Following the 2008-09 season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, the Predators came into 2009-10 intent on getting themselves back into postseason contention. Seven months later, that feat had been accomplished with a 100-point, 47-win season, good for third place in the Central Division and their third-best season finish in franchise history. Sadly, the Preds were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs Ė for the fifth time in as many tries Ė as they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in six games. So, while it was a successful season on the one hand, the end result was disappointingly familiar.
This season, the Preds will return with a very similar makeup. During the offseason, the only significant departures were first-line center Jason Arnott, defenseman Dan Hamhuis and goaltender, Dan Ellis. Topping the list of newcomers are Matthew Lombardi (free agent) and Sergei Kostitsyn (trade with Montreal). Otherwise, coach Barry Trotz will once again run with Patric Hornqvist, Martin Erat and Steve Sullivan as its top three scoring wingers, with either J.P. Dumont, Joel Ward or Colin Wilson (converted from center) in the fourth spot. Down the middle, Lombardi is expected to replace Arnott on the top line, and things thin out pretty quickly after that, with either Wilson or David Legwand as the No. 2 pivot.
On defense, the team can withstand the departure of Hamhuis just fine, with a top duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Francis Bouillon and Kevin Klein are the teamís primary shutdown pair, while the versatility of young Cody Franson allows him to play either a scoring or checking role on any given night, depending on what Trotz wants him to do. In goal, Pekka Rinne will start the season as the teamís undisputed No. 1, following the signing of a new two-year, $6.8 million contract in February which paved the way for Dan Ellisí departure as a fee agent.
Overall, the Preds are a team that look very much like they did last season Ė long on defense and goaltending but short on offense. Even if Hornqvist meshes well with new centerman Lombardi and enjoys another career season, the team will largely struggle to score goals. This means Rinne and the d-men will have to step up on a nightly basis to shut other teams down Ė something that is tough to do consistently over the course of a full season. Given this, it will be tough for the Preds to even get themselves back into the playoffs, never mind advance past the first round.
THE BIG GUNS
Patric Hornqvist (LW): After scoring just two goals in 2008-09, Hornqvist busted out big-time last season, leading the Predators with 30 goals. He also tied with Steve Sullivan for first in team points with 51. He will likely line up with Matthew Lombardi and Martin Erat on the teamís top line this season, but he may be better off on the second line with fellow up-and-comer Colin Wilson as his center. From a fantasy perspective, we think he will deliver somewhere in the 50-55 point range this season, but after such a huge jump in production last year, it's not uncommon to see a player like Hornqvist take a step back. At the very least, don't expect another huge spike in his point totals.
Martin Erat (RW): Over the course of a full season, Erat is about as steady as they come with six consecutive seasons of 50-ish points under his belt. Unfortunately, he will drive fantasy owners crazy with his lack of consistency from week to week - he can look unstoppable at times, then disappear for long stretches. The other area of concern for Erat is his frequent injuries, having missed an average of almost 10 games a season over the past four years. In 2009-10, he scored 49 points in 74 games, spending much of that time on the team's top line alongside Jason Arnott and Steve Sullivan. Looking ahead to next season, Erat will become the team's highest-paid player and coach Barry Trotz will no doubt use him accordingly. If he can stay healthy, and meshes well with new #1 center Matthew Lombardi, he might challenge the 60-point plateau, but don't count on it. He's a fairly safe bet for another 50-point season, but not much more.
Shea Weber (D): With Jason Arnott off to New Jersey, Weber inherited the role of team captain in the offseason despite 2010-11 being the final year of his contract, a possible indication that he'll re-up with the team after this next season. Only once in five seasons has Weber been on the wrong side of the plus/minus rating (minus-6 in '07-'08), with his shots on goal in the low-to-mid 200's - fairly high totals for a rear guard. Assuming he stays healthy, Weber could grill up some fantasy-friendly stats. We're expecting roughly 40-50 points this season from No. 6.
