At this time a year ago, the Predators existence in Nashville was in doubt. But local ownership was found, Larry Lucchino — I mean Craig Leopold — traded in his car for a shinier one to the north and everyone was happy. Then Barry Trotz even managed to coax a playoff berth out of a stripped down roster.
2007-08: 41-32-9, 91 points (second in Central)
PLAYOFFS: lost to Detroit in first round WHAT WENT RIGHT: Dan Ellis came on and won the goaltender job away from Chris Mason, which earned him some job security and a nice raise this offseason. The kids on defense (Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Dan Hamhuis) continued to progress and be a strength. The offense lacked star power, but had some balance and got the job done for the most part. Alexander Radulov looked like he could be that dynamic goal scorer this team needs, but …
WHAT WENT WRONG: … it is never good when your name has the word saga after it, as in the ongoing Alexander Radulov saga with the new KHL. If he’s not around, it is a big blow to the Predators. The man Ellis beat out was Chris Mason, who was given a long-term deal before the season and then shipped out afterwards. Some of that goodwill from the ownership change is gone after one of the investors has ended up in a huge legal/financial mess.
ARRIVALS: LW Josh Gratton
DEPARTURES: RW Alexander Radulov?, D Marek Zidlicky, LW Jan Hlavac, LW Martin Gelinas, G Chris Mason, RW Brandon Bochenski
IMPACT PROSPECTS: D Kevin Klein, LW Antti Pihlstrom, G Pekka Rinne, RW Ryan Jones
Who replaces Radulov?
There should be some sort of resolution to the contract circus, so the team should know by camp if he’s going to be around. If not, the Predators offense could collapse without some help from the prospects. First-round pick Colin Wilson might have actually helped, but he wants to go back to Boston U. for another year. Pihlstrom had 27 goals in the AHL last year, and Jones was a big-time scorer in college and came from Minnesota in the Zidlicky trade, but is either of them ready?
Can Steve Sullivan make a comeback?
One guy who could help the offense is the speedy Sullivan, who missed all of last season with a back injury. How effective he could be would depend on how close to 100 percent he might be, but Sullivan might also not play again.
PROGNOSIS: If this team starts the season without Radulov, Sullivan or a training-camp addition, goals could be pretty tough to come by. Even with Radulov this wasn’t a great offensive team, but he was about to become a true game-breaker. The defense corps should be a big strength, but GM David Poile also might need to dip into his young stable on the blue line to fetch some scoring help. Trotz is one of the best coaches in the league and maybe he can coax another run at the playoffs out of this group. But even Ellis can’t really be quantified as a sure-fire No. 1 guy until he’s done it for a full season. It sure looks like the Predators are a prime candidate to be one of the teams passed by the fast risers in the West like Chicago and Edmonton.
|Josh Gratton/Steve Sullivan
||Jerred Smithson/Ryan Jones
||Greg de Vries
*NOTE: This is not necessarily an attempt to guess line combinations