Ward, Goc, Sullivan depart team.

For the most part, this summer’s free-agency began with a fart instead of a bang. No teams have made any significant signings, particularly those that pose a serious threat to the Predators. In my opinion, the most significant impact to the Predators this season has come in the form of trades, with the Philadelphia Flyers sending Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings and Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Even though we face the Blue Jackets twice more a season than we do the Kings, I still see Richards to the Kings as the greater threat between the two. The Blue Jackets have made some bold moves this summer bringing on Carter and defenseman James Wisniewski, but until they get a goaltender that can effectively play the position I can’t take them seriously as a playoff hopeful. The Kings however, have made the playoffs the last 2 seasons in a tough Pacific division and were already considered a Stanley Cup contender going into the playoffs last season. The Preds struggled mightily against the Kings last season, never quite finding the proper match-ups to counter the Kings’ size and speed. Richards is a tough, mean player who plays on the edge, much like our own Jordin Tootoo, but with greater offensive skill.

Which brings us to today… After making significant strides as a franchise last season, the Predators have made no additions since bowing out of the 2nd round in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with the exception of signing a couple of minor-leaguers who we can expect to see stay in Europe or play in Milwaukee. Nashville recently bought out the final year of forward J.P. Dumont’s contract, whose effectiveness as a player essentially all but stopped when he suffered a concussion after a cheap head shot courtesy of Vancouver 2 years ago, and watched today as their unrestricted free agents went on to other teams. So you may wonder, were the Predators not wanting to improve the club? Sullivan was already announced not to be a part of the team’s future, with his age and proneness to injury playing a significant part in the decision. But Ward is coming of a career playoff run, and Goc was having a career season before having it suddenly cut short with a shoulder injury that required surgery. I had personally gone to bed last night hopeful that both Ward and Goc would be returning to the Nashville roster. In the early afternoon, it was announced that Goc had signed a 3-year deal with the Florida Panthers at $1.7 million per season. A couple of hours later, we learned that Steve Sullivan had signed a 1-year deal with the Pittsburgh Pansies Penguins at $1.5 m, while Joel Ward had struck up a deal with the Washington Capitals for 4 years at $3m per. While all great players in their own right, both Florida and Washington overpaid for their acquisitions, which is common for the first day of free agency. Not offering this money towards 3rd and 4th line forwards, areas of strength on the Nashville roster, the team was able to preserve almost $9m for the coming season (including the Dumont buyout.) Considering the number of restricted free agent forwards (Sergei Kostitsyn, Nick Spaling, Cal O’Reilly, Matt Halischuk, Chris Mueller, Linus Klasen and Andreas Thurreson) as well as the must-sign RFA defenseman Shea Weber that still have to be extended, allowing those three to leave almost certainly had to be done. In the end, I can’t help but see this as addition by subtraction.

Care to leave your thoughts?

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Big Kev. A bad writer. Linus Omark. Unsportsmanlike?

Hello everybody! Hope everyone’s Christmas season is going well! It’s been a while since I last posted but I just had to share a quick post on this.

Last night, the Tampa Bay Lightning journeyed into Edmonton to take on the Oilers at Rexall Place. I was able to watch the second half of the game and from the half I saw, Edmonton owed their goaltender, Nikolai Khabibulin, a huge steak dinner. The Lightning pressed like mad in the 3rd and eventually tied it up. Khabibulin came up with some amazing play to keep the game tied going into the overtime, and eventually the shootout. The shots on goal were 17-1 in favor of Tampa Bay. Going into the shootout, the 3rd shot for Edmonton fell to Linus Omark, a rookie playing in his first ever NHL game. There are no words for his attempt, so I’ll let this video do the justice:

When he took his shot, I just looked at my wife and said, “wow.” It truly was an amazing goal. I watched a few replays and then eventually stopped thinking about it before I went to bed. The surprise came this morning when getting my daily hockey news updates. I came across this little gem from the St. Petersburg Times. By itself, it’s a typical game recap with a few odd quotes from the players, but what struck me were the quotes from several Lightning players basically alluding to Omark’s goal being unsportsmanlike.

“A … joke,” left wing Ryan Malone said.

