Preds Prowl: 2010-11 Season

Wednesday, 04.06.2011 / 1:27 PM / Features
By Tom Callahan  - Nashville Predators
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Preds Prowl: 2010-11 Season
Hockey Season is back! And so is my blog ... entering the third season. Looking forward to cyber chatting with you about the comings and goings of your Predators team.

Preds Prowl Archives
Summer 2010
2009-10 Season
2008-09 Season
I’m sure from time to time not only will you get an entertaining story from the road, but a few select beauties plucked from my own personal hockey past, dating back to the 1999-00 season when I started in the Western Professional Hockey League. When you look back over your shoulder at five teams, four leagues, and a million miles of memories, there’s bound to be a few that stand out.

So with that, I’m looking forward to keeping you all in the loop during the season, and sharing the smiles along the way. Keep your browser pointed here all season long!

Hey fans – join me on Twitter at twitter.com/predsradio. News, notes, what’s new in Preds land – as soon as it happens!

Tom Callahan
Predators Radio Voice


'10-11 Archives
October: 4| 6 | 7 | 8 | 11 | 15 | 16
November: 17 | December: 9 | 29 
January: 9 | 19  | February: 10 | 11 | 15 | 16
March: 11 | 16 | 24 | 26 
April: 6  



April 6, 2011
The Predators inched a bit closer to clinching a playoff spot with the win over Atlanta last night, now needing just a single point from either another win or some type of loss by Dallas. But don’t hold your breath counting on that – the Preds need to keep on winning.

Dallas has one of the lighter schedules down the stretch as they will face Colorado back-to-back and Minnesota as well. Nashville has a pair of games remaining with Columbus Friday and at St. Louis Saturday. Chicago has perhaps the worst finish, after playing St. Louis at home tonight (don’t forget they were on the road in Montreal last night – an overtime loss) they have a home-and-home with Detroit. Circle that series as the one that may put the defending Cup champs on the outside looking in come playoff time.

Anaheim and LA play each other twice down the stretch, as do San Jose and Phoenix. At this point my wildly speculative crystal ball tells me that the Ducks and Kings split, Sharks beat Phoenix twice, and that Dallas ends up in the playoff picture with Chicago out. Yes, these are all guesses, but I think it sets up like this for round one:

Vancouver (1) vs. Anaheim (8)
San Jose (2) vs. Dallas (7)
Detroit (3) vs. Phoenix (6)
Nashville (4) vs. LA (5)

I see the Sharks winning out, and Detroit knocking down Chicago at least once. The problem with going against the Blackhawks is they do have championship experience. At this point, they should (on paper) beat St. Louis. That said, they traveled last night, lost an emotional game, had to go through customs and fly home to Chicago and come right back to the rink today. I’m sure they won’t skate this morning, while the Blues will be somewhat rested. I can’t imagine Marty Turco getting the start today so Corey Crawford needs to be ready as well.

Other factors I think play into where teams finish:
San Jose
They are just on fire right now and playing well. The momentum continues for the Sharks who are getting contributions from everywhere.

Detroit
Jimmy Howard is okay, and that is a tremendous boost to Detroit’s confidence. Datsyuk should be just fine as well. Everyone is a bit beat up this time of year, and the Wings are no exception. They will need Johan Franzen to wake up if they expect to make it deep.

Nashville
Pekka Rinne. End of story.

LA
Missing your top two scorers hurts. Without Anje Kopitar and Justin Williams an awful lot of weight is on Dustin Brown to carry on offensively. He’s doing okay, but it really remains to be seen if the Kings can muster enough firepower for a playoff series win.

Phoenix
They need everyone back in the lineup to be effective – Ed Jovanovski, Martin Hanzal, Lauri Korpikoski and Taylor Pyatt are all out, but could return before playoffs. Ray Whitney has been cranking up his game lately, which is a great sign for the ‘Yotes. And Ilya Bryzgalov is always a good option in net.

Dallas
Kari Lehtonen staying healthy and Adam Burrish getting healthy will have a lot to do with what the Stars do. They may be 3-5-3 in the last 11, but they can really move up to seventh if they find a way to win the final three games. At that point it will be 24 straight starts for Lehtonen – when does his battery drain?

Anaheim
Who would have thought Ray Emery is the guy we’re all looking at for the Ducks’ playoff success? Anaheim is going to throw an impressive offense at you – Perry, Getzlaf, Ryan, Selanne, Koivu, Vishnovsky, Gretzky (just kidding)… but they have to keep pucks out and find ways to win close games. I have no doubt they’ll be able to score against Vancouver in a first round matchup. I just don’t know if they can defend well enough to win.

So what are your thoughts? Feel free to fire away – it’s always fun to speculate!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



March 26, 2011
On April 1 this year two very different but very worthy events will take place in the Nashville Predators community. The first is our annual wine tasting, the proceeds from which go to benefit the Nashville Predators Foundation. The other is a cause very near to the heart of head coach Barry Trotz, the Best Buddies Gala and Casino Night.

For those of you who may not know, Best Buddies (www.bestbuddiestennessee.org) is an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for one-to-one friendships between folks like us and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). They’ve been around since 1989 and have grown into an international organization with more than 1,500 chapters for school-aged kids worldwide.

Barry Trotz’s son Nolan has Down Syndrome. Trotz discovered Best Buddies and liked what he saw about the organization’s missive, which is to help kids with IDD overcome obstacles and integrate into normal daily life. The friendships with caring individuals who can help them through these tough times have been shown to reap great rewards for both parties involved.

At 10 years old, Trotz knows that Nolan faces some difficult times ahead as a teenager, especially with Down Syndrome.

“Right now everybody loves (Nolan),” he said. “But as a teenager those can be some lonely years for someone like him. That loneliness comes from (a lack of) self-confidence and self-worth. Best Buddies’ goal is to take that away – to make sure they do have self-worth and friends in those years.”

Unless you haven’t hit your teenage years yet, I don’t need to tell you that we all felt lonely at times. We all felt left out or struggled to get along in some fashion. It’s part of being a kid at that age. Now imagine the fight kids like Nolan have to deal not only with the normal rigors of growing up, but also dealing with IDD. That’s what Best Buddies is all about – and as Trotz will tell you, it can be just as fulfilling for those who volunteer as it is for Nolan.

“The people who get the most out of it aren’t necessarily the kids,” Trotz said, implying clearly that the people in the program are indeed involved on every level – even emotional. “It really is rewarding.”

Trotz has discovered through his involvement in the program not only what it does for Nolan, but for him as well. That’s why he has taken the opportunity he has to do something to help out with the Best Buddies Gala and Casino Night.

The ball will be held at The Factory in Franklin at Liberty Hall, starting at 7 p.m. You may purchase tickets online at www.bestbuddiestennessee.org/gala and cocktail attire is requested.

Two very worthy events – I hope you are able to attend one or the other. And if you’re ambitious, both! Either way, please know that you are making a difference in your own community – and for that we thank you.



March 24, 2011
This blog comes on the heels of Matt Cooke’s suspension for ten remaining regular season games and up to seven in the playoffs (first round duration). While the games sound like a number that might resonate a bit, what really hit me was that Cooke forfeits almost $220,000.00 in salary for those games. Since the players are only paid for the regular season and not the playoffs (at that point they’re in it for playoff bonus shares) it effectively renders him without a paycheck until next October.

The fiscally responsible me immediately wondered how that would screw up any payment plans you may have – mortgage, car, etc. And then immediately after that little dose of reality, an even bigger one hit me: perhaps this is really how you get elite athletes to pay attention. Hit the wallet. Hard.

Fines of $2,500 or whatever dollar amount are big deals to you and I, but when you make on average $22,000 a game like Mr. Cooke, that’s two shifts and at most a gnat of inconvenience. But to make that kind of impact on a person’s life – perhaps that’s the lesson that needs to be learned.

With as much attention as this case has garnered recently, NHL Network decided to show a quick retrospective of hits to the head this year – and I was utterly amazed at almost how de-sensitized I’ve become to this stuff. When they lined the hits up and showed them one after another, I couldn’t believe there had been so many blatant elbows-and-what-have-you shots to the head this season. So many injuries. So many instances of targeting the head. And I wonder at what point did this get to be an epidemic?

The bottom line is that our players are the assets for any franchise. If we don’t have players, we have no fans. Without fans, there are no jobs for the rest of us. The league, the NHLPA, and anyone else with any say in the matter has to stop making this everyone for themselves and make it an all-for-one. We all lose when players are out, regardless of whether it is injury or suspension. I’m all for making it as difficult as possible to swallow for anyone who wants to hit someone in the head. And I guess that means going for the wallet, too.



