We continue on with the Central Division series this week with the Nashville Predators. Nashville currently is tied for first place in the Central Division and got a boost in the lineup last week when Mike Fisher announced his return after a brief retirement.
Helping us look at the Predators today is Jeremy Gover of the Predators Radio Network. Let's look at the state of the Preds:
Q: How have the Preds been able to avoid the Stanley Cup Hangover this season?
A: Typically, you would think a young team would have a taste of success and naturally think it'll "be easy" to get back to the mountaintop. Head coach Peter Laviolette and the coaching staff have been telling this team since training camp that last year's successes and failures have absolutely nothing to do with this season's successes and failures. More than just hearing that message on a regular basis, it's very evident the guys in the room have bought into that message.
Plus, let's be honest, Pekka Rinne is a highly respected leader on this team and they know at 35 years old he only has so many chances left. And now, with Fisher set to come out of retirement for one more shot at an elusive Stanley Cup, this team's focus should be exactly where it needs to be: playing into June.
Q: PK Subban is leading Nashville in scoring this season. With seven players at 30-plus points, is Subban leading the team a concern or does it show the depth the team has?
A: Subban, a defenseman, spearheading the club in scoring is a tad misleading. Has he been stellar this season? Absolutely. Has he been the best offensive player? Absolutely not. If you rewind back to Dec. 29, Filip Forsberg was essentially a point-per-game player before going down with an injury. In his 11-game absence, Subban overtook him for the team lead. Also, keep in mind, Nashville has the second-best power play in the league (24.6 percent) and 14 of Subban's 26 assists have come via the man advantage. So, while it's a tad concerning that Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson couldn't climb the production ladder while Forsberg was out, if anything, that's more of an indication as to how important Forsberg is to their consistent success.
Q: Kyle Turris has 23 points in 36 games since joining Nashville in the Duchene trade. How well has he fit in with this team?
A: He's fit in seamlessly. It's been a pretty amazing transition to watch, actually. From the start, he was put on a line with Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala. Both guys are now having career years and it's all because of Turris' stabilizing power. They always say the best players make other players better. Well, there's no question that's the case with Turris. Matter of fact, I still argue the best thing about the Turris acquisition is his impact on a line he's not even on.
As soon as he put on a gold sweater and took the ice in November, Laviolette no longer had to consider using Forsberg, Johansen and/or Arvidsson on another line to balance out the scoring threat. Now, with that line together and the Turris line together, the only fluctuating among forwards come in the bottom six and that's quite a luxury to have when they're trying to build chemistry for a deep playoff run.
Q: With the trade deadline approaching, are the Preds looking to add more or are they good for the playoff run?
A: Unless he can clearly upgrade his team, general manager David Poile will probably stand pat at the deadline this year. The crease is on lockdown with Rinne and Juuse Saros. In the event of injury to one of those guys, Anders Lindback was an AHL All-Star this year.
The blue line is the best in the NHL with Roman Josi, Subban, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and Alexei Emelin in the top five and a rotating cast of serviceable defensemen in Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber and Anthony Bitetto. That leaves just the forwards and the aforementioned top six is absolutely set.
That said, Nashville was probably looking for a "top-nine" forward until Fisher announced his intention to come out of retirement for one more crack at Lord Stanley's Cup. At this point, since the roster is maxed out, Poile would have to trade one or two NHL roster players just to make room for whoever he would want to bring in. And then there's the wild card of 2017 first round pick Eeli Tolvanen. Once his KHL season is over, does he come over and give the offense yet another weapon?
Q: What is the biggest concern for Nashville as they look to make another deep postseason run this spring?
A: This team is built for a long playoff run and, with the experience of last year's Final appearance, looks poised to challenge for the Cup again. The depth has been remarkable. Fiala goes down in the second round yet they still advance to the Western Conference Final. Then, in the Western Conference Final, Johansen goes down yet they still advance to the Stanley Cup Final. This year, Ellis was on the shelf for 38 games to start the season, yet the Preds stayed within striking distance of the Central Division perch.
Then, to top it all off, Forsberg suffered an injury on Dec. 29 -- yet they still went 7-2-2 without their leading scorer. The cliche "next man up" has become part of this team's DNA... except in goal. Saros has certainly shown he can be the man when called upon but Rinne is the backbone of this team and, therefore, his health is the only concern when it comes to envisioning a second Cup Final appearance in as many years.
Thanks to Jeremy Gover for contributing to this piece. He can be followed on Twitter @govertime.