Welcome to Views from the Penalty Box, a new weekly column discussing all things Nashville Predators and National Hockey League. If you’re looking for great opinions and well-reasoned analysis on all things hockey, you’ve come to the right place.
Without further ado, here are my summer Views from the Penalty Box:
1. Can we talk about that trade?
It was the trade that rocked the offseason. The culmination of a long, brutal process that played out in the media for all to see. A team feeling like it has no other option, a big personality ready for a new chapter.
Of course, I’m talking about the Predators trading Jimmy Vesey’s rights to the Buffalo Sabres for a third-round pick.
What, you expected something else?
In all seriousness, this might have been one of the most savvy moves of the offseason. General manager David Poile knew Vesey would never sign in Nashville, so why not get a little value out of him, especially considering the fact that the Predators wouldn’t be compensated if Vesey signs elsewhere (a rant for another day).
Now, Vesey is a New York Ranger. But, could you imagine if he was Chicago Blackhawk? The boo birds would be at Suter-on-steroids levels.
2. Okay, now the actual big trade
Who else thought the news of P.K. Subban being traded to Nashville for Shea Weber was fake at first?
It’s the kind of trade a fake Bob McKenzie account would tweet out. But, nope. It was real.
There has already been enough written on it, so here’s my take in one sentence: Subban went from a team that hated him for being a superstar to a team that has been dying for a superstar.
Howdy, P.K. This should be a fun ride.
3. Expansion Draft Panic Mode
I’ve seen a lot of discussion on Twitter about who the Predators might protect or not protect in an expansion draft. There is a lot of agreement (well, except that clickbait blog that said the Predators will expose James Neal. No, seriously.). The debate over the last spot usually falls between Craig Smith, Colin Wilson and Calle Jarnkrok.
In my opinion, debate on this topic should wait until we’ve seen the team play this season. If Wilson plays like he did in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, maybe he gets the last spot. If Smith excels, he might get it. If Jarnkrok has a career year, maybe it’ll be him.
Any debate right now is premature and highly speculative. It’s fun to debate in the dog days of summer, but it is very difficult to make a judgment at this time.
4. David Poile’s Contract Wizardry
Once again, general manager David Poile has proven he is a wizard at getting great players signed to team-friendly contracts. Filip Forsberg’s six-year, $36 million contract is a perfect fit for the player and team, and Calle Jarnkrok’s six-year, $12 million contract is a steal. Under Poile’s watch, the Predators have become one of the most well-managed teams financially in the NHL. For the first time in franchise history, they might be a cap team.
Take that, #firepoile crowd.
5. Bitetto, Carle and Y. Weber
Even though acquiring Subban was the most eye-opening acquisition on the defensive end this offseason, the more interesting roster battles will be happening on the bottom pairing. The Predators bought out Barret Jackman and signed both Yannick Weber and Matt Carle. Even though they let go of Jackman, they found a way to double-down on veteran, stay-at-home defensemen.
So, if they’re both ready to go on that line, what happens to Anthony Bitetto? Many are saying he could be the seventh defenseman now. I disagree. Bitetto looked strong last season. He has a strong offensive upside, as well as a big frame to hold his own in the defensive zone. Pairing him with one of Carle or Weber would be conducive to his development and give the Predators even more youth in their defensive core.
Regardless of what combination wins out, the Predators have the best defense core in the Western Conference, perhaps in the entire NHL. Top-to-bottom, no other team can compete with their elite talent and their depth. Find one that can. I dare you.
6. The Kevin Fiala Question
Predators fans have been waiting to see what Kevin Fiala can do in the NHL. He had a great chance at the NHL roster last season, but needed more time. This September, he has a great chance at making it in a depth role to start the season. He needs to have a strong training camp if he wants to prove to the coaching staff he has what it takes to play in the big leagues.
But, if he doesn’t make it, fans shouldn’t fret. He is 20 years old, so he’s not even legally allowed to attend one of the fine live music establishments on lower Broadway. Yes, Forsberg is 22, but guess what: Kevin Fiala is not Filip Forsberg. Yes, he’s talented, but he might need more time to develop.
Regardless, the 2017-18 season should feature a big changing of the guard for the Predators, as Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro will see their contracts expire, and players like Fiala and Vladislav Kamenev could get their chance to make an impact at the NHL level.
7. Concerns about Mike Ribeiro
Speaking of Ribeiro, he might be the most crucial player on the Predators this year, aside from Pekka Rinne (more on that later). He is set to be the Predators’ second-line center this season. He had a strong regular season in 2015-16, but fell off a cliff in the playoffs. Which Ribeiro will show up this season?
If it’s the regular season version, the Predators will be just fine. If playoff Ribeiro rears its ugly head again, the Predators might have a serious problem with center depth. Beyond the top center, Ryan Johansen, there might not be much talent left. Of course, if Mike Fisher plays well, he could slide up to the second line, but the head coach Peter Laviolette must hope it doesn’t come to that.
8. How much longer does Pekka Rinne have left?
Last season was far from perfect for Pekka Rinne. He finished outside the top 20 goaltenders in the NHL in goals allowed average, and outside the top 30 in save percentage. Of course, he could have a rebound year, but he’s 33 years old, and some may consider that “past his prime.”
I don’t think he’s really “past his prime,” but concerns about his performance are justified. There is a chance he isn’t the anchor goaltender he has been over the past few years. He may never re-gain that Vezina finalist form. Of course, even non-Vezina form Rinne is still better than half the goaltenders in the NHL, but it may not be enough to steal games and put the Predators over the top.
If Rinne declines again this season, we may be seeing Juuse Saros in net sooner than expected.
9. The next contracts: Johansen and Neal
After this upcoming season, Ryan Johansen is a restricted free agent. After 2017-18, James Neal is an unrestricted free agent. How will they keep both of them?
It should actually be fairly easy.
With Ribeiro, Fisher and other players having their contracts expire after the season, the Predators will have $19 million in cap space. That should be more than enough to keep Johansen, and with room left over to sign Neal the next season, and maybe even Colin Wilson, who is also a free agent after 2017-18.
But, of course, this is all way far away, so why am I making you worried about it?
Because it’s fun to speculate.
10. Shut up and enjoy the World Cup of Hockey
Lastly, let’s talk about the upcoming World Cup of Hockey. I, for one, am so excited for this event. It’s going to be a great spectacle of hockey, with all the best players in the world playing on the ESPN family of networks. The uniforms look amazing, the players are into it, and most importantly, we get to watch hockey about a month earlier.
But, all I see on Twitter is complaints about what it means for Olympic participation, the new ads on the jerseys, and all sorts of things.
Why can’t people enjoy anything anymore?
Who cares if there’s a little ad on the shoulder of the jersey? Who cares if it’s not the Olympics? Who cares if Phil Kessel isn’t on Team USA (well, actually, I couldn’t believe that either)? It’s hockey on a very accessible family of networks a month early.
Stop complaining about something meant to be a fun tournament that will grow the game. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be wearing my USA gear this September and hoping this team can re-capture the magic of the 1996 World Cup.
And I’m not complaining about anything.