Asked if it was disrespectful, defenseman Mattias Ohlund said, “Absolutely.”

“It’s embarrassing for him,” Ellis said. “You come into a league, a respectful league like this, and you try a little move like that. It’s not a very classy thing. That’s just the kind of person he is.”

“If anyone did that on our team,” Ohlund said of Omark’s showboating, “the guys would tell him not to do it anymore.”

When Omark was asked about the goal, I think he had as appropriate an answer as I could have hoped for.

“That’s my thing. I like to do it for the crowd,” Omark said. “I do stuff like that. Why should I stop at this level?”

You all know I hate the shootout to begin with, in respect to how much value it has on standings. I won’t get on a soapbox about it (for my wife’s sake) but I simply feel that a team effort through 65 minutes shouldn’t be decided by a skills competition with 3 shooters and a goalie, no more than a basketball game should be decided by a slam-dunk competition or a boring baseball game decided by a home run derby.

My personal thoughts on this shootout? Piss off, to all of you Tampa Bay players. The shootout is a skills competition, plain and simple. One of the more cliche sports quotes is that you “do what it takes to win.” Which is exactly what Omark did. As for Ohlund’s remarks, I cry shenanigans. If Stamkos or any of the other wealth of skilled players on their roster had attempted this move and won, the article would have been buzzing with praise from his teammates. And rightly so.

Agree? Disagree? Hit dem comments below.

See you tonight at the Bridge!

BK

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Early thoughts from Raleigh – Slapshot Radio Road Trip

Quick hits:

- My apologies to everyone that had to wait for me to get there to take off this morning. Granted, I did make it before the 4am deadline, but since I was the last there, we could have left sooner. I went to the wrong Kroger. My bad. :/

- Raleigh is lovely right now. A lot of the trees still have their leaves and are changing. Very nice.

- _/_/_/ Big stick tap to the staff of Burger King in Claremont, NC. Lesser men and women would have panicked seeing 60 people pile out of a bus and into your facility, but you kept us going at a quick pace in spite of having only one register.

- The RBC Center is in a particularly bizarre location. This is the 4th hockey arena I’ve been to, but the others have all been located in lively, active areas with a lot of food and entertainment options nearby. The RBC Center is seemingly placed in some guys field in the middle of nowhere. We all thought the bus driver was lost (sorry Bobbi) because there was nothing going on. I swear it’s Deliverance country. If I hear banjos, fat boy is outta here quicker than you can say “slapshot.”

- Speaking of slapshot, a HUGE stick-tap ( _/_/_/ ) to Paul and Denise McCann of Slapshot Hockey Radio for organizing this road trip.

- Round of applause for our bus driver, Bobbi, who navigated the hotel parking lot (that isn’t at all designed with anything larger than a bicycle in mind) with such ease that one couldn’t help but be impressed.

- Quick note that actually pertains to the game, David Legwand will miss tonight’s game (and likely Monday’s at Columbus) with an undisclosed lower-body injury. Ryan Suter is also out tonight, having re-aggravated the knee injury sustained earlier in the year and to be with his wife for the impending birth of their first child. Nick Spaling is speculated to dress in Legwand’s place. Obviously, Sulzer will be playing in Suter’s place.

Til next time,

BK

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Preds rookie grinders no match for Carolina’s veterans

In a decidedly uneven match-up, the Predators lost the first of 2 back-to-back games against Carolina, falling by a score of 3-1 Thursday evening. The first of 6 preseason games that will take place, the Predators dressed mostly only contenders, dressing only 4 forwards (Jordin Tootoo, Patric Hornqvist, Marcel Goc and Quentin Tarantino J.P. Dumont) who I would consider to have their roster spots solidified, and only one of which that is a top-six forward (Hornqvist). The Hurricanes countered with 13 veteran players, including star forwards Erik Cole, Eric Staal and Sergei Samsonov. In spite of the Hurricanes dressing a much more experienced squad, the Predators drew first blood, with Dumont intercepting a Carolina pass in the face-off circle about 10′ off goal and ripped the puck over the blocker of goalie Justin Peters. Taking the 1-0 lead into the locker room after 20 minutes of play, the game looked promising for the baby-faced Preds. As the second period began however, the Hurricanes took over and controlled the play throughout the period. Riding their strong play, Patrick O’Sullivan got a clear breakaway after Cody Franson’s stick snapped and was able to wrist it past Rinne, tying the score at 1 at 4:46 of the 2nd. Just over halfway through the period, Mark Dekanich came off the bench to relieve Rinne, but the assault continued and Samsonov was able to bat a fluttering puck past Dekanich after a hard snap shot had bounced up off his pads. The Preds came out for the third period with a much improved effort but were not able to net a tying goal, and with Dekanich pulled in favor of an extra attacker, the Canes were able to seal the game when Cole scored an empty netter with less than a minute remaining.

