Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Remembering Wade Belak



There really are no words to describe the tragedy of losing a guy like Wade Belak at the young age of 35. Belak was a guy who could put a smile on every face he encountered. During his time in Nashville, Belak was one of the most beloved Preds simply because of his personality.

Belak was never a hockey player that was extremely gifted with skill. He was an enforcer who stuck up for his teammates on a nightly basis. His death is obviously very difficult for the Nashville Predators and their fans. The team released this statement regarding Belak's death:

"The entire Nashville Predators organization and family is shocked and saddened by the sudden and untimely passing of Wade Belak. Wade was a beloved member of the organization, a terrific teammate and wonderful father and husband. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Jennifer and children Andie and Alex. We offer our full support to them at this very difficult time."

This summer has been one of tragedy in the NHL. Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Belak all lost their lives this summer. All of these men are gone long before they should have been.

Belak was everybody's favorite guy in the locker room while he was here in Nashville. If you ever asked who was the funniest person in the room, the answer was always Wade Belak. Current Preds players and former players alike have used Twitter to express their thoughts on Belak.

Blake Geoffrion: "Wade Belak was one of the funniest dudes I had ever met. Just was with him earlier this summer. Can't believe it Thoughts and prayers to his fam."

Jonathon Blum: "Wade was one of the nicest and funniest hockey players i have ever met and was able to call a teammate. Thoughts and prayers to his family"

Mike Fisher: "Still in shock! Wade will be missed by many! Great person gone far too early!"

Jordin Tootoo: "Very sad to loose a great teammate and a better person in Wade Belak. The Tootoo family send his family all our thoughts and prayers."

Shane O'Brien: "RIP Beeker you were the best.... My thoughts and prayers are with Wade's family friends and former teammates.."

Obviously, players are taking the news very hard. The next few days will be a time for mourning and remembering what a great person that Wade Belak was. He always took the time to take a picture or sign an autograph. Belak will be greatly missed by everyone that he came in contact with. We at Hockey Night in Nashville send our sincerest condolences to his family. Remember the type of person that Wade Belak was. Try to make someone laugh. Look at things from a new perspective and try to give people joy. That's the best way to honor his memory.

Wade Belak reportedly found dead in Toronto

According to multiple reports, former Nashville Predator forward Wade Belak has been found dead in a Toronto condo. This is a terrible tragedy for the hockey world. We'll have more on this as it develops. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Wade Belak.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Season Preview: All-Northwest Division Team



The Northwest Division is home to some of the best and worst teams in the NHL. Last season, it was dominated by the Vancouver Canucks. However, the each team in the division has very talented players. Minnesota, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, and the Canucks, all have players who can change games. Below are my selections for the All-Northwest Division team going into the 2011-12 season.

1st Line:

Left Wing- Daniel Sedin(VAN)
Center- Henrik Sedin(VAN)
Right Wing- Jarome Iginla(CGY)

2nd Line:

Left Wing- Alex Tanguay(CGY)
Center- Ryan Kesler(VAN)
Right Wing- Dany Heatley(MIN)

3rd Line:

Left Wing- Paul Stastny(COL)
Center- Matt Duchene(COL)
Right Wing- Olli Jokinen(CGY)

4th Line:

Left Wing- Alexandre Burrows(VAN)
Center- Mikko Koivu(MIN)
Right Wing- Jordan Eberle(EDM)

Defensive pairings:

1. Kevin Bieksa(VAN) and Dan Hamhuis(VAN)
2. Mark Giordano(CGY) and John-Michael Liles(COL)
3. Jay Bouwmeester(CGY) and Alexander Edler(VAN)

Goalies:

1. Roberto Luongo(VAN)
2. Miikka Kiprusoff(CGY)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Season Preview: All-Pacific Division Team



The Pacific Division is considered by many to be the best division in the NHL. Last year, four of the five teams made the playoffs and the Dallas Stars were very close to making it all five. Taking a look at players from San Jose, Anaheim, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Dallas, I will give you my selections for the All-Pacific Division team. If you missed the All-Central Division team, you can take a look here.



