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.