pictured above: our season
Run straight to your room, throw your book bag under the bed and hide under the sheets! Pretend like nothing remarkable happened at school today, although your parents will surely remember. As today marked the morning after the 41st game, and the exact half way point to your season/school year.
Look the analogy kinda breaks down here. So I’m just going to say I’m taking the moment to review how the Predators have fared after 41 games (spoiler: below expectations) and a glimpse of where the holes lie and what the future may hold.
Overall Grade: C+
The Predators have suffered through the injury to Rinne which has been very detrimental to their season, but it's not the only reason for the suffering. They've had a couple shocking losing streaks. They've had no luck finding any consistency in their play. They bomb against bad teams and play up to good teams only to lose because, well, they’re good teams.
It's been a tough season for Preds fans seeing them go 18-18-5 and getting exactly 41 points in 41 games. They are currently 13 points out of a seeded playoff spot in the Central and 8 points out of a wild card position in the West. If they were in the other conference they would stand slightly more of a chance. But they’re not, so while the playoffs aren't yet impossible, they are certainly very unlikely.
Carter Hutton was not signed this summer to be a starting goalie – and it is quite evident why. Hutton and Mazanec are a goaltending tandem that can best be described as shaky. Let's be clear: they have lost games for us. They have put us out of games early. They have lowered the confidence of our team. But it's not really their fault. With Mason starting 7 games last year and Lindback starting only 9 in 2011/12, Hutton was selected as a low cap-hit backup who would play once a month. Mazanec should be developing in the AHL. Neither are NHL caliber goalies and no one was pretending that they were.
Rinne should be back in February at worst. Who knows what kind of form he will be in. At the start of the season, while the team was still finding itself, Rinne went 4-4-1 allowing 19 goals on 229 shots (.917). Not phenomenal, but the team was still trying to get some chemistry going at the time.
Defense : B
The defensive unit has had their bumps along the way. There have been times where they've absolutely needed to be better. But I don't know if anyone would call them a bad defensive core. Weber is first in powerplay goals and 13th in all points for defenseman in the league. He's actually tied for sixth in powerplay goals amongst all skaters. Jones has been phenomenal, although he isn't as good now as he was in October. His skill is still impressive given his age and experience and he can play well on any pairing. Josi has proven that he was worth his contract, although he probably isn't exceeding expectations.
All in all, the defense is still the pride of this organization (for better or for worse) and so far they have been performing well enough.
Offense Top 6: C
The Predators offense is strange this season. The team's scorers aren't scoring. Blame it on the system or the players, but the guys we have on the roster to get goals aren't putting them in. Our top goal scorer, Craig Smith with 11 goals, is tied for 81st in the league. Our second highest goal scorer is a defenseman (technically Fisher is tied and has played fewer games, but that makes the point less emphatic). Players like Gabriel Bourque, Colin Wilson, Viktor Stalberg(?) and Patric Hornqvist, who should be lighting the lamp with some consistency are way back in terms of NHL point totals. Either we aren't there yet or play a suffocating system that doesn't allow these players to reach their potential. I'll let you be the judge, but either way we're losing games because of it.
Offense Bottom 6: B
I'll give our bottom two lines a solid B. Mostly because of Nick Spaling and Eric Nystrom. Spaling has been a phenomenal player this year. He can play alongside anyone and chip in points when it seems like no one else is able to. Nystrom has been a great physical presence. He's 100% hustle and doesn't take too may stupid penalties. Legwand is also technically a bottom six player but he is our point leaded and plays more minutes than Cullen. So do what you want with that.
Specialty Units: B
Our powerplay is 8th in the league and our Penalty kill is 17th, but both fair a bit better than the numbers suggest. We're 20th in the league for number of times shorthanded. We're also the only team to have not conceded a shorthanded goal so far this season! Ottawa and Philadelphia have conceded five each… what? How?
We've scored 97 goals this season and 27 of them have been on the powerplay … which puts us 5th in the awkward stat of % of goals scored on the powerplay (27.8% of our goals have come on the powerplay … Washington leads with 31.6%).
We also had a very long 23 penalties killed streak in November that saw 8 consecutive games without a PPG against.
GM / Offseason Moves: D-
Not sure if anyone can be super excited about what we did this offseason. Halfway into the year and I don't think the additions have been overly helpful. Nystrom has been very nice but I don't think necessary. Hendricks hasn't been very good at all in my opinion. Cullen who was reportedly going to be our top center is playing third line minutes. Hutton is getting 12 times more games than he bargained for and Stalberg who had offensive promise scored his 5th goal last night. For one I question the moves that were made – especially as there was no intention to dump any of our centers after adding two more to the log jam down the middle – and for two they didn't really work out anyway. So for that, I criticize Poile.
The one thing I can credit Poile for is not picking up any of the waiver options that have come through during the season. I was worried a couple of times that he would further saturate our roster but so far he has resisted the urge. It will be very interesting to see if he can convice any teams that our roster has some trade value come the deadline. Not sure who we could move, but I see our team trading for the future as oppose for a playoff run.
I'm also not overly impressed with Trotz this season who seems to doghouse players sporadically, mix up the lines sporadically and not change up strategy completely un-sporadically. We've gone through terrible slumps with no coaching changes. He doesn't seem to be able to motivate anyone (which needs to come from the players but the coach can help) and he hasn't made any adjustments to the system in an effort to help our scorers produce. Our team IS more offensively minded than it has been in the past. But our system is the same. I swear if this team kills Forsberg's offensive potential then I might have to turn away for a couple years. I mean … look at the kid tear it up in Malmo. He's a machine up front and the Predators organization better not turn him into a 20 goal “consistent” scorer. Why can’t we have different strategies with different lines? Put Weber, Josi/Jones out there with a Forsberg – Cullen – Hornqvist line and tell them to play offensively, with some flair while the defenders cover a bit. The other lines can play “the Preds way”. Give some forwards some liberty. Please.
The Farm: A-
The Admirals are playing some good hockey, especially considering that we stole Mazanec and Hellberg has been nothing but trouble for them. Scott Darling has filled the void going 7-1-3-0 in the 12 games he's started (Hellberg was 4-12-1-1 in 18 games played). They sit 2nd in their division behind Detroit farm team the Grand Rapids Griffins. Jordin Tootoo has 1 goal, four assists in 15 games with the Rapids this season, by the way.
In terms of offensive talent, Sissons is looking really good, as are Salomaki, Watson and Beck. The signing of Moser also seems to be helping as he has 14 points in his 27 games played.
Consider a change in personnel; either a coach or a GM. If not now then over the summer. But in my opinion that's been our two biggest shortcomings this season. We need to be sellers at the deadline. Not sure what we will sell. Our log jam in the middle could interest Toronto who will be gunning to the post season with limited center depth, and we do have a good relationship there.
We could absolutely use an extra defenseman. One with experience, maybe a 35+ guy. Hal Gill was good for us, so was Hannan briefly last season. With our young squad we could look for a veteran blue liner.
If Poile can fleece another team into giving us a deal like Forsberg for Erat then I will regains some love for him. But right now … well I hope he's having fun with Team USA at least.