After wrapping up the Metropolitan Division last week, we’re moving on to the Western Conference. Up first, from the Central Division, is the team that may have made the biggest trade of the summer: the Nashville Predators. Here to answer three questions for us is one of their many managers, Kristopher Martel:
1. Pekka Rinne had has worst full season statistically of his career in 2015-16. Is this a sign of things to come, or will Rinne be able to bounce back to his career average?
Statistically, it’s safe to assume that we may never see the Rinne from 2011-12, or even from just two seasons ago, for the remainder of his career. Just like any other player, you reach the peak of what you can do on the ice and then you either plateau or go downhill from there. That’s not to say that Rinne will not be able to turn in a successful 2016-17 campaign, though. In fact, that’s one of the pivotal points for Nashville this year.
At 33, going on 34, there’s still something left in the tank for Rinne. I’d like to chalk up some of Rinne’s numbers last season to defensive breakdowns – game seven against San Jose was a prime example of that. We’ve seen plenty of wear and tear in the Finnish goaltender over the last couple of seasons. In my opinion, he hasn’t truly been the same since coming back from his knee injury during the 2014-15 season.
The success of the Predators will largely depend on how strongly their goaltending performs. If Rinne can’t at least climb back to his career average, one of the most promising seasons in franchise history could turn in to a tepid disappointment.
2. Despite losing Seth Jones, the Preds still have the deepest d-corps in the league. Do you see them trading from that depth to try to acquire another key piece on forward, or will they follow the old mantra that defence wins championships?
Right now, I don’t see the Predators doing much in terms of trades. I think the Weber/Subban trade may have filled up their quota for that for the time being.
Offensively, the current roster seems to be fairly decent going into the upcoming season. Players like Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, James Neal and Craig Smith will undoubtedly be leading the way. You’ll also see scoring from Colin Wilson, Calle Jarnkrok and the two veteran Mikes: Fisher and Ribeiro. That’s eight players from the top-nine who are going to be able to contribute on a nightly basis.
This isn’t including young, up-and-coming players like Viktor Arvidsson (hero of game six against the Sharks), Miikka Salomaki, Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg and Austin Watson.
Nashville has the depth both offensively and defensively. Maybe later in the season they’ll look to add upon using some of the excess pieces they have now.
3. P.K. Subban may be a stats darling, but there's no question that Shea Weber was a key leadership component for the Preds, and an important community contributor. In what ways will Weber most be missed? Who do you see stepping up to fill his role, especially off the ice?
I think Weber’s leadership will be the thing most missed by the team. Of course you see the leadership on the ice, that’s why he was given the captaincy for Nashville. What you don’t see is how much respect he garnered in the locker room. He wasn’t one of the most out-spoken players, but seemed to have a “speak softly, and carry a big stick” mantra – figuratively, but also quite literally with his booming shot.
In terms of community contribution, you can’t really put in to words all that Weber’s done for the city of Nashville – especially the Best Buddies organization and to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. His incoming counterpart, though, seems like a really solid fit to replace the hole that Weber’s leaving.
Subban and Weber are very similar, but very different in many ways. Both are quite active in their community and are well-respected players. The major difference between the two, however, is their demeanor. From what I’ve experienced, Weber always seemed a bit more introverted than some of his other fellow players. Subban, on the other hand, seems to be quite extroverted.
Other than that, it was a player-for-player trade for a reason. Nashville expects Subban to step into Weber’s role with the team. Maybe not being the captain that he was, but still as a leader on-the-ice and in the community as well as a key defenseman for the organization.