1st Line:

Left Wing- Bobby Ryan(ANA)
Center- Ryan Getzlaf(ANA)
Right Wing- Corey Perry(ANA)

2nd Line:

Left Wing- Patrick Marleau(SJS)
Center- Joe Thornton(SJS)
Right Wing- Loui Eriksson(DAL)

3rd Line:

Left Wing- Joe Pavelski(SJS)
Center- Anze Kopitar(LAK)
Right Wing- Mike Ribeiro(DAL)

4th Line:

Left Wing- Shane Doan(PHX)
Center- Mike Richards(LAK)
Right Wing- Martin Havlat(SJS)

Defensive pairings:

1. Lubomir Visnovsky(ANA) and Drew Doughty(LAK)
2. Jack Johnson(LAK) and Keith Yandle(PHX)
3.Brent Burns(SJS) and Cam Fowler(ANA)

Goalies:

1. Antii Niemi(SJS)
2. Jonathan Quick(LAK)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Season Preview: All-Central Division Team



If you follow high school or college sports, you've probably heard of All-County or All-Conference teams. In the NHL, there is the NHL all star game that takes place in January. I thought it would be interesting to see who the top performers are in each division and formulate an entire team composed of the top players. Here is my All-Central Division team going into the 2011-2012 season.

1st Line:

Left Wing- Henrik Zetterberg(DET)
Center- Pavel Datsyuk(DET)
Right Wing- Patrick Kane(CHI)

2nd Line:

Left Wing- Patick Sharp(CHI)
Center- Jonathan Toews(CHI)
Right Wing- Rick Nash(CBJ)

3rd Line:

Left Wing- David Backes(STL)
Center- Jeff Carter(CBJ)
Right Wing- Marian Hossa(CHI)

4th Line:

Left Wing- Martin Erat(NSH)
Center- Patrik Berglund(STL)
Right Wing- R.J. Umberger(CBJ)

Defensive pairings:

1. Shea Weber(NSH) and Nick Lidstrom(DET)
2. Ryan Suter(NSH) and Duncan Keith(CHI)
3. Brent Seabrook(CHI) and James Wisniewski(CBJ)

Goalies:

1. Pekka Rinne(NSH)
2. Jimmy Howard(DET)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What are you most excited about for this season?



Hockey fans in Nashville have come a long way since the early years of the Nashville Predators. During last year's playoff run, North America saw how loud and knowledgable that hockey fans were in Smashville. Season ticket sales are way up, and people are ready for the puck to drop!

There are many intriguing storylines regarding the Preds going into the year. How will the lingering contract negotiations with Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber affect the play on the ice? Who can step up and be an offensive catalyst for the Preds? There are so many questions, yet there is so much potential for this year's Preds team.

As a hockey fan, what excites you most about the upcoming year? There are tons of things to be excited about. What stands out the most to you when you think about the 2011-12 Nashville Predators?



Saturday, August 20, 2011

2011-12 Season preview: Player edition



The 2011-12 season is rapidly approaching us. This season, the Nashville Predators will be looking to build off the most successful season in franchise history. Here is what I expect out of each player this season:



FORWARDS

Niclas Bergfors- Many Predators fans are really excited about the acquisition of Bergfors. He's got really good speed and has pretty good offensive upside. Last season, Bergfors had 36 combined points with the Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers. I think Bergfors will be on a line with Martin Erat and David Legwand, which would be very interesting. I expect Bergfors to end the season with 47 points.

Martin Erat- I think Erat is going to have a bit of a "breakout" year. By no means will he become a 80-90 point guy, but I think his level of production will increase. A lot of that, I think, will depend on Niclas Bergfors. Depending on how they gel, Bergfors could have as big of an impact on the Preds as Sergei Kostitsyn had last year. However, I think the impact Bergfors will have will be on the players around him. I think Erat will end the season with 68 points.

