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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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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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The winds of change blow through Nashville

What a week it’s been for our Nashville Predators. Approaching this holiday weekend, most Predators fans were focused on the draft, yearning for more information on the players that could be available around the 18th selection, which the Predators own. Instead, the fan base gets surprised with lineup moves within the existing roster that suggest a shift in reliance towards the younger core players on the team.

Earlier in the week, Pred-heads everywhere rejoiced as it was announced that defenseman Francis Bouillon had been signed to a 2-year extension worth $2.7 million ($1.2 in 2010-11, $1.5 in 2011-12 for a cap hit of $1.35 per season). Bouillon quickly became a fan favorite during the past season, his first full season with the team. While short in stature at 5’8″, Bouillon plays a tenacious game with a willingness to defend against even the biggest forwards in the league while remaining effective at the position. In some ways, Bouillon is symbolic of the Predators, who have garnered a reputation around the league of “doing less with more.” Bouillon is known as a stay-at-home defenseman, a player who takes care of his own end first. Bouillon is not a significant contributor on the scoresheet nor does he see much time on the power-play, but last year he proved his worth with this club in a shut-down capacity and a worthwhile contributor to the penalty kill.

On Saturday, word came out that the Predators had shipped the rights to D Dan Hamhuis, who will be an unrestricted free agent July 1, and a conditional 7th-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for D Ryan Parent, who will be a restricted free agent. While the majority of fans are saddened to see Hamhuis gone, most had also mentally prepared themselves for the next season’s roster not including Hamhuis, who will almost certainly be able to earn a larger contract with another team than the Predators would be willing to budget. Hamhuis, who had been with the team since he was drafted 12th overall by the Predators in the 2001 NHL draft, became a fan favorite early in his tenure with the team due to his physical nature and his skill in the lost art of the hip-check. Parent, who was highly thought of within the Predators organization up to the moment he was traded to the Flyers in the unfortunate Forsberg deal, epitomizes the stay-at-home defenseman, rarely contributing to the scoresheet but focusing on keeping the puck out of his own zone and eliminating the oppositions scoring opportunities. Parent’s play will moderately resemble Hamhuis’  but with a more conservative approach. Parent was a cap hit of $855k in the 2009-10 season, but with only 102 career NHL games, it stands to reason that he will be extended for a minimal raise. My guess would have him earning around $1m on a new deal across 2 years.

While Twitter and the Predators blogging community was still buzzing over the Hamhuis trade, Poile made what I would consider his first SIGNIFICANT roster move since the Foppa debacle. In exchange for a 2nd round pick in the 2011 draft and minor-league forward Matt Halischuk, the Predators shipped team captain Jason Arnott back to the New Jersey Devils.  Halischuk has enjoyed moderate success at the AHL level, but has little NHL experience on his resume, so it is difficult to set expectations for him. To be honest, I’m still trying to work out the shipping off of Arnott. When the Preds first signed him, I was amped. I got an Arnott jersey shortly after he selected #19 and he quickly became my favorite player. He had the tall task of captaining the team through the tumultuous 2006-07 season, leading his team to the playoffs in spite of the off-ice turmoil. So from a sentimental standpoint, I’m saddened to see him go. But from a team growth standpoint, I like the move. His struggles with injury and multiple concussions have hindered his contributions to the team and it was all but guaranteed that the 2010-11 season would have been his last season with the Predators. His $4.5m frees up a lot of salary space to dedicate to another player with more youth and possibly durability.  I think the most significant part of this trade is the message that it sends to the existing roster, as if it almost symbolizes a passing of the torch to the younger players who will become to new core of this team. As if to say “Weber,Suter, Wilson… it is now your time.”

I would also suggest a review of On the Forecheck’s angle on the financial implications the extra salary room allows. It’s a given that the Predators are not done. So what do you think, fair reader, of the moves made by the Preds today. That’s what the comments link is for. Hit it up. – Big Kev

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Random thoughts

The Predators play their last game of this 4-game road trip today against the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center. While they aren’t up yet, I dare say that by time you read this you’ll be able to find game previews via On the Forecheck
and Preds on the Glass, and possibly among the other fine Preds bloggers. You could say this is a trip of mixed emotions, though that would typically not be the case. Western California is not a place that is typically kind to Preds, yet the Preds have opportunity to go 2-1 this trip with a win tomorrow, completing the road trip at 3-1 (Win at Atlanta 2-1, loss at San Jose 8-6, win at Anaheim 1-0 so far). Any Preds fan would happily accept 3 out of 4 games won, from a standings perspective. Happily… except that the 8-5 loss to San Jose occurred in a game in which the Predators went into the 2nd intermission holding a 4-2 lead. The Predators that had only lost 3 times this season when leading after 2 periods allowed *6* 3rd period goals. Myself included, Pred-heads everywhere voiced their concerns about this collapse. Certainly it didn’t mean the end of our season, but it was an important 2 points that slipped away and a person could understandably begin to have questions about the mentality of this team. How would the team respond playing less that 24 hours later in an arena that we’ve had frightening little success in? While it couldn’t be said that a complete 180-degree turn was made, the Preds certainly played measurably better, keeping the high-scoring Ducks off the scoresheet, which allowed Shea Weber’s lone 5-on-3 goal to stand as the game-winner.

The future looks bright for Nashville, with the players that are expected to carry us past the Arnott-Dumont-Sullivan era beginning to look more and more comfortable. Looking particularly strong is Colin Wilson, who has played 11 games since being recalled on February 9. In those 11 games, he has scored 4 goals, of which 2 were game-winning goals, and tallying 3 assists while averaging 13:22 time on ice. The majority of this time has been played on the 3rd line, a role not counted on for offensive contributions. The hard work of Wilson has found favor with the coaching staff as well, with Wilson being promoted to first line duties alongside Arnott and Erat, and also finding himself on the 2nd power play unit.

Ellis likely has played himself out of any more starts, which the possible exception being the back-to-back games against Columbus and St. Louis on the 20th and 21st of March. Ellis is not solely to blame for the San Jose loss in the least, but his play in the third was horrible. There’s was no question that the Sharks were going to come out pressing in the third and that the goaltending was going to have to be up to the challenge.

This week NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell cited the need to follow “precedent” in not suspending Matt Cooke for a vicious and cowardly headshot that has almost certainly ended Marc Savard’s season, and with it, possibly Boston’s playoff aspirations. The league then deviated from the mentality of following precedent set when the War Room in Toronto (which reviews all controversial goals during games) when it allowed Malhotra’s  kicked-in goal to be allowed after having disallowed Boyd’s goal in the period prior, which had incidentally bounced in off a skate, although whether it was Boyd’s or the Sharks defender’s is unknown. I may be wrong, but I am convinced these 2 reviewed goals completely took Nashville out of the game. I can empathize with how disheartening it must have been to the players to have such inconsistency have such a profound effect on their hard work.

If you’ve read to this point, well done. You deserve a cookie. Go get yourself one. And while you’re at it, leave your comments. – Big Kev

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