March 16, 2011
Many people have asked me and I’ve finally had a chance to watch the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty. My initial reaction was absolute horror, and honestly I hope that no one currently playing the game actually watches this. It’s that disturbing.

But on the other hand, maybe EVERYONE currently playing the game should watch it – over and over. Did Chara have the intent of driving Pacioretty into the glass divider? Hard to say yes or no on that one, only Chara really knows the answer. My initial reaction was yes, he led him over the dasher towards the glass, but with other replays I thought perhaps he didn’t, then went back to maybe he did. So until I figure out how to enter his mind at that exact moment, there’s no way I could possibly judge intent.

What I will say is that perhaps the NHL needs to look into ways to reduce injuries caused by immoveable objects – ie. the boards and glass. It’s no secret that seamless glass gives far less than glass held in by stanchions every few feet. Seamless is clamped at the top of the sheet and you end up with a very rigid setup that doesn’t give much when players run into it. While I know that it provides less funky bounces and perhaps a marginally better view for those at ice level (which I don’t think is really even an argument worth having) it does invite more shoulder and head injuries because there is less “give” to the glass.

Another area I’d look at is the dividing panes like we see between the benches, like the one Pacioretty hit. Maybe that divider can be moved back a certain distance. I’d certainly look for more padding to be added to anything that can impact a player in that manner. What about netting instead of glass as a divider in those cases? I know that the argument is that those dividers keep hostile players apart from one another and netting would not do that. At what point do you sacrifice player safety because you don’t want guys going over the bench at one another? Trust me, they’re going to yap. And if it really needs to be settled it can be done on the ice. There has to be an answer here as well.

Maybe the NHL should study highway barriers, airport runways, and any other situation where arresting objects traveling at great velocity is of the utmost importance. Our boards don’t give, our glass doesn’t give, but our human bodies do. Guess which one always loses in that equation? And the biggest losers are the humans – players who suffer injury, fans who lose favorite players, coaches and GMs who find rosters depleted, and even broadcasters who have to talk about it ad nauseam.

Speaking of NHL general managers, they just finished their annual meetings and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stepped forward with a five-point plan regarding headshots. Now before you read on through this, just know that the GMs eventually voted to not put a wholesale ban on headshots. I’ll leave you with a summary of the NHL’s statement (courtesy of Pete Weber) and a link to post your comments. Has the league done enough, too little, or gotten it right? Share your thoughts after the break.

Summary - Bettman’s 5-Point Plan to Reduce Concussions:
1. Brendan Shanahan has been directed to focus on equipment, in conjunction with the Players’ Association, in an effort to reduce the size of the equipment without reducing its protectiveness but also without compromising the safety of an opponent who is contacted by that equipment.

2. The NHL Protocol for Concussion Evaluation and Management has been revised in three areas: 1) Mandatory removal from play if a player reports any listed symptoms or shows any listed signs (loss of consciousness … Motor incoordination/balance problems … Slow to get up following a hit to the head … blank or vacant look … Disorientation (unsure where he is) … Clutching the head after a hit … Visible facial injury in combination with any of the above). 2) Examination by the team physician (as opposed to the athletic trainer) in a quiet place free from distraction. 3) Team physician is to use ‘an acute evaluation tool’ such as the NHL SCAT 2 [SCAT stands for Sports Concussion Assessment Tool] as opposed to a quick rinkside assessment.

3. The Board will be approached to elevate the standard in which a Club and its Coach can be held accountable if it has a number of ‘repeat offenders’ with regard to Supplementary Discipline.

4. In the continuing pursuit of the ultimate in player safety with regard to the rink environment, a safety engineering firm will be used to evaluate all 30 arenas and determine what changes, if any, can and should be made to enhance the safety of the environment. For the 2011-12 season, the teams that have seamless glass behind the nets, on the sides, or surrounding the entire rink will be directed to change to plexiglass.

5. A ‘blue-ribbon’ committee of Brendan Shanahan, Rob Blake, Steve Yzerman and Joe Nieuwendyk — all players who competed under the standard of rules enforcement that has been in place since 2005 — to examine topics relevant to the issue.



March 11, 2011
We all know how exciting this time of year can be on the ice, and along with the intensity of the playoff race I feel like it’s time to get the ball rolling for some award candidacies.

Pekka Rinne is easy to start with, because his numbers immediately put him in the running for the Vezina Trophy, awarded annually to the league’s best goaltender. Boston’s Tim Thomas has posted stellar numbers all season that have him ranked first in many categories, but Rinne is right behind him. His play this season is once again the backbone of a Nashville team that is among the stingiest defensively thanks in large part to his acrobatics. Thomas has been the front-runner since the early part of the season after a much-ballyhooed hot start, so expect him to be hard to overcome. Thomas won the award two seasons ago before a sharp decline last year led to his losing the starting role by the end of the year. His resurgence has made the story a media darling, so unfortunately I don’t see anyone overcoming the Boston media machine.

However, for the first time this past road trip to Canada and San Jose, I heard Rinne’s name muttered in connection with something other than the Vezina. The Hart Trophy goes to the NHL MVP, and before Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek won a few during his tenure with the Sabres, the award rarely went to a goaltender. Now goalies regularly come up in consideration, but finally the man who Barry Trotz has called “our team MVP” has gained some traction at least in the Western Conference. Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said “I wouldn’t disagree” with Rinne as a choice for the Hart. The buzz is building – and honestly, can you think of a player worth more to his team?

Barry Trotz is a perennial mention for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year, but again you get the feeling that there will be more attention given to other cases. Even Jacques Lemaire has been touted ahead of Trotz this year (but take nothing away from the amazing turnaround he’s staged in New Jersey). How do you ignore the Predators’ injuries this year compared to the record and not cite Trotz as a favorite?

And I almost feel it goes without saying, but both Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are excellent defensemen who deserve consideration for the Norris Trophy as the League’s top defenseman.

Two players who won’t be in the talk this year, but are eligible next year for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, will be Jonathon Blum and Blake Geoffrion. Not to put the cart before the horse here, but both players would not reach the minimum 25-game limit if they played every remaining regular-season game and so next year will still be considered rookies in the eyes of the league. This isn’t to say that either is here to stay, but with solid efforts down the stretch and hard work in the off-season, each could make a case for the Calder – especially Blum.

Finally, back to Rinne. The Jennings Award goes to the team’s goalies with the lowest goals-against average, meaning this award could go to both Rinne and rookie Anders Lindback if the Predators finish first overall in goals against League-wide.



February 16, 2011
As of today’s writing, there are four teams tied with 68 points (Nashville among them) in the Western Conference standings. The playoff line is drawn in the sand at 66 by eighth place Calgary. So starting with ninth, I thought I’d take a look at who is out there bucking to get in and rate them by current heartbeat in terms of playoff chances.

STRONG
Los Angeles – Jonathan Quick gives his team a chance every single night, and paired with Jonathan Bernier the Kings have allowed just two goals in 12 of its last 14 games. They’ve also done well to rebound from a 2-10 stretch that lasted from late December to late January. Despite not scoring a lot of goals lately the defense and goaltending (see above) has been a difference maker for this team, and come playoff time that’s a style that can take them someplace. They just have to avoid another nosedive down the stretch.

Chicago – Hey, they’re the defending champs. Despite paring the roster extensively this summer to be cap compliant, they still have guys named Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook… you get my point. There’s still a ton of talent on this roster if not quite as much depth. Cory Crawford hasn’t had to go through an NHL playoff stretch, but it appears he’s going to have to shoulder the load since Marty Turco hasn’t rediscovered his game in the Windy City. That’s my biggest question mark (and yes, that’s a big one) for this Hawks team, but if Crawford can stay strong down the stretch, the Hawks are in any fight.

RECOVERING
Columbus – I’m not going to say this team is making the playoffs, but after appearing all but dead they’ve gone on an 8-3-2 run to move within striking distance of eighth place. Columbus only has one superstar in Rick Nash, but if Steve Mason is able to continue his solid play in net the Blue Jackets might be ok. Also helping is that the team appears to have figured out how to play on the road. At 14-10-4 this could be the first season in team history this club finishes above .500 away from Nationwide Arena – a stat that will help come the stretch run.