Mike Fisher- A full season of Fisher will be beneficial for the Predators in several different aspects of the game. Fisher is the smartest player on the Preds roster without the puck. He knows exactly where to be, and his style of play is very intense. I expect him to be one of the most valuable players on the Nashville roster this year, and to end up with 42 points.

Blake Geoffrion- The Brentwood, Tennessee native broke into the NHL last year and was fairly productive. Geoffrion had 8 points in 20 games, including a hat trick against the Buffalo Sabres. My ideal place for Geoffrion would be on a line with Cal O'Reilly and Colin Wilson. I think that would be a very exciting line to watch. I expect Geoffrion to have 21 points this year.

Patric Hornqvist- The Swedish punching bag does all he can to get under the skin of the opposition. Usually, he's very successful. Hornqvist is very skilled at having a sense of always knowing where the puck is. He saw a bit of a drop off in goals last year, with 21, but I think that will increase this year. I expect Hornqvist to finish the season with 31 goals and 60 points.

Sergei Kostitsyn- Kostitsyn had a breakout year last year for the Preds, scoring 23 goals and ending the season with 50 points. He was the leading goal-scorer on the team despite only having 93 shots on the year. While I still expect him to be productive this year, I don't think he will be as productive as he was last year. I expect Kostitsyn to end the season with 41 points.

David Legwand- Legwand's play was much improved after the acquisition of Mike Fisher last year. He ended the season with 41 points, and was very valuable on both ends of the ice. With Legwand and Erat playing together once again, I think Leggy could have his most offensively productive year since the days of Paul Kariya. Fisher's ability to shut down an opposition's top line center will also benefit Legwand on the offensive end. I think Legwand will end the season with 53 points.

Cal O'Reilly- Before breaking his fibula and being lost for the remainder of the season, O'Reilly had a pretty decent start to the season. He's a creative player offensively, but lacks defensive responsibility. However, the Preds have their fair share of defensively responsible forwards. I think O'Reilly will have a decent season, and finish the year with 30 points.

Jerred Smithson- Hard work and determination are what defines Jerred Smithson. While not an offensive juggernaut, Smithson is still an extremely valuable player to the Predators. He's the best player on the team when it comes to winning faceoffs, and he is probably the top penalty killer on the team. For the past three seasons, Smithson has ended each season with 13 points. This year, I expect him to get one extra stroke of fortune and end the year with 14 points.

Nick Spaling- Spaling and Smithson are really the same mold of player. Both work really hard and excel in the little things that make teams successful. Spaling showed that he could contribute on the offensive side during the playoffs. He had 2 goals in Game 6 against Anaheim. I expect Spaling to finish the season with 18 points.

Jordin Tootoo- Out of all the players on the Nashville roster, I believe Tootoo will be the most improved in all aspects of the game. I expect his offensive production to go up, and I expect his impact on a game to be at an all-time high for him. Tootoo is definitely a leader on the team, and a fan favorite. I expect Tootoo to put up 31 points this year.

Colin Wilson- Wilson could be the most unpredictable player going into the season. Depending on how much he's matured, he could be a real threat. I've often said that Wilson has the best hands on the team. The professionalism and willingness to go to the hard areas must be a driving force for Wilson this year. If that's the case, he will have a great year. If not, he might not be on the ice. I expect Wilson to end the year with 40 points.

DEFENSE

Jon Blum- While he will technically still be a rookie, Blum got his fair share of experience last season. He played in 23 games and had 8 points on the year. He rarely made big mistakes that cost the team, which was very encouraging to see during his first experience in the NHL. I expect Blum to contribute more this year, and put up 24 points on the year.

Jack Hillen- Recently acquired from the New York Islanders, Hillen is a pretty solid defenseman. He was only a minus-5 last year, which is saying something when you play for the Islanders. I expect him to crack the opening day lineup, but could be challenged by one of the rookies that will be pushing for a spot on the big club. I expect Hillen to finish the year with 15 points.

Kevin Klein- Klein's job will be very important for the Preds this year. Last year, Klein had his best season since being in the NHL. I think he'll continue to improve his game this year. He's not necessarily an offensive threat from the blue line, but I do expect his defensive game to be stronger. I expect him to end the year with 13 points.