Quick hits:

With both Jonathan Blum and Ryan Ellis playing tonight, I tried to give special consideration to their play, considering both players are thought to be strong contenders for the 7th defenseman spot for the opening night roster. And if I’m honest, I was unimpressed. Neither player in my opinion gave a strong case for why either of them should be considered. Ellis particularly didn’t seem up to the task of playing against the veteran players. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him cut and sent back to his junior team in the next round of cuts. His skill with the puck is evident, but he doesn’t seem ready for the NHL yet.

Rinne kept his pimp glove-hand strong tonight. Rinne is a notoriously slow starter, but he came out strong tonight, including a point-blank lunging save that would be on every highlight reel tonight, had the game been televised. If tonight is an indicator, he’s going to turn heads this season.

Tootoo, Hornqvist and Goc all appeared to be in mid-season form. Hornqvist twice drew the ire of the Hurricanes in the offensive zone,once in front of the crease and once behind it after a solid check. Tootoo was bouncing around and rattled a Carolina forward just over their blue-line, and later drew a slashing penalty from Harrison, who had grown frustrated with Tootoo’s agitation. Goc was a beast on the forecheck, and though he wasn’t awarded an assist, he was directly responsible for Carolina’s failed clearing attempt that Dumont converted on.

Sergei Kostitsyn was a lot better than I expected tonight. Not great mind you, but his skill was obvious and was much more involved defensively than I expected. Definitely utilized his speed some tonight, though it didn’t seem like he was giving 100% of hustle on every shift. Made his case well I thought.

Franson seems to have bulked up his upper body quite a bit and played quite a solid game. I’ll be interested to see how the increased size affects his underestimated slap-shot.

I have to think that Cal O’Reilly’s cause was helped by tonight’s game. I haven’t read much praise about his training camp this season, but tonight he had an effective forecheck, was solid on the penalty kill and won 9 of 15 faceoffs (60%).

I want to credit Raleigh’s THE FAN 990 AM. We listened to their post-game on the way home from the game. They called special attention to the recovery efforts from the disastrous flood the destroyed parts of Nashville earlier this year, bringing a human element to the broadcast that in the end, this is just a game.

Special teams seemed to have improved. The penalty kill went 5-for-6 and while the man-advantage was 0-for-4, they were much more creative and active than we saw last season.

The Predators and Hurricanes play again tomorrow, this time at the RBC Center in Carolina at 6pm CST. Joshua Cooper has tomorrow’s roster available here. The next home game is Saturday against the Washington Capitals at 7pm.  What were your thoughts on tonight’s game. Were there any other players that stood out to you? Hit the comments section below.

Hope to see you on Saturday! – Big Kev

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Roll call

Greetings fans. With the August heat behind us, we can turn our focus towards the approaching hockey season with eager anticipation. With training camp beginning in just a couple of weeks, Predators fans can expect earnest competition. There are several players that are NHL-ready but only a few available roster spots. We’re left with the tall task of predicting which forwards step up in camp to force the coaches to give them serious consideration. An unusual predicament, as the forward depth chart hasn’t been this strong in several years…if ever. Just like the better Predator bloggers out there, I thought I’d spend some time reviewing the roster.