ARYTHMIC
Minnesota – On again, off again… sounds like a romantic comedy, only no one’s laughing in the State of Hockey. This team has shown that for stretches it can play well, but frustratingly hasn’t gotten consistent play over the course of the year from anyone. Since playing Nashville on New Year’s Eve, the Wild has put together a four-game win streak followed by a three-game losing streak, then three straight 3-1 runs after losing to Vancouver last night. The Wild has only scored more than one goal in a loss once since the New Year, and allowed four-or-more goals in all but one of those games as well. Nick Backstrom appears to be putting it back together in net after struggling this season, but Jose Theodore is still seeing a good share of starts as well. If the Wild is to go anywhere, Backstrom has to be the reason.

St. Louis – I’ve watched a lot of Blues games this season, and at times they’ve looked incredible. Solid D, skilled forwards, good goaltending and an aggressive style of play make you think they’re going to start that run any time now. But injuries have slowed many top players this year and inconsistency has dotted the landscape as well. The Blues followed back-to-back losses to Minnesota by beating the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 next time out. Hard to figure for sure, but the Blues haven’t won two in a row since December and will have to put together a streak to make the post-season.

FAINT
Colorado – Pity the poor Avalanche. Peter Forsberg’s comeback didn’t pan out. Craig Anderson has been less-than-stellar this season (a contract year). The youth on this team has been good, but not good enough to make up perhaps the extra goal per game it needs to win more often. Injuries have hurt the team and leading scorer Matt Duchene is the latest casualty with a hand injury sustained vs. Calgary Monday night. Plus, the team’s power play went seven straight without a goal before recording the team’s only tally in a 9-1 stinker against the Flames. Colorado’s season is on life support.

FLATLINED
Edmonton – Surprisingly, despite the fact that they have no playoff likelihood, I still like where Edmonton’s game is going. Consistency is an issue certainly. The team will continue to use this season as a learning curve for its youth, led by #1 overall pick Taylor Hall. Hall has quietly moved up the ranks in team scoring this season, starting a bit slowly but now sitting tied for third on the club with 34 points which is also fourth among NHL rookies. Plus head coach Tom Renney is trying to send a message – loudly and clearly – that the culture needs to change in Edmonton. Little by little it appears the Oilers might be doing just that. This team is a long-term project, but if they continue to draft well and the kids mature well, three or four years down the road this club will be very good.



February 15, 2011
Well hello there! What’s that girl? Timmy’s in the well? Oh… yeah, I knew the West was tight Lassie. Tell me something I don’t know.

Detroit beat Boston Sunday and really the only team the Predators were rooting against that lost was San Jose to Florida. Last night Vancouver failed to down St. Louis and Phoenix dropped Washington. It’s so hard to get good (playoff) help these days! LA managed to squeak past Philly 1-0 Sunday too. Let’s face it – the East isn’t going to help us now!

While Nashville continues to deal with injuries and work towards a full lineup, they are still finding ways to win hockey games. Marcel Goc appears to be ready to play tonight against San Jose so Matt Halischuk heads back to Milwaukee. I really liked what I saw from Halischuk, especially his work ethic. I hope that he keeps things in gear and his time here made him even hungrier.

So now Nashville will have some more names to compute in the coming days and weeks: Jordin Tootoo, Cal O’Reilly, Marek Svatos, Francis Bouillon, Matthew Lombardi and probably guys I didn’t even know were out or played for us are possibilities to come back to our lineup this season. The longest-term settings apply to Lombardi and O’Reilly, both of whom have no timetable assigned for a return. O’Reilly is still on crutches so don’t count on seeing him any time soon. But Svatos could return tonight after practicing with the team recently. Bouillon is still touch and go from his concussion, and Tootoo could return at any time pending clearance to do so.

So who goes? And where?

Alex Sulzer has stuck around all season and once again is proving his worth playing some fine hockey in Bouillon’s absence. Plus Barry Trotz and company has shown they like having the seventh D around just in case. Plus Sulzer has to clear waivers to go down, so at this point maybe he’s likely to stay.

As far as being able to set someone down, your only non-waiver options are Nick Spaling and Colin Wilson. How much do you want to mess with your penalty kill? Your power play? Even your line combos? At this point there will have to be some tough choices made. Obviously what seems like the easy route is to trade player(s) and bring in less than you dish out in terms of on-the-roster bodies. Draft picks and prospects – or one player for two or more. But keep in mind that there are players who have no trade clauses that would have to be waived in certain cases as well. And while the Mike Fisher trade to me shows that ownership is willing to spend a bit more than we’re accustomed to, don’t look for the Predators to sprint to the salary cap any time soon.

Another consideration here would also be team chemistry. The current edition is playing well, they like each other, and that means a lot. How much would another person or personality impact the room? Barry Trotz mentioned the other day that sometimes when you bring a player in it takes time for everyone to adjust, but occasionally there’s just someone who comes in and is such a presence that the whole room feels like they’ve just added the missing ingredient. I would imagine you could also have an impact the opposite way as well where the wrong personality can throw a wrench in the works. So always buyer beware!

It will be a few weeks of hard decisions for David Poile and his hockey operations staff. Every piece of the puzzle must fit in accordance with not only this season, but the next several years as well. So knowing that in trading for Mike Fisher the Preds acquired someone who will be here for the next two years. That is also something the Preds do well is look to the future. Perhaps the strategy of adding another player is to get a salary that comes off the books after this year – who knows? Most trades and movement done in today’s game is more because of cap concerns than hockey decisions… otherwise perhaps Chicago would have kept far more pieces from its Stanley Cup run last year.

If nothing else, it will keep us all interested through the deadline and right on into the playoff race this spring!



February 11, 2011
At the beginning of the season, you might not have circled February 12th against Colorado as a game that you’d rate up there in importance with a Detroit or Chicago game as far as hype. But suddenly that contest is motoring on up the charts thanks to a pair of developments: Mike Fisher makes his Predators debut, and Peter Forsberg returns to Nashville!

A quick blurb on Forsberg: this guy was one of the most dominating (when healthy) players of the era. If he was on the puck, you couldn’t get him off it. He made things happen you swore couldn’t. And he did most of it while not 100% healthy. I’m looking forward to seeing him play, even the 37-year-old version, for the first time live. If you are on the edge and maybe didn’t catch him while he wore blue and gold last time, I’d make the time to catch him Saturday.

As for Fisher, he is definitely coming in at the right time. Cal O’Reilly is still out, Matthew Lombardi is still out, and Marcel Goc appears to be okay but might still be a bit banged up. So up the middle Nashville can use the support. Plus with Fisher, you’re plugging in a good two-way guy who has shown he can score 20 goals while killing penalties to boot. I’m sure everyone is planning a fantastic Nashville welcome for him when he makes his debut wearing #12 on Saturday.

So even with those two big names in the game, there’s more at stake. Nashville looks to keep itself above the 4-5 mark in the Western Conference, sitting in fifth one point behind the red-hot San Jose Sharks in fourth at 66 points. The Sharks have won five in a row and the Predators are looking to use the win at Detroit as a springboard to keep them going through February. Games worth watching tonight are many: Detroit at Boston, Sharks at New Jersey, and Colorado plays at Columbus to name a few. In fact, the whole Central Division is in motion tonight except for the Preds. So enjoy your night off guys!



February 10, 2011
With one stroke of the managerial sword David Poile has made Nashville the center of buzz in the National Hockey League today, acquiring Mike Fisher from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a 2011 first round draft pick and a conditional 2012 third rounder.

As the trade dominos started to fall in earnest yesterday, one could sense that perhaps this year is the year the trade deadline sees some deals go down (if not a little early). It seems that Nashville got its man in Fisher, who has produced four 20-goal campaigns in the last five years and brings 75 games of playoff experience with him to the locker room. In addition to his on-ice credentials, Fisher has been lauded as a great guy in the room and in the community, something that will also go a long way in Nashville.

Yes, the Predators do give up a first and third round pick to get him, but keep in mind the Preds have the draft pick they acquired from New Jersey in the second round (and at this point that could be a top-five pick in the round). So if Nashville were to make some playoff inroads, that first round pick goes further and further down the ladder.

At this point it seems the Predators may stand pat for a bit and see which players return from injury before the trade deadline. There are eight games remaining before the end of the month and the looming deadline. In that time Nashville will likely have a better handle on where players like Cal O’Reilly, Matthew Lombardi, Frankie Bouillon and Marek Svatos will be in terms of possible returns.