Ryan Suter- "Robin" is one of the most defensively sound players in the game. He's the best puck moving defenseman in the league. Period. His vision on the ice makes him an extremely valuable player, and his defensive ability is second to none. I expect Suter to finish the year with 43 points.

Shea Weber- While it certainly hasn't been an easy off-season for Weber and the Preds, he still has world class skill on the ice. His defensive presence is as intimidating as anyone in the league, as is is slapshot. Weber and Suter are like peanut butter and jelly. They just go together. I think Weber will surpass his career high in points(53), and will end the year with 55 points.

GOALTENDING

Anders Lindback- Lindback came in last season and looked like a veteran. He was calm, cool and collected, and really filled a void when Pekka Rinne went out with injury. I expect Lindback to continue to make improvements to his game this year.

Pekka Rinne- Coming off of a spectacular Vezina Trophy caliber season, Rinne has established himself as an elite goaltender in the league. However, I don't expect Rinne to have as good of a year this year as he did last year. Rinne's numbers last year were staggering, and it will be very difficult to repeat those numbers. I still expect Rinne to be a Top 3 goalie, but I don't think he'll be as incredible as he was last year.

WILDCARDS

Francis Bouillon- Hopefully Bouillon will fully recover from his concussion and return to the ice for the Preds. His veteran defensive presence would be very valuable for Nashville during a postseason run.

Matt Halischuk- I think Halischuk will get a fair amount of playing time this year for the Preds. While in uniform last year, Halischuk was an effective player for the Preds. I expect him to put up 13 points this year.

Ryan Ellis/Roman Josi- I expect both of them to crack the roster at some point for the Preds this year. Both have lots of talent, and it will be interesting to see how they develop.

What do you think? Were some players overestimated? Were some underestimated? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.









Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Nashville hopes to follow in footsteps of 2003-04 Lightning



In the 2002-03 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning won their first playoff series in franchise history in six games against the Washington Capitals. However, they were eliminated in the next round by the New Jersey Devils, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.

The following year in the 2003-04 season, the Lightning had a stellar regular season and went on to win the Stanley Cup. This year's version of the Nashville Predators hopes to follow in their footsteps.

Last season, Nashville won their first ever playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks in six games. After getting over the hump of getting past the first round, the Predators are ready to make that next step toward a Stanley Cup.

It's often been said that Nashville is a team that is built more for the playoffs than it is for the regular season. Strong, physical defense and top-notch goaltending are always vital to winning a championship in the NHL.

Tampa Bay had players like Dan Boyle and Nikolai Khabibulin on the defensive side of the game. Nashville has Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne, which are better defensive weapons than Tampa had in the 2004 playoffs. The big difference is that Tampa Bay had offensive studs like Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, and Brad Richards.

Nashville needs offense. It's an issue that keeps getting harped on by bloggers and members of the mainstream media. Perhaps people are tired of hearing about it, but the fact of the matter is that it's true. Nashville is one or two serious offensive threats away from being a Stanley Cup contender.

This season, the Preds will work to find that offensive help. Whether it's by acquiring another player or two or somebody currently on the roster drastically stepping their game up, Nashville must address that part of their game this year. If that happens, they have a serious chance at winning a Stanley Cup. That is, and always should be, the main goal.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Preds must have 'shoot first' mentality



"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." That was Wayne Gretzky's philosophy on scoring. As a team that struggles to put the puck in the net, the Nashville Predators could take some of Gretzky's advice.

According to NHL.com, the Nashville Predators had 2,362 shots during the 2010-11 regular season, which was good for 24th in the league. Albeit, the Nashville Predators don't have an overload of offensive talent on the roster.

Even so, more goals could still be created simply by shooting the puck more. You often hear Barry Trotz, and many Preds' fans, criticizing the team for making that "one extra pass." Sometimes, that one extra pass is beneficial. It can create a better scoring opportunity. Other times, the one extra pass eliminates what would have been the prime scoring opportunity.

