play which is top 5 in the league. This team may not be true cup contenders at the moment, but they aren’t far off, needing only one key piece to add to the puzzle. But in the end like they always say, once you make the playoffs anything can happen.