I have to say it’s pretty exciting to know the roster can only get stronger with the return of more players in the coming months. It might make for an interesting quandary among the Preds brass as to who is the odd man out in certain cases, but the competition promises to be outstanding. Keep your browser pointed here get ready for a whale of a stretch run!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



January 19, 2011
As of this morning there is a three-point separation in the standings between in the playoffs (Colorado, Chicago-54) and out (San Jose, Minnesota 51).

I don’t think it will be anything more than a blip on the radar, but let’s look at the have-nots and try to estimate what’s the issue here (in digest form, this won’t got tearing apart rosters).

Minnesota
Certainly a healthy Nicklas Backstrom would help, but so would a consistent one. Goaltending is going to anchor any team, especially one that has a -11 goal differential. It is very tough to make the playoffs that way (although the Predators have pulled it off before). Being better at home is a must for a team that is 12-7-3 on the road but 11-11-2 at home. Also, giving away points past regulation hurts this club, as they are the only Western Conference team without a shootout win this season (0-4).

San Jose
When we played the Sharks earlier this year, you could just feel that steamroller “mystique” that has surrounded this team the past few years just wasn’t there. They still have the big names like Thornton, Marleau and Heatly, but the defense just doesn’t seem as imposing or as solid as in past years. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t think Rob Blake’s departure would haunt this team as much as it has, but breakdowns in its own zone leave the Sharks scratching heads and giving up plenty of goals. It also doesn’t help that by January no one has any idea who the Sharks’ starting goaltender is. Even head coach Todd MacLellan couldn’t answer that when I asked him earlier this month before the Sharks/Predators game in San Jose. He just said Niemi was getting the balance of the starts right now. Not a good sign – that indicates a lack of trust in both guys at a very late juncture in the season.

St. Louis
Obviously having big injuries to key players does not help. TJ Oshie returned a month ahead of schedule and that helps a team that has suffered without him as well as Andy McDonald and David Perron, who both continue to battle the effects of concussions. Jaroslav Halak has cooled off from his torrid start, but he’s going to have to carry this team down the stretch if they have any chance to make the post-season. I would say consistency has been an issue, but with the injury issues, that’s understandable for this club.

Los Angeles
I can’t really figure the Kings out. I thought this was going to be the time they really took off, made a drive down the stretch and left a lot of teams in the rearview mirror. Instead they’ve gone completely cold, with just two wins in its last 10 games. Jonathan Quick’s numbers are still good at 2.20 GAA and .920 save %, so that points at offensive production. LA is a team with tremendous talent, but yet they are always among the bottom-third of the league in shots-for – and this after making a point in the summer that they wanted to improve in that area. Head coach Terry Murray was recently quoted as saying the team is far from its goal of shot attempts per game. Basically it’s the old “put pucks at the net, and good things will happen” idea. It’s just that LA can’t seem to make it happen, and the offense has gone dark. Despite going 2-6 on a recent 8-game homestand, the Kings are still 15-8-1 at home. But they’re just 9-13-0 on the road, which doesn’t help. In January, the Kings have scored nine goals in seven losses. They’ve notched a total of 11 goals in the two wins – six against Columbus January 8, and five versus Edmonton January 15.

Columbus
The early flame has gone out for the BlueJackets, who are sinking to the bottom of the conference. A new coach could only do so much for so long, and changes have started with the waiving of players like Mike Commodore. No, it doesn’t mean the roster can or will be completely re-tooled, but something has to be done. Steve Mason hasn’t found a way to regain his Calder-winning form from two years ago. The defense is suspect, and if you’re not named Nash, scoring is hard to come by. Many people touted Antoine Vermette as the answer for Rick Nash, but for whatever reason Nash continues to search for linemates who can truly compliment his game. The league’s 28th-ranked power play doesn’t help either. Short of a total shakeup, I can’t imagine what Columbus could do to right the ship. Would you trade Rick Nash?

Calgary
The Flames have started the makeover process by moving Stanley Cup winner Jay Feaster into the GM’s seat, and that gives him time to really evaluate what he has to work with. He’s inherited a bit of a quagmire. The big question is do you trade Jarome Iginla – longtime Flames captain, still a valuable asset… but can you rebuild around him? His 42 points is the most on the team, but he and Mikka Kiprusoff (both $7M salaries, by the way) have the highest trade value on the team. And at 33, Iginla is only going to decline in value at this point. Feaster has tough decisions to make, but mired in 14th (thanks Edmonton) I might be so bold as to suggest the Flames dump both players and really begin again. What I can’t tell you is how to wring your worth out of $4M contracts for Rene Bourque or Robyn Regehr, $3M for Olli Jokinen, Niklas Hagman and Ales Kotalik, $4.5M for Matt Stajan…

Edmonton
Steady on, Oilers. This is a young team that is learning, and will get another high draft pick. They’ll be the next Chicago Blackhawks in my estimation – a team that drafts high for several years, develops those players, and ultimately returns to former glory. But it’ll be a few years. You just have to be patient and hope you are surrounding those young stars with the proper verteran support in the meantime. And by the way, it also means that after they all get through entry-level status on their contracts, someone will have to go! Don’t think that once they become good they can keep the team together – right Chicago?


January 9, 2011
So we’re on the flight home from San Jose, and there’s no way you can’t be impressed with what the Preds accomplished on the swing to California. Six points against three tough teams and Nashville becomes the fourth team to crack the 50-point barrier in the west – without Steve Sullivan, Martin Erat, Cal O’Reilly, Matt Lombardi, and now Nick Spaling.

Small list, right? Seriously, this team is finding ways to win despite having a lot of points out of the lineup, and now missing a key penalty killer in Spaling. No small potatoes, but the Preds keep moving forward. Barry Trotz and his staff are once again doing a great job of coaching this team, and it’s not too early to start banging the drum for someone who (in my opinion) should be a perennial candidate for Coach of the Year. No, Nashville is never the sexy, hot, one-year coaching story because we’ve always managed to have competitive teams. Because of the consistency, there’s not one season that overwhelms people if we do well. Which really hurts Trotz’s chances of winning the Jack Adams every single year.

Another trophy candidate I think needs serious consideration is Ryan Suter for the Norris Trophy. The more I watch Suter play, the more special you realize he is – and the magnitude of his importance to the team. Even Shea Weber struggled with Suter out of the lineup, going minus-8 without his usual partner. Weber has since rebounded to an overall plus-4. Suter is able to rush the puck just as well as any defenseman in the game today, warding off forecheckers with his arm or shoulder while guarding the puck and still gathering speed into the neutral zone. He makes an intelligent first pass. He reads plays in all zones very well and responds quickly. I’m sure Suter could have more points if he’d press more offensively because of how he anticipates plays, but he also knows that his primary responsibility is in his own end (**ahem** Mike Green). Watch him play a couple of shifts next time you’re at the arena. Watch him away from the puck. See where he goes and what he does, and make note of when he chooses to jump into the rush and when he chooses to stay back. Most nights you’re watching a clinic on how to be a modern NHL defenseman.

As much as I’d love to throw Anders Lindback out there for Calder consideration as rookie of the year, I realize that he’s not shouldering a starter’s load, and for that reason goaltenders don’t get full consideration if not the #1 guy. Likey it will go to one of the brilliant young western forwards, with San Jose’s Logan Couture your early front-runner.

Come on down and catch the Preds at home this week – it’s your last chance until February! Minnesota is in town Tuesday, and Chicago on Saturday. Otherwise we’re gone until Tuesday, February 1 when the Calgary Flames visit town.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



December 29, 2010
We are reaching the end of 2010, and I’m going to incorporate the two major days off (well, for some of you anyway) that occur one week apart – Christmas and New Year’s Day.

First of all, within our division I have to think that everyone penned a letter to Santa Claus asking for something. Nashville could have asked for consistency, scoring, or health. Detroit likely asked for Nicklas Lidstrom to play until he’s 80 years old at his current level. Chicago would like its bottom six forward and bottom three D to up the game a bit more to provide the team with a more solid 1-4 up front and 1-3 on the back end. St. Louis likely went for consistency and health as well. And Columbus… well, they got spiffy new jerseys and an awkward cannon mascot that may or may not already be en route to retirement. So they used up whatever quota they had. Sorry guys, you’re out of the post-season. Should have re-thought the early gift maneuver.

With Christmas gone and the New Year approaching, you have to look back and appreciate a few bullet points of hockey joy from 2010:
· Winter Classic at Fenway Park – was a lot of fun and is always memorable. One of my favorite games to watch… now if only Nashville can get one!

