The Nashville Predators came this... close... to sneaking past the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of last year's playoffs, but despite that, they're still projected to miss the 2011 playoffs with a ninth place finish. That's according to SB Nation's Preseason Power Rankings.
Why might that be, though? Well, for starters, the Preds have lost several big name players without getting too much in return. It comes down to a simple issue: can Sergei Kostitsyn, and Ryan Parent replace , , Dan Ellis, , and Dan Hamhuis?, ,
Looking at that turnover on paper, it might seem bleak for the Predators, but could they surprise? With help from Dirk Hoag, our Preds blogger at On the Forecheck, we take a look at Five Burning Questions surrounding the team in Nashville this season.
1. Was Patric Hornqvist's 30-goal season for real?
Dirk Hoag, On the Forecheck: Absolutely. A few guys have fluke goal-scoring seasons every season, but that is generally because of two factors. First, they have a one-year jump in shooting percentage that we can attribute to luck, and secondly, they may get a cameo appearance on a line with a superstar. Patric Hornqvist had neither of these, scoring his 30 goals on 275 shots (14th in the league last season), while getting only 15:41 of ice time per game. Look for him to top 35 goals this time around, and if luck shines on him, he'll top 40.
2. Can Matthew Lombardi replace Jason Arnott?
OtF: While he doesn't bring the offensive punch that Arnott does, at this point Lombardi is the more reliable option going forward, as concussions just keep adding up for the former Nashville captain. His speedy style of play may suit Barry Trotz's system better as well, allowing him to put together two lightning-quick lines with David Legwand behind Lombardi.
3. Is Pekka Rinne a legitimate #1 goaltender?
OtF: Well, it certainly says so on his paycheck ($2.8 million this season, $4 million next). What remains to be seen is whether he can put together a long stretch of solid play, and shake off the occasional bad start. He dominated after the Olympics last spring, but was pretty poor before that.
4. How much will the loss of Dan Hamhuis hurt the defense?
OtF: Not much, surprisingly. It's not just that Nashville has another crop of defensemen moving up through the ranks (keep an eye out for Cody Franson and Kevin Klein this year), but many observers ignore the fact that Dan Hamhuis didn't exactly have a great season in 2009-10. His 24 points were the lowest since 2006-7, and the penalty kill (where he led the Preds in ice time) was awful.
5. Can this team make the playoffs again on a shoestring budget?
OtF: The current roster looks pretty comparable to last season's 100-point squad, and if past history is any guideline, it looks like the Preds still have $1-2 million in their player budget to acquire some help at the trade deadline if the right deal is available. I know it's popular to write off Nashville around the league, but with 5 playoff appearances in the last 6 six seasons, it's about time to give them some respect.
Be sure to check out an in-depth Predators preview over at On the Forecheck.