Pekka Rinne (G): Rinne started out the season in a platoon situation with Dan Ellis for the job of No. 1 netminder in Nashville. However, thanks to a solid run in March that saw him win six consecutive games, Rinne eventually became the main man between the pipes for the Preds, and was a big reason why the team managed to grab the seventh playoff spot in the Western Conference. Before the season was even over, the Preds all but anointed Rinne their primary starter going forward, signing him to a new two-year, $6.8 million contract in February and allowing Ellis to sign with Tampa Bay in the offseason. Rinne is considered one of the better young goalies in the NHL right now, but he is probably a year or two away from entering "elite" status. Don't overpay to get him on draft day.
ON THE RISE
Colin Wilson (C): Wilson showed a great deal of promise last season, his first year as a pro, scoring 15 points in 35 games with a shot percentage of 13.8%. Itís widely expected that he will only see limited action again this season, and spend the majority of the year back in the AHL. However, with the recent departure of Jason Arnott, the Preds are weaker down the middle this year. If it turns out the newly-acquired Matthew Lombardi is not a good fit centering the top line, they may give Wilson a look in that spot. Alternately, they could make room for him on the wing, something they experimented with last year. Either way, donít be surprised if Wilson arrives sooner than expected and plays close to a full slate of games with the Preds this season.
Cody Franson (D): Franson averaged just over 14 minutes per game last season as the Preds' sixth defenseman, but was very productive scoring-wise with 21 points (6 G, 15 A) in 61 games. He also ranked third among the team's blueliners in power play minutes per game (1:58). With the recent departure of fellow blueliner Dan Hamhuis, there may be an opportunity for Franson to see more ice time this coming season. He'd be a nice late-round sleeper selection in deeper fantasy formats.
TWO TO AVOID
J.P. Dumont (RW): Dumont saw his output drop to just 45 points in 74 games last season, his lowest points-per-game level of production since 2002-03. By season's end, he also found himself squarely in his coach's doghouse, as Barry Trotz proceeded to lower Dumont's ice time from an average of 17 minutes per game in October-November to about 12 minutes in March-April. With Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist both ahead of him on the Preds' depth chart, it appears Dumont's days as a top-six forward are all but over, at least with Nashville. Unless the 32-year-old winger is traded to another team that believes he can play a bigger role, he likely won't put up big numbers this year.
David Legwand (C): Legwand had a miserable regular season in 2009-10, with just 38 points (11 G, 27 A) in 82 regular season games. The lone bright spot for Legwand was his productivity in the playoffs, scoring seven points (2G, 5A) in the Preds' first-round loss to Chicago. Sadly, this was not enough for him to avoid the wrath of Nashville GM David Poile, who publicly called Legwand out after the playoffs, saying, "... if David Legwand doesn't score more than 20 goals next season, I'm not going to be very happy." The Predators' first-ever draft pick shows flashes of brilliance from time to time, but overall has yet to live up to expectations. Furthermore, it appears he will now be on a very short leash as far as team management is concerned. Legwand remains a very risky fantasy play until he can demonstrate more consistency.
Ryan Ellis (D): The Predators signed Ellis, their top 2009 draft pick, to a three-year entry-level contract in October of 2009. He then proceeded to score 12 goals and 49 assists in 48 games with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. Despite needing the kind of offense he brings from the blue line, the Preds insist they will not rush Ellis into active duty before heís ready. It will probably be another couple of seasons before you see Ellis at the NHL level, but he'll get there.
Taylor Beck (RW): Beck, 19, was a third-round pick (No. 70 overall) by Nashville in 2009. He played for the OHL's Guelph Storm this past season and won the 2010 Jim Mahon Memorial Trophy after leading all right wingers in scoring (39 goals, 54 assists, 93 points). He is expected to report to the Predatorsí rookie training camp in September, but will likely begin the season in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals. The 6í1Ē, 205-lb Beck projects as a top-six power forward for the Preds, but he isnít expected to arrive for another season or two.