· Olympic Hockey! Great tournament, lots of excitement, and the wrong team won the gold medal. Hey, I’m for the USA all the way.

· 2010 Stanley Cup success stories. Philly and Montreal in the East were so much fun to watch and had a great meeting in the conference final. Then in the West, Nashville gave Chicago a great run before the Hawks just took off. I was hoping there’d be more resistance en route to the title for the Hawks but it was still fun to watch the final.

· Austin Watson joins the Predators family in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft this year and we partied out in Cool Springs!

· Training camp surprises like Anders Lindback always make it fun to come to the September skates and see what’s going on. I would have liked to see more of Linus Klasen and Roman Josi in camp but injuries prevented that.

· Speaking of Anders, his early-season success was a great story. Glad to see that he did so well stepping in for his first NHL action in a surprise cameo after Pekka Rinne went down with an injury in Game One. Chalk up another one to some great scouting.

· Winning in Detroit NEVER GETS OLD.

· It’s fun watching teams like Atlanta, Los Angeles, Edmonton, and Colorado grow some excellent young talent into the future stars of the game.

· Stamkos started this year by flirting with the 50 goals in 50 games mark, and Sidney Crosby’s current 25-game points streak looks fantastic. There is no more important player in this league for his team right now.

· Tim Thomas’ re-emergence this fall with the Bruins has been great. One of the game’s most entertaining goaltenders and a lot of fun to watch.

· Bridgestone Arena has sold out six times already – and counting!

Yes, it has been a fun calendar year. I wish you all nothing but health and happiness in 2011, and may your resolutions hold firm!



December 9, 2010
Last night’s game against the Red Wings might be one of the best hockey games I’ve seen this year (Preds or otherwise). From Nashville’s strong start to Detroit’s last period push, there was excitement the whole way. Even if you didn’t root for either team, this was a truly enjoyable game.

From Nashville’s perspective, we were treated to a total team effort. Players dove, blocked shots, and sacrificed the body. Hits were thrown. The performance in the faceoff circle was light-years ahead of the game in Atlanta. And in the end Nashville held off the best period I’ve seen the Red Wings play this season to take a 3-2 win.

This is a Wings team that did start slowly by its own standards, but credit the forecheck of the Predators for not letting them generate any sort of breakout or momentum. We threw their own game right back at them and they handled it poorly! Two and sometimes three men in, aggressive on the wall, forcing defensemen to make quick decisions and passes or skate the puck, all of it lent itself to a sometimes chaotic time for the Wings. Indeed, Nashville came to play.

I’m happy to note all this – it shows me how Nashville can play even when down a man (Legwand left in the second period after re-aggravating his lower body issue). Nick Spaling handled a double-shift for most of the rest of the game very well. Credit Joel Ward with one of his stronger games in recent memory, and Kevin Klein was as active in the rush as I can remember. Yes, Detroit brings out the best in the Preds, and the game was fantastic to watch.

So now, the question remains if Nashville can keep this momentum going. Anders Lindback played very well, found pucks through traffic, and smothered rebounds all night. His performance should not be lost in the shuffle. The Predators turned in a total team game at what could have been a critical point in the season.

In fact, if you were listening on Wednesday, I noted that after the Preds failed to mark after two power play chances (and giving up a shorthanded goal) against Detroit that the next shift would be critical to stifle the Wings’ momentum after the kill. All Nashville did was go out and shut down the Datsyuk unit, keeping them from getting anything going at a point where Detroit’s team and crowd were looking for that spark. Getting through that shift is something that the Predators might have struggled with at times earlier this year. Not this game. And if that’s an indication of turning a corner, of acquiring a poise that comes with age and experience, perhaps the Predators are finally growing up.

Stay tuned, this is going to get interesting.



November 17, 2010
I know last night was a tough one. It hurts to give up four power play goals in a period and lose a game you feel like you should have won clearly.

However, you can’t change it. And this early in the season you can either bury your head in the sand and try to pretend it didn’t happen, or face the challenge head-on.

Nashville will have a chance to show us which approach it takes on Thursday night in Montreal, playing a red-hot (pun intended) Habs club that comes fresh off a 3-0 blanking of Philly Tuesday thanks to a great performance from Carey Price. Apparently the mediocre pre-season performance and early misgivings have gone in favor of nothing but praise from the media and fans of the bleu, blanc et rouge. He has definitely helped steady the Canadiens during a critical early stretch.

Of course, you expect that a pro hockey player should be up for every single game. That every shift means something. But to say that Thursday’s game might not carry a little more onus on it in terms of “show-me” attached for Predators fans is not overstating things. We all want to see dominating performances all the time. That’s also not reality. What I think Thursday needs to show is a team on the same page, one that keeps the foot mashed to the floor with or without the lead. The Preds have shown they can come from behind. Now they need to show they can keep a lead and keep the intensity level high. That offense doesn’t come at the price of defense. And that the team concept they have harped on so much, that Barry Trotz has favored from day one and has shown some results, can be executed and adhered to.

Yes, I’m looking forward to Thursday’s game in Montreal and seeing Nashville’s response. It won’t guarantee a playoff spot with a win or a tanked season with a loss. But it can set a tone for the rest of a very important road trip.



October 16, 2010
Okay everyone, it worked out pretty well last year, so we’re doing it again this year! Take a newbie to a game a newbie to a game is a little pet idea in which you email me me and tell me (in 300 words or less) why you’re the perfect person to take a newbie and who you’re taking. If I pick you, you and your newbie will win a pair of seats to this Tuesday’s game against Calgary! I will have one prize that has three seats in case you need an extra (somehow the count came out odd, but hey, your gain, right?). Get those fingers moving! Deadline for entries is 3 pm Monday, and please make sure you can make Tuesday’s game! Also, provide your best contact phone number so when we call you Monday we have a good shot at getting you.

Enter here



October 15, 2010
No Rinne. No Erat. No Lombardi. No problem.

Despite the fact that the Preds went forward without two of their potentially most dangerous forwards yesterday they still managed to pound the St. Louis Blues and almost drive them off the rink in the first period.

From there the Blues mounted a comeback as the Predators sat back a bit, allowing St. Louis and its never-say-die attitude to get up off the mat. Sure I’ll go ahead and say that if Steve Sullivan scores on his late breakaway or Joel Ward lifts his backhand and the Preds lead by three instead of two at the end of the first and second periods the game is different. Of course it would be. But Nashville had to scramble a bit, get some timely saves from Anders Lindback, and white-knuckle its way to the 4-3 win.

And that’s a good thing.

Wait… what?

Yes, that’s a good thing. If Nashville had rolled to wins over Chicago and St. Louis, the team might have a different attitude right now. In having to struggle to win the Preds have seen that they can overcome things like missing players and tough pushes, and also know it won’t come easy. Chicago was a big third period push for the win. Last night was a hold on in the third period win. Either way, you know there’s something in the 60 minutes that needs attention, while still feeling good that you were able to pull it off.

Also you have to like what Steve Sullivan, J-P Dumont, Joel Ward, David Legwand, and even Marcel Goc are doing in the first three games. Sullivan is looking like a kid again, having fun and shooting the lights out. J-P is moving with some speed and is all over the ice, reading and reacting as well as I’ve seen him. Legwand and Ward are clicking early, which is always a good sign. The team overall seems to have wheels, and when Goc has scored twice and threatened a few more times, things are going well.

Team speed is up right now, and with that speed it seems like the Predators are driving teams back on their heels (much like St. Louis in the first period last night). As long as Nashville can continue to attack and cash in on opportunities, they will continue to pile up some wins. Barry Trotz calls it playing with pace.

Well, that’s about it for now. Washington up tomorrow – should be a good one! Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



October 11, 2010
I have to be honest, I’ve struggled with my predictions this season, largely because of tons of variables. For instance: I think Detroit will likely win the division – EXCEPT that they’re old enough to have injury problems all year and sink to the bottom of the playoff crop. That’s just scratching the surface of the unpredictability of the league this year. I’ll do what I can to render predictions, but they won’t matter five minutes after I write them, so here we go...

1) Vancouver Canucks
These guys have been hanging around the top of the pile for a while now, and every year something seems to just knock them down. Whether it was Luongo melting down, the defense disappearing, or a lack of goals at timely junctures, the Canucks have had some sort of issue every year. But perhaps this is the year they don’t have that problem.