As I look down the roster, what first grabs my attention is simply the amount of one-way contracts, which currently stands at 22. A one-way contract simply means that a given player will be paid the same salary regardless of whether or not he is playing in the NHL or in the minor league AHL, while a player on a two-way contract makes significantly less if playing in the AHL. In seasons prior, a one-way contract was basically a given that you would be playing at the NHL level. After all, what team wants to play a player in the minor leagues while he’s making big league money? Last year the team took us by surprise when defenseman Alexander Sulzer failed to crack the opening night roster in spite of being on a one-way contract and instead promoted Teemu Laakso, who was on a two-way contract, to the final defense spot. In addition to these 22 one-way contracts, you can also expect to see at least two more that will be on the roster: forward Colin Wilson, who is expected to play on either the first or second line, and a goaltender, likely Mark Dekanich, to back-up starter Pekka Rinne. This brings the roster to 24, which exceeds the maximum roster size allowed, 23. So we can see how the battles begin to take shape.

Defense is much more set than the forwards, with the top six all but guaranteed: Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Francis Bouillon and Kevin Klein are basically no-brainers, and barring complete and utter collapse, you can very comfortably assume that the re-acquired Ryan Parent and newly-extended Cody Franson will fill out the last two spots. That leaves the question of a seventh defenseman, who would likely see only very sparse duty unless an injury necessitates filling in for one of the previously mentioned six. Alexander Sulzer seems to me the likely candidate, considering his one-way contract status and tenure with the organization. However, as previously mentioned, this same assumption was made last year. Sulzer would be remiss to feel comfortable though, as he can expect serious challenges from Roman Josi, who is coming to play his first season on North American ice after becoming a stud in the Swiss league. Also expected to challenge is Jonathon Blum, who has dominated in every league he has played in to date. Also worth mentioning is Ryan Ellis, although his size and ineligibility to play in the AHL makes him a bit more of a question mark.

The forward ranks are where things start to get really interesting. First, let’s look at who we can pretty well assume gets the nod. Matthew Lombardi and Patric Hornqvist are pretty much a lock for the first line. Colin Wilson, who is naturally a center but flourished last season on the wing, could be a winger on the first line or center on the 2nd or 3rd line. David Legwand will likely center the 2nd or 3rd line, depending on Wilson’s position. Steve Sullivan and Martin Erat can be expected to play the wings on the 2nd line.  I expect Joel Ward and Jerred Smithson will be David Legwand’s line if last season was any indication. Centering the 4th, Marcel Goc will likely pivot Jordin Tootoo and J.P. Dumont. Useless Boob Wade Belak can expect to be a permascratch, leaving us with 13 forwards, which combined with the seven expected defensemen and 2 goalies, gives us a roster of 22 players. Nashville generally doesn’t carry a full 23-man roster, primarily for the option to add players throughout the season via trade or waiver pickup without having to have one of our own players clear waivers first. So suddenly our roster is full without even yet having considered Cal O’Reilly, who would have to clear waivers to be sent to Milwaukee, or Jonas Andersson and Sergei Kostitsyn, all of whom are on one-way contracts. Other names that could be considered as hopefuls for the coming season are C/LW Nick Spaling, RW Matt Halischuk, C Jamie Lundmark and RW Andreas Thuresson, all players who already have NHL experience.

To be honest, I don’t expect any of the established players to have much worry of being knocked out of the roster. If any of them would have that concern, I’d say that player would be Smithson, but I still find it very unlikely.

Big Kev

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“Do you mind if we dance with yo’ dates?” – Congrats to @cellblock303

Thursday night, the hard-working guys at Section303.com were recognized as the 2nd best blog in Nashville (and best sports blog, by default.) To the regular followers of the site, we see this only as the rest of Nashville slowly learning what we’ve known already. Nashville is often referred to as a small-market and town, and rightfully so when compared to the population of the other sports cities in North America, but Predators fans are blessed with some of the most dedicated and immensely knowledgeable bloggers in the league. Bloggers that more than compensate for the ignorance of the local media. Tonight was an opportunity for Codey, Jeremy and Patten to stand-up and be recognized for their tireless work, but in typical fashion, they sought only to promote the game of hockey, arriving in the business-dress event donning their Predators jerseys. So tonight, we raise our glasses to you gentlemen. We thank you, and salute you.

While recognizing my fellow bloggers (while I dare not consider myself among their peers) at Section 303, I would be remiss to not also refer you to other bloggers that I consider the cream of the crop alongside Section 303:

On The Forecheck

The View From 111

Preds on the Glass

Like Section 303, these good folks are dedicated to our good sport, even in this long off-season. I suggest you bookmark them all and check them daily.