Sergei Kostitsyn led the Predators in goals last year with 23. However, he only had 93 shots in 77 games. To put that in perspective, Marcel Goc played in 51 games and had 111 shots. Ten players on the Nashville roster had more shots than the leading goal scorer. Can you imagine how many goals Kostitsyn would have scored if he simply shot the puck more often?

Apart from Patric Hornqvist(265) and Shea Weber(254), no other player on the Preds' roster had over 200 shots. In fact, the closest player to Hornqvist and Weber was Joel Ward with 157 shots. Alexander Ovechkin had 367 shots, more than Kostitsyn(93), David Legwand(130) and Colin Wilson(101) combined.

Fans can complain about not having a legitimate goal scoring threat, and rightly so. However, simply shooting the puck more could go a long way toward making the Predators a more offensively successful team.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Klein could determine Preds' success



Could Kevin Klein be the most important Predator in the 2011-2012 season? I bet that's not a question that you ever thought you would hear. With a roster that boasts names like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne, a player like Klein is often overlooked.

The fact of the matter is that you pretty much know what you're going to get out of Weber, Suter and Rinne. Weber and Suter make up what many consider to be the best defensive pairing on the face of the earth. Rinne is a Vezina Trophy caliber goaltender.

Klein, however, has faced scrutiny from fans since he's been in Nashville. Fair or unfair, that's just the way it has been. This year, however, Klein is in a position that he's never been in while he's been with the Nashville Predators.

It's very possible that Nashville's third defensive pairing will be made up of rookies. Youngsters like Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm will be battling for a spot on the Predators roster in training camp. When you throw in the fact that Jonathon Blum is technically still a rookie, it's possible that three out of six defensemen on the Preds' roster will be rookies.

That makes Klein's job this year very important. He has to be more defensively sound than he ever has been before. While all of the young defensemen who will be battling for spots have a great amount of talent, they're still rookies who have never played at the NHL level before. Klein will have to be rock solid on his pairing with Blum, and will have to continue blocking shots the way he has for the past few years.

You've got to figure, especially at the beginning of the year, the third defensive pairing that is made up of rookies will be vulnerable. It just takes time getting used to playing at the NHL level. That means that Klein and Blum will have to play shutdown defense on a nightly basis. Klein gets in trouble when he pinches up on defense at the wrong time and gets sloppy while handling the puck. This year, the Predators simply cannot afford that.

The good thing for Preds' fans is that Klein has the potential to be a really good defenseman. Contrary to popular belief, he's really not that bad. Last season, he was Nashville's best penalty killing defenseman, and was top 5 in the entire league in blocked shots on the year. If Klein can work on the mental aspect of the game, and not pinch when he shouldn't, he's really a pretty good defenseman. The Preds are definitely going to need him to be that guy this year.

Defense has always been a strength of the Predators. With Weber and Suter, you know that an opponent's top line will have their work cut out for them on a nightly basis. Klein and Blum are going to be the X-factor. If they play well, Nashville's defense will be near the top of the league again and making the playoffs will be very likely. If they don't, the Preds could potentially be in very serious trouble.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Tribute to Dumont, Sullivan



This off-season, the Nashville Predators parted ways with veterans J.P. Dumont and Steve Sullivan. Neither of the two players were as productive as the Predators needed them to be, so the hard decision to move forward without them was made.

Both Dumont and Sullivan had great careers as a Nashville Predator. In both cases, the impact on the ice after they were acquired was felt immediately.

In Sullivan's Predator debut, he notched a hat trick against the San Jose Sharks on February 18th, 2004. It was the beginning of a long run with the Preds. Sullivan went on to become one of the most beloved players in the history of the franchise. He had his ups and downs. He basically missed two years of hockey with the Preds due to a debilitating back injury.

Sullivan returned midway through the 2008-2009 season, and won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his perseverance that same season. He finished his tenure with the Nashville Predators with 100 regular season goals and 163 assists in 317 games played.

