Nashville Predators

David Poile pulled the trigger on the biggest trade in franchise history when he acquired P.K. Subban in exchange for Shea Weber on June 30. He followed it up with a relatively quiet July 1, acquiring only a few depth defensemen. Despite being wallflowers during the summer free agency period, the Nashville Predators are going to look significantly different than the team that was blown out in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Sharks.

With Subban replacing Weber, the team returns most of its core defense. Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis mirror Subban’s game and are already blooming under Laviolette’s system. Mattias Ekholm will have to take Weber’s place as the more physical blueliner, but he provides consistent offense as well. The entirety of the defense will need to keep Pekka Rinne’s doorstep clean, as he looks to rebound from a career worst 90.8 percent save percentage last year. The offense will benefit from a full year of Ryan Johansen at the 1C helm, hoping to lock up the potential RFA before the year is up. James Neal and Filip Forsberg are 30 goal scorers and Colin Wilson should continue to ride the wave of momentum he had during last year’s playoff run.

THREE QUESTIONS

  1. Will Pekka Rinne bounce back from his awful 2015-16 campaign?

  2. What are the keys to this team finally reaching a Western Conference Final?

  3. Considering the talent on this blue-line, is this the year a Nashville Predator finally wins the Norris Trophy?

BEST CASE SCENARIO

The top line finally finds the scoring winger it needs to complement James Neal and Ryan Johansen: 2014 draft pick Kevin Fiala. With the top line wreaking havoc, other forwards like Craig Smith, Filip Forsberg, and Colin Wilson are able to find room against more leaky defenders. Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro somehow do not play like they are 36 years old. The bottom line, relishing in the absence of Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom, finds itself led by Colton Sissons, a new fan favorite.

Either P.K. Subban or Roman Josi are Norris finalists, with Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm feeling snubbed. The defense is fast, dynamic, and  entertaining. Pekka Rinne is merely an average NHL goaltender. The team unlocks the cheat codes for 3-on-3 overtime, even winning a few here and there.

With all the pieces in place, the Preds finish 2nd in the Central and fight their way to the Western Conference Final.

WORST CASE SCENARIO

Pekka Rinne continues his play from last year or is somehow worse. With a Shea Weber-sized hole at the backend, the defense allows too many odd man rushes, leaving the already frustrated Rinne out to dry. The experiment with the “all-offense” defense fails miserably, leading to a nightly beeline of goal scorers streaking to the Nashville net. Simultaneously, the offense is unable to find secondary scoring to counterbalance the onslaught. Filip Forsberg regresses, “Regular Season Colin Wilson” returns, and “the Mikes” don’t gel with their younger linemates.

The team falls out of playoff contention early in the season, never to recover. With Johansen still unsigned, the Preds deal their top trade target from last year to a playoff team for some draft picks.