Again Codey, Jeremy and Patten, congrats. Have a beer. You’ve earned it.

Big Kev

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Predators development camp and CAPTAIN Shea Weber

Hide the bottle of Geritol. Such was the handle to shutting down the Predators’ top line in the last few years.

The top line of Sullivan-Arnott-Dumont showed last year that the success they had found together in previous seasons had quickly passed them by. Injuries and age started to take their effect on their bodies. Then-captain Jason Arnott was commonly found at the wrong end of the ice, refusing to backcheck after failed attempts to score off the rush and struggled with various ailments, prompting an outcry from Predators fans for a changing of the captaincy, and even Coach Trotz had stopped just short of calling Arnott out on his lackadaisical approach to the games. On June 19, 2010 Predators fans were moderately surprised to learn that Arnott had been traded to the New Jersey Devils for a 2nd-round pick in 2011 and prospect Matt Halischuk. Quickly speculation began to build that defenseman Shea Weber would be the top nomination for captaincy, but little comment was offered from Predators staff.

Tonight the Nashville Predators hosted their second annual Skate of the Union, which provided fans the opportunity to ask questions of the teams’ ownership and management, as well as head coach Barry Trotz and recent free-agent signing Matthew Lombardi. After opening remarks from panel host and Predators TV play-by-play commentator Pete Weber and team Chairman Tom Cigarran, Predators General Manager David Poile introduced Lombardi, who was warmly welcomed by the fans in attendance as he donned a team jersey bearing the number 15, which he has traditionally worn in his career. After further discussing the draft and the logic behind the Lombardi signing, Poile brought the house down by formally announcing Shea Weber as the team captain. Weber approached the stage to a standing ovation from many of the fans and pulled on his newest jersey, this time bearing a bold “C” in the upper-left corner. When asked by Pete Weber how the jersey felt with the “C” on it, Shea chuckled and said “a little heavy.” Truer words were never spoken tonight, though it didn’t seem that he intended for that level of gravity when he said it. Truly the team is transitioning to a more youth-driven core. Weber and teammate Ryan Suter will be pivotal in taking this team to the next level as a team. Weber is one of the most respected defenseman playing currently and being designated as captain speaks volumes to the organization’s faith in him as a player and a leader. Exciting times are ahead for this team.

Also going on this week is the Predators’ prospects Development Camp, which is a training camp of sorts for draft picks and prospect acquisitions over the last few seasons. I had the chance to visit today’s session and greatly enjoyed it. I encourage you to do the same this weekend if the opportunity presents itself. There were several players that stood out to me, but a lack of numbers or names on the jerseys makes it difficult to identify players. However, there were a few that I was able to identify: #58 LW Linus Klasen, who was signed as a free-agent in April seems to have great vision, a quick, crisp pass and great speed. It’s understandable to see the Predators interest in him, particularly after his standout 2009-10 season in the Swedish Elite League in which he 19 goals and 32 assists for 51 points in 51 games. However at 5’8″ size could be a hindrance to a transition to the North American game. #49 D Ryan Ellis continued to showcase his play-making ability with smooth, crisp passes and a deceptive shot. Sadly there wasn’t much opportunity in today’s drills for him to wind up for that big slap-shot he’s known for in juniors. Finally, G Anders Lindback, who at 6’6″ is a giant of a man, but like Predators G Pekka Rinne, moves quickly for his size. Lindback made some impressive saves at times today, even drawing a couple of “oohs” from fans observing from the stands.

Quick hits:

*While I haven’t reviewed rosters side-by-side, I’m calling for Nashville to win the Central division this year. I’m not saying that due to bias or blind hope. I am EXPECTING the Preds to win it, barring any dramatic change in another teams roster that forces me to reconsider.

*I’d like to offer a stick-tap to @jfarrar90 who made the long drive to Nashville from McMinnville far more bearable, as well as to @ajinnashville who joined us for lunch. You’ve got to love a 13-hour day that has been essentially hockey-talk and nothing else.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll take advantage of the “Comments” section below. Until next post, God bless – Big Kev

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