After years of making the playoffs and finally finding success in Nashville, to the point they gave it the clever name of Smashville, last year saw things take a bit of a downturn. They lost Ryan Suter, and they had to give Shea Weber a huge deal to keep him in town. Due to a multitude of things, the Predators had a rough year, not only missing the playoffs, but finishing second to last in the Western Conference, thanks in part to a horrendous 1-8-1 finish. David Poile and Barry Trotz have been running the show in Nashville for a long time. Will they get the show back on the road?
Part of the problem was that Pekka Rinne had a slightly down year, posting only a .910 save percentage. Considering he has a .919 SV% in his career, it is safe to say Rinne will likely improve his play in net, and he is a workhorse. That alone could be huge. Guys like Patric Honrqvist and Colin Wilson dealt with injuries too. By trading away Martin Erat, they got promising prospect Filip Forsberg.
In addition to their up and coming young players, and there are many on this roster, they added Matt Cullen, Viktor Stalberg, and Eric Nystrom to their forward corps. That being said, when you look at their forwards, there is still not a lot of talent here... or maybe there is. It is no secret that the Predators have lacked for scoring even when they were finding success. Perhaps one of these many young forwards will step up and help turn this offense around.
Or, maybe, this team will thrive on goal prevention. In addition to a likely Pekka Rinne bounce back, they still have Shea Weber, perhaps the league's top defenseman. They have Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis. Plus, they added Seth Jones in the 2013 NHL Draft. Jones, the son of a former NBA player, which is a nice fun fact, was considered by some to be the best player in this draft class. Defenseman often take longer to adjust to the NHL, but Nashville can let Jones play a bit this year, and maybe he will be up to the task.
Nashville shouldn't find themselves among the league's worst teams again. However, while I see some improvement in their play coming, I don't think they can just write themselves into a playoff spot again. Their defense isn't as good as it was in its heyday, not having Suter is big, and they probably need to score more. The teams that made the playoffs in the West last year are all contenders again, although Detroit is now in the East. Additionally, Edmonton and Dallas are improving teams. The Predators should be fighting for one of the final spots in the West this year. If Rinne is back in Vezina winning form, I think they get one of them.