Luongo not being captain may indeed help this team. Trust me, we’re still all going to look at him if things are going wrong. He’ll still talk when no one else wants to. But for some reason I expect him to be better without it this year.

I would expect the Sedin twins to be very good again this year, and granted that both have relatively healthy years, the Canucks can do even more damage. As an opposing team, I’d hate to see them both get on a roll at the same time. Plus, despite having Sami Salo out for a while, I think the "D" will play well this year. Alex Burrows will miss the first month of the season, his absence may hurt their ability to find first gear some nights, but after that they should be fine.

2) Detroit Red Wings
The Wings are probably going to reach for the aspirin more than any other team this year, but the experience they have will serve them well. I see no reason for Jimmy Howard to falter; he’s spent his apprenticeship in the minors and after last season’s performance I think he’ll be just fine. Datsyuk and Zetterberg are still themselves, and now that the Wings have added Modano and welcomed back Hudler from Europe, they have eight legitimate candidates for 20 goal seasons: Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Fransen, Modano, Hudler, Bertuzzi, Holmstrom, and Filppula. They may not all get there, but they have to be considered threats for that mark. And yes, I’m assuming Modano in a third-line role also gets a bit of PP time on the second unit when they need to mix it up a bit. Too much credit? We’ll see.

3) San Jose Sharks
You pass the top-two and start to filter into what is supposed to be the middle of the pack in the Conference and suddenly you realize there are a lot of very good teams. This is still the top of the heap, but there isn’t much room between here and the middle either. The Sharks goaltending was always good in the regular season with Evgeny Nabokov, but some questioned his playoff chops. Now they have Antti Niemi and his hardware on board as well as Antero Niittymaki who basically put the Finns on his back in the 2006 Olympics while winning gold and Olympic MVP honors. I’m thinking Niittymaki is the go-to guy, despite Niemi’s Cup win. I’m not sold on Niemi just yet…

Rob Blake’s retirement leaves a leadership hole which Joe Thornton has assumed after being named captain this week. Thoronton has struggled with consistency issues of his own at times, but knowing he has backup in Dan Boyle and the rotation of Patrick Marleau (“A” at home) and Ryane Clowe (“A” on the road) should help. Plus, Dany Heatley’s production seems to be pretty stable as he’s blended in nicely with the Sharks. In short, they're a dangerous team that hasn’t changed much.

4) LA Kings
A young team that keeps getting better and better, and with Jonathan Bernier making the team to push Jonathan Quick, the competitive fire will burn from the net outwards. Quick was very good most of last year before a difficult finish to the season. After winning nine in a row from January 21 to February 6, Quick then lost 11 of his last 24 outright, and garnered six single-point finishes in shootouts or overtime. He collected just seven wins in that time, leaving the Kings wondering which goalie they had heading into this year. Even if he does falter, I like the bit of Bernier I’ve seen and think the Kings will be solid in net.

Any roster that returns Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, and even Wayne Simmonds (very underrated in my opinion) has to be reckoned with. Yes, Alex Frolov is gone. Sometimes flaky, sometimes flashy, he never found consistency for the Kings. LA hopes Alexi Ponikarovski at least repeats if not betters his 50 points from last season. A good team that is only getting better.

5) Chicago Blackhawks
Stan Bowman, you’ve just won the Stanley Cup, what are you going to do now? How about a yard sale?

Yes, the Hawks had to start retooling right away. Lord Stanley wasn’t even dry from the spray of adult beverage and Chicago was on its way to casting aside 11 players who saw time wearing the club’s sweater in 2009-10. That doesn’t include goaltenders Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet, who won 26 games each for the Hawks last season. How many wins did Chicago have? Yup, 52.

So Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Sharp, Hossa and Campbell are all back. That’s a pretty good core of guys, representing 406 points last year. Yes, the Blackhawks will still be able to run and gun with the best of them, and will continue to win games by blowing other people off the ice. Hossa only appeared in 57 games last year and Campbell 68, so there’s potential for even more production.

Where Chicago will miss the departures of players like Dustin Byfulgien, John Madden, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd etc. will be in depth and flexibility. You can’t stick Byfuglien in front on the PP anymore or ship him back to D when needed. John Madden isn’t there to lock down a key faceoff or remain calm while everyone else panics. You can’t mix dynamics between Ladd, Ben Eager, Dave Bolland or a myriad of other guys because they’re not there. The kids they have kept like Brouwer and Hjalmarsson must now perform every single night. What was once one of the deepest farm systems has been successfully strip-mined into a Stanley Cup… and now is left with the cupboard fairly barren. If the Hawks have injury troubles, this could be a long year.

Oh, one more thing: Marty Turco. There’s no nice way for me to say I’m just not sold that he’s the guy who can play as much as they need him to (Corey Crawford is the untested backup) and really shoulder the load. If Chicago’s D can keep the shots low again this year, he might be able to play in 70 games. But I feel a little hesitant about that.

6) Nashville Predators
You know what? As good as I think we are heading into this year, this is exactly how tight the West is going to be. Sure, we could fly out to another 100 point season and I wouldn’t bat an eye. And it could still land us in the No. 6 seed.

First and foremost Shea Weber’s captaincy will mean a lot for this team. It’s a completely different style of leadership from a very intense 25-year-old poised to enter his prime. The keys have been handed over to the younger generation of players who have paid their dues for the last couple of seasons. Weber has already shown he will lead by example and is not afraid to take the ball and run with it. I like this choice.

Nashville will continue to have a very good defense, with Ryan Suter, Frankie Bouillon (I love this guy), Kevin Klein and Cody Franson joined by Shane O’Brien, who brings lots of sandpaper to the mix. It could be that little edge the Predators need should O’Brien be able to play a role that before Weber had to step in and fill. This may seem like a small thing now, but trust me, having O’Brien there to help police things will be a very big thing over the course of the season.

Up front Matthew Lombardi replaces Jason Arnott at pivot on the top line, where Nashville gives up size for speed, age for youth. Lombardi comes off a career year in Phoenix and Nashville will look for him to keep that growth going. More than a few times this pre-season he has shown how speed on the wing can help set things up for his linemates or even a solo chance here and there. If paired with a finisher like Patric Hornqvist, Steve Sullivan, or maybe even Martin Erat, this could be a really interesting season offensively.

In net, look for Pekka Rinne to once again provide great numbers and I’m calling for him to not have a slow start this year. Another All-Star appearance is in the cards.

7) Phoenix Coyotes
You can’t count out a team that plays as one unit, much the way the Preds and Coyotes do. Dave Tippet had great success with a team most people wrote off for dead last year by getting them to play together. Stellar netminding from Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t hurt one bit either.

When you look at Shane Doan, you see a guy who was clearly frustrated by a goal-scoring drought that lasted from February 2 at Nashville until April 7 against the Preds. In between, that’s 23 games without a goal. And the guy still finished with 18! I don’t see it happening again, and expect Doan to continue to lead that Phoenix team well. It always helps to have quality leadership.

Probably the biggest departure for Phoenix will be Zbynek Michalek, who signed with Pittsburgh in the off-season. He takes with him 427 blocked shots over the last two seasons and ask any goalie how much of a difference that makes. That’s almost three shots a game for the last two years. Someone will have to step up and fill the defense-first role Michalek leaves behind. Not only do shot-blocking defensemen not grow on trees and take a physical beating, they can really inspire teammates in tough situations. Nothing says “one-for-all” like a guy who throws himself in front of pucks like that.

With a team that was able to bring back Lee Stempniak (who went on a tear after being acquired from Toronto) and made a late trade for Wojtek Wolski, the Coyotes should be just as good with more experience on their side this year. Could be your darkhorse first-round upset team right here.

8) Colorado Avalanche
It’s going to be an uphill battle for Colorado to jump back into the post-season, but I see them making it happen this year. I thought they wore down at bit at the end of the season and they ended up tailing off a bit, but at the end of the day Craig Anderson is still a good goaltender and players like Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly are only going to benefit from having the experience under their belts. I also think head coach Joe Sacco has a really good thing going in the room there, but I don’t expect them to be top-three material this year because the element of surprise is gone.

Look for this team to rely heavily on players like Paul Stastny and Duchene as well as Chris Stewart. Yes, these guys are young, but they’re going to have to lead if the Avs make it back to the playoffs. I think they can do it.