Dumont's career with the Nashville Predators started off on a positive note as well. He scored 39 seconds into his first game as a Predator on October 5th, 2006, against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Dumont was probably the best pure passer that Nashville has ever had. He was a legitimate offensive threat throughout his time with the Preds. During his time in Nashville, Dumont had 93 regular season goals and 174 assists in 388 games played.

From an off-ice standpoint, the Nashville Predators organization has never had two players who have done more for the community than Dumont and Sullivan. They started their "Kids Come First" campaign, which allowed children from Vanderbilt Children's Hospital to sit in their own luxury suite and watch a game.

Sullivan has now moved on to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he will most likely play on one of their top two lines. Dumont is currently still an unrestricted free agent. Both players have said they will return to Nashville once their playing careers are over. In my opinion, I think both of them will be a part of the Nashville Predators organization again.

It will defnitely be different for Nashville fans when they look on the ice and don't see #26 and #71 out there, but it's something that was inevitable. There is no denying the positive impact that Dumont and Sullivan had on the Preds' organization and a community as a whole.

Fittingly enough, their final points as Nashville Predators came on the same play in the Game 6 win against Anaheim to send Nashville to the second round for the first time in franchise history. It was one last glimpse of glory for two of the greatest players to ever put on a Nashville Predators sweater.

(PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Humphrey, Associated Press)

How will Tootoo perform in contract year?



Nashville Predators' forward Jordin Tootoo has been a fan favorite in Nashville since he arrived here. His ferocious hits and physical play are always a noticeable part of any hockey game that he's in. Last year in the Anaheim series, Tootoo showed that he has enough skill to be more of an offensive threat than he normally is in a given regular season. With the upcoming season being the final year left on his contract, will Tootoo raise his offensive game to a new level?

Tootoo went through some personal issues last year, which caused him to miss 28 games during the regular season. It was good for him to take time off and work through those issues. It seems as if he has put his past behind him and has come out a better and stronger man. I think that led to better play on the ice. Towards the end of last year, Tootoo was playing the best hockey of his career.

In the past few seasons, Tootoo has proven that he has the tools necessary to become a more viable offensive option for the Predators. He has the second hardest slapshot on the team, behind Shea Weber. He is a very speedy player, and really has pretty good awareness when he has the puck. However, he needs to work on his puck handling skills. If he gets that down, Tootoo can become a legitimate threat to score 20 goals in a season.

After this season, Tootoo will be an unrestricted free agent. I would imagine that Nashville will try to re-sign him at some point during the year, but more offensive production out of Tootoo could land him a little more money than he would get otherwise. We'll see what kind of role the coaching staff has in mind for Tootoo this year, but Barry Trotz has often said that he wanted to see more offense out of Tootoo. This could be the year that he finally delivers that offensive production.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Preds buy out Lebda

The Nashville Predators have bought out recently acquired defenseman Brett Lebda. Lebda was a part of the deal that sent Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi to Toronto.

The Preds will have to pay him $478,500 over the next two years.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Five questions heading into 2011-12 season



August is here and a new hockey season is right around the corner. The Nashville Predators have had an interesting off season to say the least. From the qualifying offer issues with RFA's to the recent developments with Shea Weber, it's been a tough off season at times for Predators fans. However, a new year is on the horizon and so is a new Nashville Predators team.

Here are the top five questions that I have for the 2011-12 edition of the Nashville Predators going into the season:

#5. How will the departure of role players from last year's team affect this year's team?

Nashville lost J.P. Dumont, Cody Franson, Marcel Goc, Matthew Lombardi, Shane O'Brien, Steve Sullivan, and Joel Ward from last year's squad. Lombardi, of course, played in only two games for the Predators before he suffered a concussion that ended his season, and his tenure with the Predators. Franson and O'Brien were the number 3 defensive pairing on the team. Nashville has plenty of depth on defense, which is why it's not worrying to lose Franson and O'Brien. Dumont and Sullivan were two of the most loved players in the history of the franchise, but they simply were not as productive as they have been in the past. The loss of Goc and Ward is going to be the most interesting part to this question. While neither one packed a huge offensive punch, both had specific roles. Goc was a guy who could play a strong defensive game, while chipping in on the offensive side on occasion. Ward was a grinder that did well on the penalty kill, and really turned up his offensive game in the playoffs. The Predators have guys that are capable of filling the roles of these players, and possibly being more valuable. They just have to do it.

