Back in August, September and October, I did a 10-part series for Sportsnet featuring the 10 teams that could win the Stanley Cup in 2012-13. Recently they have been republished in preparation for the start of the season. Here are those links:
|Sportsnet’s 10 teams to win the Cup|
As you can see I did not include the Predators in the feature at that time, but that’s not to say that I don’t like their chances of competing for the division or making the playoffs this season. Here are three reasons why the Predators are and aren’t capable of capturing their first Cup this season:
Why the Preds can win it all
1. Weber and Rinne lead on and off the ice
On any given day you can make the argument that Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne are the league’s best at their respective position. Weber has been nominated two straight years for the Norris Trophy; the same goes for Rinne and the Vezina Trophy.
Not only are they catalysts on the ice, but they make up half of the Predators’ “leadership team” (along with Mike Fisher and Martin Erat). Weber and Rinne, co-faces of the franchise, lead by example in a young locker room.
“They are great leaders,” said Colin Wilson. “They both go hard at practice, they both enjoy the game, and I think that’s what you need around the rink – people who enjoy the game. We take note of it and realize what it takes to be an elite player in the league.”
The New Jersey Devils’ model of success, which yielded three Stanley Cups, was built around goaltender Martin Brodeur and defenseman Scott Stevens for many years. The Predators have something similar in Rinne and Weber.
2. Youth has potential to break out this season
The Predators were the league’s youngest team last season prior to the flurry of trade deadline moves. All of those youngsters remain in the Predators’ locker room, and none of them have yet reached their potential.
Up front, the likes of Wilson and Craig Smith could be future top-line forwards for Barry Trotz and company. Wilson has been on the verge of a breakout season for a couple years now. Smith, meanwhile, is especially primed for a big year after an up-and-down rookie campaign. A healthy Gabriel Bourque will only boost the lineup upon his return.
Defensively the Predators feature Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, both of whom will try to make up for what the team lost offensively when Ryan Suter went to Minnesota. Josi’s role will be crucial this season as he will take Suter’s spot next to Weber.
In all, the youth of this Predators club will play a big part in the team’s success for many years to come.
3. Continuity helps in short season
Teams with new players and coaches are expected to struggle off the bat in this condensed schedule due to a short training camp and decreased practice time throughout the season. The Predators will not have that problem.
There are only two players on the Predators’ roster, Scott Hannan and Richard Clune, who have never been a part of the organization. Everyone else has played in Trotz’s system and developed a tight bond in the locker room. That kind of continuity should be an advantage for the Predators in this 48-game season.
“In terms of a trust factor between teammates, coaches, organization, all of that is pretty good. Everybody has the same goal,” Trotz said.
Mike Fisher added, “Our team is in a good shape because we’re pretty much the same. We played together last year and lost a few guys, but we pretty much know our team.”
Why the Preds can’t win it all
1. The unknown without Suter
The biggest and most notable subtraction of the off-season was Suter, who had been a staple on the Predators blue-line ever since arriving to the NHL in 2005-06. Suter and Weber was the NHL’s best one-two defensive combo, the consistent backbone to the Predators’ success – a luxury other teams envied.
Now that Suter is no longer in Music City, the Predators have to move on – but how well they succeed without him is the great unknown heading into the season. How will Josi fare in a much bigger role with added pressure? Can Weber continue his Norris-caliber success without Suter by his side? Those are key questions that we won’t know the answers to until the puck drops.
“It’s not just one guy that can replace Ryan Suter. The entire defense needs to step up and take more responsibility. I’m not going into the season thinking I need to play like Suter,” Josi said.
“Playing with Ryan in the past we weren’t perfect early on, and we were never perfect,” Weber said. “I think the adjustment period is going to take a little bit of time but hopefully we can speed that up and get used to each other right away.”
2. Lack of a true No. 1 center
I’ve let it be known that the Predators won’t win a Stanley Cup until they find a top-line center. It’s no slight to Mike Fisher, because he can be a really good No. 2 center by NHL standards. But he’s not a No. 1. Of the 16 playoff teams from a year ago, teams’ top-line centers averaged 0.88 points per game. Fisher, with 51 points in 72 games, averaged 0.71 points per game.
When you look around the league, there are plenty of top-flight centers that can carry the offensive load and make their linemates better. The Predators need someone like that to put them over the top. The trouble is trying to acquire, sign or draft one. Nevertheless, finding a No. 1 center is at the top of David Poile’s priority list.
3. Western Conference firepower
Prognostications go out the window once the puck drops – just ask the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils, who made the Stanley Cup final last June as the No. 8 and No. 6 seeds in their respective conferences. However, prognostications are made on paper. And on paper, the Predators fall short when you put them head-to-head with the West’s elite.
Who are the West’s elite? For starters, Vancouver and Los Angeles may be the deepest teams in the NHL. Both are heavy favorites to win the Northwest and Pacific Division, respectively. While goaltending is viewed by many as a weakness, the Chicago Blackhawks have enough firepower up front to overcome that. Even a team like St. Louis has supreme depth and will again be tough to play against this season.
Weber and Rinne give the Predators a chance to win any series against anybody. But on paper, the offense remains a key question mark.