Borderline Teams (the not-quite list)
St. Louis Blues
The Blues made a bold statement this year, turning over the franchise with a new head coach in his first full year, a new goaltender in Jaroslav Halak, and departed veterans Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk. This may be the first edition of the team the Blues should ice for years to come with some moving parts, but much like Nashville the draft picks St. Louis has stockpiled over the past few years are coming to the fore. It might be a year or two yet before they’re truly challenging in the division, but they will show glimmers of potential all season and should do some damage.

Calgary
Mikka Kiprusoff automatically can be a difference maker on this team and for that reason alone you can’t discount the Flames in any season. Jarome Iginla is fired up to reverse his fortunes and return to the playoffs while contributing more in the offensive realm. The re-signing of Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay drew some raised eyebrows but both are former Flames and legitimate scoring threats. Perhaps this is the year the Flames get it moving in the right direction again. Perhaps it is, but probably not enough to get into the post-season in the ultra-competitive West.

Edmonton
Yeah, they have a long way to go after last year, but I’m going to pick these guys to make some waves along the way to missing the playoffs. Led by an impressive rookie cast that includes Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and some kid named Taylor Hall. The other thing that just might give the Oil a boost is that an unhappy Sheldon Souray is gone. Trust me, a happy locker room goes a very long way towards team togetherness.

Dallas
Dallas has some things to look forward to. Loui Eriksson and James Neal will likely continue to develop along with Jamie Benn into very good NHL players. The team is showing its age in some spots and youth in others. It’s going to be an interesting mix for this club, and if the young kids take charge it could be a year much like Colorado had last year. If only Kari Lehtonen has a year like Anderson had last season, and he stays healthy… and that seems like a lot to ask from the oft-wounded 26-year-old tender.

Minnesota
Guillaume Latendresse looks like a better deal for the Wild than Martin Havlat, who signed a big money deal to come over from the Chicago Blackhawks two years ago. That has to change (although Latendresse is welcome to keep chipping in like he has). Cal Clutterbuck always sets a physical tone, and what Minnesota really needs is scoring from guys who are supposed to: Mikko Koivu, antti Mietinen, Havlat, etc. Niklas Backstrom is just fine in net, and despite the injury to Josh Harding I like the signing of Jose Theodore as a very good 1-2 punch. I just don’t think that punch can score goals, otherwise the Wild might make the playoffs.

Gonna Be A Long Year
Anaheim
The Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007 – remember that? Gone are Niedermayer, Pronger, Beauchemin, Penner, McDonald, Niedermayer, Bryzgalov and Giguere. Whew! Yes, this season’s Ducks team still has a dynamic trio in Perry, Ryan and newly-minted captain Getzlaf, but unless Teemu Selanne is going to score 72 again or Jonas Hiller posts a .980 save percentage, it’s going to be a long season in front of a pretty porous defense. Rookie Cam Fowler has been heralded as a legitimate NHL defenseman right now, and was often referred to as the best defenseman in Ducks camp. When an 18-year-old freshman is your best D-man, there’s a problem. Expect lots of team to eat Duck on a nightly basis this year.

Columbus
Ah, the Blue Jackets. After settling to the bottom along with Edmonton last season, Columbus went straight out and got… well, they acquired… uh, they really made a statement when… they claimed Ethan Moreau off waivers from Edmonton? Not much changed. The Blue Jackets brought in Scott Arniel after being spurned by Guy Boucher for the head coaching position (he took the Tampa Bay job instead for his first NHL gig). Arniel will have to work miracles with a team that just wasn’t good last year in any facet. Steve Mason crashed and burned last year and I don’t expect him to get better this year. It seems to me that something (perhaps coaching or self-pressure?) has changed his game from what made him successful in the first place, and very much stifled his development. Mason needs a clear head, not overload, to get back to his freshman form. Nikita Filatov has said he’s going to play nice and thus far has, so that will definitely help the offense. Rick Nash is still Rick Nash, but last time I checked he doesn’t have a big “S” on his chest. I couldn’t begin to figure out how to make these guys better, but someone needs to… otherwise it’s just about where in the top three they draft come June.



October 8, 2010
Part 3 of our look around the Central Division continues today with a blog on the Blue Jackets from Columbus TV analyst Bill Davidge.

A New Staff and “Hardcore Hockey” ... by Bill Davidge
An entire new staff for the CBJ dots the major change of this team for the up coming year. Head Coach Scott Arniel has hired new assistants Brad Berry, Bob Boughner and Dan Hinote. A youthful and energetic staff with a flare for the “up tempo” and aggressive style of play will dictate a complete reversal of the Hitchcock era. Look out people, the former Head Coach of the Moose is loose in Columbus.

"I don't want to put expectations and say, all of a sudden, we've got to get into the playoffs or be here by January," Arniel told NHL.com. "I'm going to move forward and take things day by day. Guys are going to know their job and their role and what I expect them to do and how I want them to play. There won't be any secrets; I have to let things evolve and allow these players to go out and show me in person."

Moves: Only one move documented for the CBJ, and that through the waiver wire. Ethan Moreau, the one time captain of the Edmonton Oilers joins line mates Sammy Paulson and RJ Umberger to hunker down the so-called third line. Huselius, Vermette and Rick Nash will initially be reunited as the premier scoring line. A welcome addition to the second line will be Nikita Filatov (played the second half of last year in the KHL). He had a solid preseason with 2 goals and 2 assists and will be joined with fellow First Round picks Derrick Brassard and Jake Voracek. If Brassard can return to his rookie year status, this could be an exciting and dynamic line.

Keys: Simply stated the defensive corps will need to be healthy. It is the hope that last year was an aberration. With the same defensive corps as the CBJ’s only playoff year in '08-09, injuries cannot enter the equation again. Casualties to Rusty Klesla, Mike Commodore and Jan Hejda exposed sophomore goaltender Steve Mason for the first part of the season, including a stretch where the CBJ won only 3 of 24 games (eventually leading to the dismissal of Ken Hitchcock).

Speaking of Steve Mason, he has returned with a new multi year contract. Scott Howson is counting on the youngster to return to his Calder Trophy season of 2008-09. Depth is the flavor of this team. Forward additions in speed and skill are Derek Mackenzie and Kyle Wilson. They will fill in as possible fourth line replacements as Derek Dorsett and Jared Boll add the gritty ingredients of Hardcore Hockey.

Spirits are up. Expectations are high. Winning is necessary in a city that loves a winner. The fans deserve it.



October 7, 2010
And today we continue our look around the Central Division with a blog on the Red Wings from Detroit's radio play-by-play voice Ken Kal.

Detroit Red Wings Season Outlook...by Ken Kal
There were only a few changes for the Red Wings this off season, however, the players
that will be wearing the winged wheel should make an impact, especially in the goal
scoring department.

Mike Modano chose to play another season and he should be a real good fit on this team. Modano doesn't have to be the "go to" guy or carry the team on his shoulders. He'll be slotted on a regular line and get a lot of time on the power play. He still has a great scoring touch and will be used on the point during the power play.

Jiri Hudler returns to the line up after spending last year in Russia. Hudler is a very creative player and like Modano should score quite often when the Red Wings have the man advantage. Veteran defenseman Ruslan Salei's experience will be valuable to the Red Wings on the blueline. He will also help the younger defensemen on the team especially Jonathan Ericsson who will be expected to ramp up his play this season.

Detroit will be counting on goaltender Jimmy Howard to equal or better his numbers from a season ago. Chris Osgood, who is only 4 wins shy of 400 in his career, will be there to help out as well.

The Red Wings have played a lot of hockey in the past three seasons. Starting last season in Sweden -- after going to the Finals in the previous two campaigns -- plus the Olympics and all the travel really took a toll on this team, especially in the injury department. A longer than normal off-season should be a breath of fresh air for Detroit as they battle Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis and Columbus in a very improved division.



October 6, 2010
OK, as I mentioned on Monday, I've asked broadcasters from the other four Central Division teams for a preview on their squad. We open the discussion with a blog on the Blackhawks from Chicago's John Wiedeman

Defending Lord Stanley.....by John Wiedeman
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks: even if you're not a fan of the team, let that thought sink in for a moment because it's been a long LONG time, even a lifetime for some, since that phrase has made the rounds in the hockey world. And, for the first time in 49 years, the Chicago Blackhawks will enter a season as the "Defending Stanley Cup Champions."