#4. Will Sergei Kostitsyn be more productive than he was last season?

Sergei Kostitsyn has the potential to be David Poile's best bargain acquisition in the history of the franchise. He has the potential to be an offensive force, and showed that at times last year. He was the team leader in goals scored(23) and tied Martin Erat for the team lead in points(50). Kostitsyn has to raise his game to a higher level this season if the Preds want to build on last year's success. Nashville really needs a 65-70 point year out of a guy like Kostitsyn to contend for a Central Division title, and to make a run for the Stanley Cup.

#3. Will Nashville's "young guns" take further steps in their development?

Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile talks about the "window of opportunity" on a regular basis. The Predators are a young team. Players like Colin Wilson, Blake Geoffrion, Cal O'Reilly, Matt Halischuk, and Nick Spaling are all still in the development stage of their careers. When you throw in the possibility of three out of six defensemen being rookies(Jonathon Blum, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi), Nashville is relying heavily on the younger players to step up and be an assets rather than liabilities. The younger players must produce if Nashville hopes to have a successful year.

#2. How will the lingering contractual negotiations of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne affect team chemistry?

The long-term future of Nashville's "Big 3" is uncertain. Both Rinne and Suter are unrestricted free agents after this season, and Shea Weber is a restricted free agent without the possibility of going through another arbitration hearing. This topic is going to be heavily discussed as the year progresses, so you have to wonder whether or not it will be a distraction for the players. The core leadership group of the team is going to be making a decision on whether or not they want to be in Nashville for the long haul. Poile will obviously be trying to get a deal done with all three players during the year, so you also have to wonder what kind of a toll that will take on the performance of the "Big 3".

#1. Will David Poile make a move to bring in enough scoring to compete for a Stanley Cup?

Every year, there is one gaping flaw in the framework of the Predators. You can always bet that they will be a great team defensively and with their goaltending. That's how they play and that's how they are competitive in nearly every game. However, once playoff time rolls around, they simply don't have enough scoring to get the job done. Poile has said that he will make a move to get scoring help this year. If there was ever a time for him to make that move, it would be this year. Not only will it make Nashville a serious threat for a Stanley Cup, it could have a positive impact with the "Big 3". Obviously, the "Big 3" wants to be in a position to win. Added scoring help will make Nashville a serious Cup contender for a number of years, and I think that may be all that Weber is waiting on. Poile has to show him that he's committed to winning now, and in the future. Adding scoring help would make Nashville a complete hockey team for the first time in team history.

In two months, the regular season will begin and all of these questions will be put to the test. If Nashville responds with positive answers to these questions, it could be a very special year. If not, it might not be so good.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Preds sign Jack Hillen

The Nashville Predators have signed former New York Islander defenseman Jack Hillen to a one-year, two way contract. The contract is worth $650,000 at the NHL level and $150,000 at the AHL level.

Hillen is 25 years old and is a guy that's not afraid to throw himself in front of a puck. He's not going to be a huge producer of points, but he is a solid defenseman. Whether or not he will make the opening day roster remains to be seen.



Friday, August 5, 2011

Time has come to look forward, not back

The past week has been enough to mess with the mind of any Preds' fan. Speculation has run rampant over Captain Shea Weber's future as a Nashville Predator, and the fact that no deal was made before arbitration has left fans dazed and confused.

General Manager David Poile still has his work cut out for him if he wants to lock up Weber to a long-term deal. On top of that, Poile still has to try and work out a deal with Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne. Yes, the long-term future of the Nashville Predators is a little more clouded today than it was even a week ago. However, that doesn't mean that doom and gloom need to set in just yet.

