Fantasy Hockey

2015 Fantasy Hockey Team Preview: Nashville Predators

Welcome to NHL team previews: a brand new series that will breakdown every NHL team this offseason. You can expect to see new posts all summer, starting from the 30th place team, and finishing with the Stanley Cup champions. With so many changes coming in the offseason, some teams will be improving dramatically, while others will be forced to make some tough decisions for the future. It’s going to be a fun summer of hockey talk, so sit down, hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

Year in Review

 

  • Record: 48-29-5 (104 points)
  • Goals per game: 2.76 (14th)
  • Goals against per game: 2.46 (9th)
  • Power play: 16.2% (25th)
  • Penalty kill: 80.8% (18th)
  • Shots per game: 31.9 (3rd)
  • Shots against per game: 28.3 (6th)

The Nashville Predators are a forgotten team in the Western Conference. They’re not the most exciting team to watch, but over the last few years, NHL fans are starting to see just how much of a hockey city Nashville is.

Famous for country music and RCA Studio B, the city of Nashville has a competitive hockey team that continues to improve year after year. Since 2003-04, the Predators have missed the playoffs a total of three times—twice in the last three years. Their consistency is second to only the Detroit Red Wings and their money managing skills are among the best in the league.

The Predators are ranked 28th in the league in team payroll ($58M), ahead of only the Winnipeg Jets ($57.4) and Arizona Coyotes ($56.9).

The notion that small-market teams can’t be competitive doesn’t exist in the music city. The organization is structured perfectly—from owner W. Brett Wilson money management to Peter Laviolette’s coaching strategies.

So what made Nashville so successful on the ice last season?

For starters, the Preds play excellently as a team. In a world where advanced stats are increasingly important, it’s good to know that the Predators were among the best in the league in CorsiFor (CF%) last season (52.7%). Last season, five forwards finished in the top-30 in CF%, including rookie sensation Filip Forsberg (12) and veteran Mike Ribeiro (13). They also finished third in shots per game (31.9) and sixth in shots against (28.3). The recipe for success in the NHL is simple; take a lot of shots and don’t give any up. Follow that strategy and good things will usually happen.

Despite taking so many shots, they weren’t able to translate them into goals (14th, 2.76). Part of the reason was their inability to convert on the power play (16.2%). For a team that isn’t loaded with talented goal scorers, it’s understandable, but taking advantage of your chances on the power play is the best way to increase goal scoring.

Offseason Game Plan

The plan this offseason was a simple one for Nashville; make very little changes. They did get eliminated in the first round, but in all fairness, it was to the Stanley Cup champions.

Their core of young players like Craig Smith, Colin Wilson and Gabriel Bourque will continue to develop as talented NHL players, while James Neal, Mike Fisher, Filip Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro will all be counted on to lead the team up front. Offseason addition Cody Hodgson is coming into Nashville hoping for a fresh start and a bounce back season, while Eric Nystrom looks to add some depth and experience to a young hockey club.

The backbone of this team is clearly their defense. Every good hockey team is built from the goaltending position out, and the Preds are above average both in nets, and on the blueline.

It starts with captain Shea Weber. The 30-year-old is coming off somewhat of a disappointing season. He finished with 15 goals and 45 points, but his 15 goals were his lowest total since 2007-08 (6) and his point total the lowest since 2009-10. Of his 15 goals, only five came on the power play, a drop from the 12 goals scored the previous season. It’s more than goals and points with Weber, but for a team that relies heavily on their defense to contribute offensively, Weber will need to return to his old form to help his team get to the next level.

The rest of the support cast is one of the best in the league. Roman Josi leads all defenseman on the team in points (55), while Seth Jones finished with 27 points in 82 games. Longtime Blues defenseman Barret Jackman signed with the team over the offseason and will help bring some much-needed experience to a young defensive group.

Even with a stellar defense, none of it will matter if their goaltending isn’t elite.

There’s no question that Pekka Rinne is their guy, but the question again this season is whether or not the all-star will be able to stay healthy. Prior to his knee injury, Rinne was the early favorite for the Vezina Trophy.

 

  GS Wins GAA SV% SA
  36 29 1.98 .930 1032
Rank 2nd 1st 1st 1st 4th

He dominated every goaltending category and looked unstoppable, but once he returned from his knee injury, he just wasn’t the same.

 

  GS Wins GAA SV% SA
  26 12 2.46 .912 728
Rank 4th 12th 16th 20th 8th

(Courtesy NHL.com)

When healthy, Rinne and the Predators are almost unstoppable. He’s a world-class goalie that can lead his team to the Stanley Cup, but he’s been subject to injures over the last few years and it’s unlikely that he will stay healthy this year. Backup goalie Carter Hutton did a great job filling in for Finn while he was out, but let’s face it, Hutton won’t be able to carry this team should Rinne spend an extended period of time off the ice. The Preds are a great team, but they aren’t an elite team without their number one goalie in the crease.

The Central Division is the toughest division in the NHL, one that should probably be named the group of death. With the Blues, Wild, Stars and the defending champs all fighting for top stop, Nashville will have their hands full trying to repeat last season’s success, but I’m a believer. They’re an elite hockey team that’s coached to their skillset—defense first. Can they better their points total from last season? Absolutely, but I’m not ready to bet my life savings on it. Nashville will be a great team his season, but how great? We’ll have to wait and see.

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