Last year the Predators were one of the biggest surprises in the league. They were easy to count out heading into the season, but when the dust cleared they were second in the Central Division - and could have been even higher if they hadn't slumped down the stretch and lost their last six games. The regular-season momentum didn't stretch into the playoffs, though - they lost to the Blackhawks in six games in the opening round.
The formula for success last year was clear. Filip Forsberg was spectacular as a rookie and was the driving force of the offense. Shea Weber and young Seth Jones are as good as any two defensemen any team has, and Roman Josi combines with Weber to score a lot of points. Pekka Rinne is better than all but a very small handful of guys in the league in the nets. When you have superstars in all three phases of the game, good things can happen. Jones is entering his third year, and Forsberg is a sophomore. A lot now - and going forward - relies on the continued process of those young studs.
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Another guy who carries a big burden for success this year is James Neal. He had 23 goals last year and just 14 assists. That's well below what he accomplished in Pittsburgh. He can and must do much more.
Nashville Predators Offseason Moves
The team has made only a few moves this year and has focused on bargain hunting. Cody Hodgson had a strong season as a rookie in Vancouver in 2011, and
against in Buffalo in 2013, but he was a disappointment last year and was available for just over a million dollars despite being only 25. He's a gamble
but one worth taking. So is fellow right winger Steve Moses, a former University of New Hampshire star who had 36 goals in just 60 games in the KHL last
year. He's making his NHL debut - or at least planning to - at 26, and he also costs just a million bucks. At twice the price the team added stay-at-home
veteran defenseman Barret Jackman, who is 34 and has more than 800 games under his belt with St. Louis. The prices of all three are so reasonable that only
one has to pay off for the experiments to be a success. It's hard not to like the moves.
Nashville Predators NHL Outlook
It's always hard to judge a team the year after they overachieve. They could maintain their forward momentum and stay strong and competitive. Or they could fall off a cliff - like Colorado did last year after their success two years ago. Their cause isn't made any easier by the fact that they play in the Central Division. That is the only division in the whole league that I can't automatically and comfortably rule out any teams from playoff contention. This is a deep and tough group. We know that their defense is going to be good - potentially exceptional. We can also trust Rinne in net, too. The question, then, is all about the forwards. Can Forsberg keep it up, or is there a sophomore slump awaiting him? Can Neal step up his game? Can Hodgson or Moses be a pleasant surprise? Can young winger Kevin Fiala, who was very strong in a partial season in the AHL last year as an 18 year old, make this team and follow in Forsberg's footsteps as an overachieving youngster?
Nashville Predators Schedule
Last year the team didn't finish off well at all at the end of the regular season. This year they have a better chance of success if they find themselves in a good race at the end of this season. Seven of their final 10 games are at home. Eight of the 10 games are against Western foes, too, so they could have a chance to gain valuable ground against key rivals.
Nashville Predators NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
At +1800 to win the Stanley Cup , the team is tied as the ninth choice with the Capitals and Canadiens. They are tied with Minnesota as the fifth choice to win the Western Conference at +900. They are the fourth choice to win the Central Division at +450.
2015-16 Nashville Predators Predictions
There is a lot of uncertainty, and the health of Rinne scares me, but this is a team that sure looks like a playoff squad to me. There are going to be very good teams that don't make the playoffs in the Central, but this team is in the mix for sure, and I expect them to move on - and to be a much tougher out than last year - this time around.
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