The Nashville Predators rode an incredible 28-9-4 record at home to battle for the title in the ultra-competitive Central Division. Alas, losing 22 of their final 30 games saw the Predators fall behind the St. Louis Blues as Nashville limped into the playoffs.
The eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks disposed of the Predators in six games in the opening round of the post-season. A stout defence, elite goaltender, and improving crop of forwards are set to return for another run in the Central in 2015-16.
Head coach: Peter Laviolette
GM: David Poile
Team payroll: $59 million against $71.4 million salary cap
Last season record: 47-25-10, 104 points, 2nd in Central Division
Goals for: 226 (14th in NHL)
Goals against: 202 (9th in NHL)
PP: 16.2 per cent (25th in NHL)
PK: 80.8 per cent (18th in NHL)
Corsi for per 60: 58.4 (6th in NHL)
Key departures: Matt Cullen, Anton Volchenkov, Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli
Rookies to Watch: Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamenev, Steve Moses, Jimmy Vesey, Marek Mazanec, Colton Sissons, Austin Watson.
Highlight of 2014-15:
The Predators walked into the Air Canada Centre on November 18 and put up nine goals on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Jonathan Bernier gave up three goals on 12 shots before he was replaced by James Reimer, who allowed six goals on 25 shots in two periods of work. The Maple Leafs used the loss as a launching pad, going on a remarkable 11-1-1 run. They Leafed hard shortly thereafter.
Pre-season letter grades
The arrival of James Neal combined with the emergence of Filip Forsberg, Colin Wilson and Craig Smith helped the Predators turn in a positive goal differential for the first time since the 2011-12 season. Forsberg, Neal and Mike Ribeiro formed something of a puck-possession juggernaut.
Ribeiro earned a two-year, $7 million contract, albeit one shrouded in controversy. The 35-year-old and his wife settled a lawsuit earlier this summer in which their former nanny accused him of sexual assault.
Hodgson is not as awful as he appeared with the Buffalo Sabres last season, and he could be a boon to the club’s underwhelming power play. GRADE: B-
Shea Weber and Roman Josi form the Predators’ top-pairing. Ryan Ellis took a step forward last season and Seth Jones’ sophomore run lends optimism to this group for 2015-16. Mattias Ekholm and Victor Bartley round out the group with veteran Barret Jackman arriving via free agency after spending his entire career with the St. Louis Blues. GRADE: B+
Pekka Rinne bounced back from a lost 2013-14 season to finish second in voting for the Vezina Trophy behind Carey Price. The 32-year-old native of Kempele, Finland finished with a 41-17-6 record to go along with a 2.18 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. Although Rinne got stomped in the playoffs, his three shutouts in the World Championship put any concerns about his well-being to rest. Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec will compete for backup duties. GRADE: A
The Predators will have a successful season if… the young forwards can duplicate their scoring output from 2014-15, Jones and Ellis take another step in their development, and Rinne remains healthy for the bulk of the season. The Predators are in a position to make another run at the Central Division title, especially with the Chicago Blackhawks taking a relative step back this off-season.
The Predators will have a disappointing season if… Forsberg falters, Rinne struggles to stay healthy, and the likes of Ribeiro and Jackman show the effects of living in their mid-30s. The Blues will be strong once again and both the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche addressed weaknesses this summer. Expect another tight race in the Central.