24 Cups looks at the Predators

The latest scouting report from Steve Kerley, aka 24 Cups:

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

After ten years in the league, that basically sums up the plight of the Predators.  Fighting to build a fan base while staying well below the salary cap, this never-ending dilemma seems to be the main focus for the franchise.  The team certainly seems to be wary of taking chances after making the failed Peter Forsberg deadline trade in 2007, and have been stuck in neutral ever since.  Suffice to say, if you don’t risk anything, you won’t gain anything.

• Historically, the biggest problem with Nashville  is that they simply can’t score enough goals.  To add insult to injury, this year they rank 29th in the league in goals scored which is also a reflective of the fact that their PP is dead last in the NHL.  In fact, they only have seven PP goals and three of those have come from stud defenseman, Shea Weber (Frankie Bouillon also has one).  The Predators don’t have that many quality forwards, and the ones that they do have simply haven’t been producing.


• David Legwand, was their projected star player during the expansion days but after nine seasons he seems to have hit his peak.  He only has scored one goal so far this year and eats up $4.5M of cap space.  He also has missed at least 9 games in 6 of his 9 NHL seasons.  He’s OK, but nothing special. Another player who is off to a slow start is LW, Martin Erat. He has one goal and three assists with a -8, hardly good value for his salary of $4.5m a year.  The oft injured, Steve Sullivan, has only scored two goals so far but is the type of player who usually puts up good numbers.  


• Nashville’s best two forwards are centre, Jason Arnott and RW, J.P. Dumont.  Arnott (6’4″/225) has scored 32, 27, 28, and 33 goals during the past four years despite having some injury woes.  He is the prototype big centre that all teams desire.  Dumont has averaged 68 points a year for the past three seasons and has 11 points in just 10 games so far.  He is the leading scorer on the team even though he has missed 7 games.  There is some hope in the near future as first year pro, Colin Wilson, has star potential written all over him.  He will be the heir apparent to Arnott.  Sulllivan, Arnott, and Dumont form the top line for Nashville and are the heart of the PP along with Weber.


• The talent pool up front drastically drops off after these “core players” but there is one newcomer  who might catch your eye.  Second-year pro, Patric Hornqvist, is my player to watch tonight.  Hornqvist (5’11″/190/R/$620,000) is 22 years old, and was a 7th round draft pick who was selected 230th overall.  Shades of Sergei in terms of coming out of the blue.  He’s a gritty, hard working player who can play both flanks.  He split his rookie campaign between Nashville and the AHL last year, with mixed results.  He’s the type of player who needs a centre to make him shine (instead of the other way around) and may one day be a perfect match for Wilson.  He has five goals and five assists so far this year and wears sweater #27.


• Ryan Jones and Joel Ward are a couple of hard working, two way players who answer the bell on a nightly basis.  Jordan Tootoo is an undersized version of the same thing while Jarred Smithson is a solid checking centre who is a mainstay on the PK unit.  All four of these guys are solid role players but aren’t really scoring threats in any way.  Marcel Goc arrived from San Jose but he is basically on the clock (and may not have noticed the time change at the beginning of the month).  He has only two points so far this year.   The much traveled Wade Belak is on the 4th line and is the town thug.  With all this lack of scoring,  the Preds would surely love to have Alexander Radulov back in the fold.  It also hurts that they lost Rich Peverley on waivers last year to Atlanta.


• Nashville has had their share of goaltenders over the past ten years, and most of them have served the club quite well.  Right now, the duties are being shared by Dan Ellis (2.90/.900) and Pekka Rinne (2.60/.909).  Thomas Vokoun was the last real #1 in Nashville and now both of these guys are battling for the top spot.  There’s a lot on the line seeing that they both are going to be UFAs this summer.  Rinne seems to have the inside track at the present moment as he displays more upside than Ellis.  Chet Pickard, 19, has all the tools to become an elite NHL goaltender but will need a few more years of seasoning before he challenges for the #1 job.  


• The greatest strength of the team is on the back end.  They have a solid collection of young Dmen who display great size and potential.  Shea Weber is only 24 but has already broken through to be an elite defender.  His excellent size,  great shot, and PP prowess help make him an all star candidate.  Ryan Suter (24) and Dan Hamhuis (26) help round out Nashville’s version of the big three.  Cody Franson (22/6’5″/230) is finally playing with the big club as is Kevin Klein (24/6’1″/200).  Jonathan Blum (20)  set the AHL on fire last year but needs more experience.  2009 1st round draft pick, Ryan Ellis, has elite puck moving skills but is severely undersized.   Nashville probably should have gone with a forward but they collect young Dmen the same way that Mike Boone collects single malts.  


• As I said in my introduction, it’s too bad that Nashville doesn’t spend some money to sign some big ticket UFA forwards.  Or maybe trade off some young defenders to help balance out the team.  The Preds will never take it to the next level unless they start to show some moxie and try and jump start the franchise.  


• Nashville is just coming off a tough stretch of games that saw them play 9 of their last 11 on the road.  They are 2-2 so far in November and 6-3 over their last nine.  Another scarey stat is the fact that they are 8-2-1 when scoring more than one goal in a game.  Here’s another caution for Hab fans.  Nashville coach, Barry Trotz (the only one the franchise has ever had), realizes his team has scoring issues and has therefore implemented a very restrictive trap system.  Bring a pillow.


• Stat pack – GF: 29th, GA: 10th, GD: -11, GAA: 2.76, PP: 30th, PK: 22nd, FO: 50.7%, CS: 12.7M

• Injury Report – Colin Wilson (groin).  Weber, Erat, Dumont, and Tootoo have all just returned from the injury list.


When it’s all said and done, the Habs really need to take advantage of the schedule that is presently in front of them.  A win over Phoenix was a good start and the same outcome is needed during the next week as they face second-tier teams such as Nashville and Carolina.  In a perfect world, we would head into next weekend on a three game winning streak.  That’s pretty well a must seeing that we will be facing Washington and Detroit.


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