 For any NHL team, defending Lord Stanley in any season can be difficult, but THIS season's defense of the Cup might well be especially challenging for the Blackhawks when you consider a couple of factors. For starters, the Blackhawks roster going into 2010-2011 will have a distinctly different look, as the old roster was thinned out of necessity during the offseason. No less than 9 members of the 2010 Stanley Cup winning team (Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, John Madden, Adam Burish, Colin Fraser, Kris Versteeg and Antti Niemi) have all either been traded away to other teams or signed free agent deals outside of Chicago. Though the core of the team has remained intact, many of the men who helped make it possible for the Blackhawks to capture the Cup in game #6 at Philadelphia in overtime on a Patrick Kane goal, will be replaced by others who will wear the Blackhawk colors, and some for the first time.

Starting with the goaltending position, Marty Turco, who signed a free agent contract with the Blackhawks in the summer of 2010, should be the starter, depending on how training camp goes. Turco is arguably the best puckhandling goaltender in the NHL and this factor weighed heavily in the decision by Blackhawks management to sign the former Dallas Stars keeper. The Blackhawks puck-possession style of play is perfect for Turco, who not only can stop pucks and win games, but who can routinely place passes on the sticks of teammates who are in advantageous offensive positions. Turco replaces Antti Niemi whose 16-6 record in the playoffs was best among NHL netminders, but who now is with the San Jose Sharks. Turco has been waiting for this kind of an opportunity for his entire career and is more motivated than ever to have a good season and playoff run with the Blackhawks.

At defense, the Blackhawks lost a key man in Brent Sopel, who practically donated his body to science with the number of shots he blocked and number of hits he dished out and absorbed in helping the Blackhawks Cup run. Replacing Sopel will be hard-nosed veteran Nick Boynton, who came to the Blackhawks late in the 2009-10 season as a veteran insurance policy and ended up playing a vital role in the Cup Finals. Another blueliner who has been added to the fold is big John Scott. Big being the operative word here, John Scott stands 6'8" and weighs in at a hulking 250 pounds in his street clothes. On skates, Scott is a towering 6'11" or so and can be a menacing prescense on defense but also gives the Blackhawks an additional dimension as he'll play forward from time to time. Scott's girth planted in front of the opposition net on a Blackhawks power play literally blocks out the sun, moon and stars combined against opposing goaltenders. The balance of the Blackhawks defense are Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, his longtime partner Brent Seabrook, offensively inclined D-man Brian Campbell and his partner Nicklas Hjalmarsson, and rounding out the Blackhawks defense is the ever-dependable Jordan Hendry.

The forward position is a good mix of old and new. Returning forwards are Captain Jonathon Toews; leading scorer Patrick Kane; Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer and Thomas Kopecky. So for the top two forward lines, the Blackhawks appear to be set. But the third and fourth lines will be charged with the task of buying into Head Coach Joel Quenneville's system quickly, then jelling just as quickly and then stepping up and playing to the level that the 3rd and 4th lines did for the past two seasons. On some nights, the Blackhawks 3rd and 4th lines were the best on the ice. Newcomers to the Blackhawks include Fernando Pisani and Ryan Potulny formerly of the Edmonton Oilers, along with Jeff Taffe who came to the Blackhawks in a trade with the Florida Panthers, and Viktor Stalberg who joined the Blackhawks during the summer after a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Competitive Jake Dowell, big Brian Bickell and speedy-yet-versatile, Jack Skille have spent most of their careers developing in the Blackhawks minor league system in Rockford and will now have their best shots at becoming regulars with the Blackhawks as well.

One key addition to the roster that could come out of training camp could be that of forward Kyle Beach. Beach is the Blackhawks first pick in the 2008 draft (13th overall) and began his professional career last spring with the Rockford Icehogs of the AHL, then was with the Blackhawks during their Stanley Cup run as an extra player. Beach's M.O. is that of an aggressive, physical, irritating type of player who will also score goals and contribute offensively. He led his junior club (Spokane) in goals with 52 and had a decent amount of penalty minutes as well. Other surprises could come out of Blackhawks training camp, set to begin on Saturday, September 18th, as the most competitive camp in some time should commence that morning. Below this group of athletes, the Blackhawks appear to have a healthy stock of quality players just up the road in Rockford of the AHL, so in the event that replacements are quickly needed, they will be readily available.

So the pieces appear to be in place as they always seem to be at this time of year. Obviously, many things could go wrong in any hockey season and time will tell. But for the Chicago Blackhawks of 2010-2011, one thing is certain: now that they're the defending Stanley Cup Champions, EVERY team they play will be pumped up and ready to play their best game of the season against them. In an 82-game grind that is the NHL regular season, that can be the greatest challenge of all. This means that team health could play a significant role during the season, especially the health of the core members of the team. So whether or not the Chicago Blackhawks are able to successfully defend their Stanley Cup Championship, they should be one of the favorites to capture the NHL's Central Division again, and if they can do that or at the very least capture a playoff position, a repeat is certainly possible.



October 4, 2010
Hey all, just a random blog entry to let you know that division previews are coming from my most trusted sources: the other broadcasters! Yes, I will have previews for you from the hometown perspectives of Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, and St. Louis coming soon. But in the meantime, here’s a good conversation starter topic. I’m going to pick one big bright spot for each team in the Central Division.

Chicago: Being a defending Cup champ is never easy, and Chicago had to dismantle a lot of the team to make it under the salary cap this year. My bright spot for the Hawks is not Toews or Kane, but rather Seabrook and Keith. This is the pair that will keep Chicago competitive in so many games this year. Having the core of a solid D that offered up one of the lowest GAA’s league-wide last year means a lot for everyone – including new starter Marty Turco.

It looks like for Columbus, Nikita Filatov is back and is serious about not being a distraction while helping the team. After an unceremonious departure last year and some unkind parting words, he’s returned this year knowing apologies were in order and so far has followed through on promises to play well with others. Call that upside if you will, but this Blue Jackets team needs something to keep it motivated this year. They just simply stood pat on a team that wasn’t very good last year. I’m waiting to see how Scott Arniel impacts this club – because he’s pretty much the only fresh blood.

Detroit’s biggest bright spot has to be health. For the first time in a while it looks like they’re going into the season with most of the moving parts intact. That has to feel good for Ken Holland and Mike Babcock, and worry the rest of the West just a bit. But if health goes, just hope Jimmy Howard isn’t the one hit by the injury bug. You’ve got to figure that the Wings will lose a good amount of man-games to just wear and tear. If they’re going anywhere (and I feel they are) they need the big guns limited to ice bags and asprin.

For the St. Louis Blues, the bright spot is the drive of new head coach Davis Payne. Again, having worked with Payne in Peoria (IL) with the Blues’ top farm club, I know he’s going to drive those players hard and wring what he can out of them. That said, he’s also going to let the kids show their offensive skills and creativity. If the Blues really have the talent they think they do in the form of prospects, many of them should flourish under Payne.

Okay, that said, we’re going to move on to previews this week! Keep your browser pointed here, I’m going to offer them up in a complete series, starting with Chicago.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



September 20, 2010
Two days of scrimmage games down, one to go before we hit the pre-season games. Already Barry Trotz is taking notice of players both good and not so good.

“Some guys are definitely playing their way into pre-season games,” said Trotz. “And some might be playing their way out.”

It has been up and down out there, and pity the poor Silver team that finished 0-2 and with only five goals for compared to 14 against in two contests! White and Blue meet Tuesday in the final scrimmage at Centennial Sportsplex at noon. The scrimmage is free and open to the public.

So far, things I’ve noticed and in no particular order:
  • Man, Lombardi is FAST. I know that’s his rep, but seeing him streak down the wing to score once and set up another looks pretty good to me.
  • Shea Weber and Ryan Ellis look good together. They seem to communicate well, and Ellis has good vision over the sheet when making passes and setting up plays.
  • Frankie Bouillon jumped into the rush every chance he got for team White on Sunday. He looks at home doing it, and I wonder if he might not get a green light more often this year with a responsible D-partner.
  • Jeremy Smith looks like he’s improved year-over-year. Still some ground to make up in his development, but you can see what winning a championship even at the ECHL level does for confidence.
  • Taylor Beck was around the puck a lot today and showed some nice hands at times.
  • Jordin Tootoo had his rocket skates on today – he was flying around out there!
  • Jerred Smithson has a burr under his saddle, he’s really been playing with some intensity even this early in camp. Gotta love that.
  • Ryan Suter looks pretty good. Go figure.
Nothing scientific there, just one set of eyes. Just a bit of what I’ve seen, in between talking to the myriad of folks on hand at the games and catching up with folks I haven’t seen all summer.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice!

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