A new season of hockey is fastly approaching, and as it stands, the Predators are going to have an opportunity to be a pretty successful hockey team this year. Most of last year's pieces are still in place, and Poile has made it clear that he will go after a top six forward at some point during the season for added offensive help.

Niclas Bergfors will join this year's squad, and Preds' fans hope he is the 2011-12 version of Sergei Kostitsyn. The progression of players like Kostitsyn, Patric Hornqvist, and Colin Wilson will certainly be a key to taking the Predators to the next level towards a Stanley Cup.

While this off season certainly hasn't been an easy one, by no means is it the end of the world for the Predators. I'll be the first one to tell you that Shea Weber needs to be in Nashville for as long as possible. But, winning certainly goes a long way toward making that happen. The Preds are going to be in a good position to win this year. That could be all it takes to convince Weber that Nashville is a place that can be a consistent Stanley Cup contender.

I know it seems dark at the moment, but suck it up. There's hockey to be played and a Stanley Cup to be won.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Weber reportedly to receive $7.5 million

According to reports, Shea Weber has been awarded a one year, $7.5 million contract by the arbiter. I have no problem with it, as it's right near the price range that I initially expected.

More to come later...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Weber, Preds go to arbitration; Panic spreads

If you asked Nashville Predators fans a month ago if Shea Weber would be signed to a long-term deal by the Preds, they would have told you yes. No problem. Well, all of that certainty is now long gone.

Weber and the Predators attended an arbitration hearing at 8:00 a.m. in Toronto on Tuesday morning, meaning that no deal has been made between the two sides as of now. Initial reports out of the arbitration hearing are that Weber is asking for $8 million and the Predators are asking for $4.75 million. Before you panic(I did at first), that offer by the Preds is simply a part of negotiations with the arbitrator. The actual price will most likely fall somewhere in between those two figures.

It is still possible for the two sides to come to an agreement before the results of the hearing are announced. The bottom line is that this is an extremely dangerous path for Nashville. In the arbitration process, it rarely is good for long-term stability between the team and player.

Full-fledged panic has taken over the fan base of the Predators, and for valid reason. Nashville fans know that this isn't good. The fair question to ask is how did it get to this in the first place? What changed from the end of last season when both sides said a deal would be done to now? Who is to blame?

To be honest, it's far too early to place blame in this situation, simply because I wouldn't even know where to begin. There are so many questions that are unanswered. Does Weber truly want to be in Nashville? Did the front office royally screw this up? I can't fathom an answer to either question because there's simply no way of knowing at this point.

The tune for the franchise has changed almost literally overnight. The "window of opportunity" is now in legitimate danger, and it's taking it's toll on PredNation. Things have been as tense today as I can ever remember, except for when there was a legitimate chance of losing the franchise in Nashvillle.

It's way too early to abandon hope. A deal can still be worked out, and arbitration isn't necessarily the end of the world. However, by no means is it an option that is preferred. And I don't like it at all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Monday headlines around PredNation



Preds' fans are collectively anticipating news on Shea Weber over the next 24 hours or so. Weber's arbitration hearing is scheduled for Tuesday morning. On Sunday evening, TSN's Ryan Rishaug sent out a Tweet(that was later deleted) that read: "Briefs have been filed by both sides in preparation for weber tuesday arbitration hearing. Weber camp will elect a 1 year decision."

The Twitter world went nuts after that. There still is technically time for a deal to get done between the two sides before the hearing would take place. For now, Preds' fans are just going to have to sit back and see what happens. Here's what's going on around the Preds' blogosphere.

Monday morning headlines:

On The Forecheck: Shea Weber arbitration choice- 1 year, or 2?
Dirk Hoag gives his take on why a one year arbitration agreement would be best for both parties involved.

Smashville 24/7: Getting to know Blogger's Row: Amanda DiPaolo
Ryan Porth continues his series on giving readers background information with the people on Blogger's Row. His latest one is on Amanda DiPaolo from insidesmashville.com.

The View From 111: My View
If you're in need of a good laugh, check out Mark Willoughby's view from the beach. "Anyone can swim with dolphins. Want to impress me? Hug a wild bear."