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Know Your Central Enemies: Nashville Predators

Our last rival to preview is the Nashville Predators who are coming off their best season in franchise history after leading the league with 117 points.

Last Year’s Performance

  • 53-18-11
  • 117 points, 1st in Central Division, 1st in NHL (Lost in second round of playoffs)
  • 52.02 CF%, 50.56 xGF% (courtesy of Corsica, all numbers adjusted)

The Nashville Predators have been the model of consistency for the past number of seasons. They have made the playoffs in 11 of the past 14 seasons including each of the last four years. Looking at just the past three seasons, the Predators have made two trips to the second round and one journey all the way to the Stanley Cup final in 2016-17.

Given this recent success, it should come as no surprise that Nashville was the team to beat coming into the 2017-18 season. While some people weren’t sure if they could live up to the hype, they proved all their doubters wrong as they made their way to the top of the standings by year end.

It’s obvious that Nashville is a good team considering they finished first in the entire league, but what is it that makes them so good?

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There are three main factors that contributed to Nashville’s success last season. The primary factor was their goaltending.

Nashville finished second in the NHL in goals against by allowing only 2.49 goals per game. While this was certainly an indicator of the strong team defense Nashville plays, it also shows how well Rinne played all year.

Although Rinne may have faltered in the playoffs, he was fantastic during the regular season and posted a .927 SV% to go along with a 2.31 GAA. These sparkling stats led to getting nominated and eventually winning the Vezina trophy as the leagues top goalie. This award had special meaning in the hearts of Nashville fans because it marks the first ever individual award won by a Predator.

Obviously if the Predators were going to succeed this year, they needed Rinne to play well as goaltending is one of the biggest factors that leads to success.

This principle applies to every team. If you want to finish at the top of the league standings, you need your goalie to have a great season. To see this correlation in action, I pulled the last six President’s Trophy winners, along with their starting goalie’s stats. As you can see, the starting netminder was in the top ten in SV% every single season.

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This graph proves just how important it is to get strong goaltending in today’s NHL. The argument could be made that a strong team will inflate their goalie’s numbers, but the goalie still needs to perform well if the team is going to finish at the top of the standings.

The second reason Nashville was dominant last year was their forward depth.

Nashville was a dangerous team to play against last year because they could score in so many different ways. They finished the year with the 8th best offense at 3.18 goals per game and could score with multiple lines.

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The reason for this depth becomes clearer when looking at the ice-time as it’s apparent that nobody had a real advantage over anyone else. Each forward is pretty close to the players above and below and this led to a very balanced attack.

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While Nashville’s high end scoring wasn’t very strong, their depth was remarkable. They didn’t have a single player score over 30 goals, nor did they have someone scoring over 70 points. Filip Forsberg led the way with 64 points and along with Viktor Arvidsson, they were the only two players above 60 points.

The Predators did have four others that scored over 50 points, as well as two more that scored over 40 points. All total, the Predators had 14 players who scored over 20 points on the year. This depth gave them a chance to win every single night because it was a different line that could step up and score at any given time.

The last reason why Nashville was so good last season was their defense.

The Predators have arguably the best top four in the NHL with Subban, Josi, Ellis, and Ekholm playing huge minutes every single night. Not only can these defensemen play a lot of minutes, but they find the scoreboard often. This top four combined for a whopping 178 points which was spearheaded by Subban’s 16 goals and 43 assists.

With the top four playing so much every game, the Predators could afford to have a weaker bottom pairing because they rarely touched the ice and could be sheltered when needed. This is evident when looking at the amount of ice-time being divided among the defensemen.

As you can see, there is a massive drop in ice-time after Ekholm. This didn’t matter as the top four was able to play big minutes every game and perform at a high level on a nightly basis.

The last thing to mention is how well Subban is fitting in with Nashville. Whether you love him or not, Subban has certainly made a massive impact for the Predators organization.

Last Season Against Winnipeg

The Predators went 3-1-1 against the Jets during the regular season, but all eyes were on the playoffs as the two heavyweights were set to face-off in round two. Even though these two clubs finished first and second in the entire league, the current playoff format set them on a collision course much earlier than most fans had hoped.

Regardless, the Jets and Preds put up a terrific fight in a series that went back and forth and had a little bit of everything. In the end it was Winnipeg who took the divisional crown in an ironic game seven that saw the eventual Vezina trophy winner get pulled in the first period.

While I could give you highlights for days with these two teams, I will leave you with my favourite moment of the playoffs…

Off-season Performance

Additions:

  • Dan Hamhuis
  • Zac Rinaldo
  • Jarred Tinordi
  • Connor Brickley

Subtractions:

  • Alexei Emelin
  • Mike Fisher
  • Scott Hartnell

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Predators are living by this saying as they made no major changes in the off-season. The biggest addition was Dan Hamhuis who will likely take Emelin’s spot on the third pairing. Beyond that, Nashville didn’t have many holes to fill as they only lost two veterans in Fisher and Hartnell, and replaced them with depth forwards like Rinaldo and Brickley.

The biggest news this off-season for Nashville was re-signing Ryan Ellis to a massive eight year extension worth $6.25 million per season. The Predators also extended backup goaltender Juuse Saros who will almost certainly be Rinne’s replacement as early as 2019-20.

2018-19 Forecast

The Predators have nearly an identical team from where they finished last season. This means they will challenge for top spot not only in the division, but in the entire league with their eyes on the President’s Trophy once again. Nashville will be the first to tell you though, regular season accolades mean nothing compared to lifting the Stanley Cup. Nashville is still chasing that elusive championship after building a phenomenal team from top to bottom.

Lastly, being a Jets blog and all, I have Nashville finishing second in the division because obviously the Jets are gunning for top spot in the upcoming year.

Predicted Finish: Second in Central Division


Previously in the series

Chicago Blackhawks

Dallas Stars

St. Louis Blues

Colorado Avalanche

Minnesota Wild