This has been an exciting season for Predators fans- perhaps the most exciting rollercoaster in the country.
The rollercoaster has reached heights that many across the league didn’t think possible in consistently staying around the 5th or 6th seed in the Western Conference. For Nashville fans, a lot of the ride to this point has been upside down: one of the worst penalty kill units in the league is certainly not normal for a Barry Trotz coached team. Their fans have even frequently got to experience a House of Horrors with this team when Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Klein are on the ice together. Enough terrible writing and onto just plain bad writing.
Patric Hornqvist- Hornqvist is a second year player that currently leads the team in goals (17), plus/minus (+10), game winning goals (4), power play goals (6) and is fourth on the team in points (27). Outside of a one-game benching, he really has performed much better than anyone had the right to expect. All of that while spending significant amounts of time on the third line. All of his hard work and willingness to play around the net has rightfully earned him a spot on the Swedish Olympic team.
Ryan Suter- Ryan Suter has been Nashville’s best overall defenseman this season. He leads the team in total ice time per game (23:59), is a +4, and is in the top six in time on ice for both power play and penalty kill situations. His excellent play has earned him an Olympic bid as well- for the United States.
David Legwand- David Legwand is an enigma to most Nashville fans too blinded by his draft position to truly understand his value to this team. Legwand has impressive defensive skills that’s allowed Barry Trotz to pit Legwand against the opposing team’s top line night after night. While he’s gifted offensively as well, he started very, very slowly in that respect. Despite that slow start, he’s turned a corner since and has become another offensive threat.
Marcel Goc- Marcel Goc has been a pleasant surprise for Predator fans. He’s been defensively responsible (+5) while still chipping in 16pts. He’s really benefitted from having J.P. Dumont on his line. He’s also done pretty well in the faceoff dot as well at 52.6%.
Jerred Smithson- If I could choose any word to describe Smithson’s season (and since I’m writing this, I can), it would be fascinating. Smithson has long been considered a very good defensive forward. He’s also very good at faceoffs and on penalty kill situations. This season has seen him playing with Joel Ward and David Legwand. That line is given the job of shutting down the top line every night. While excelling at that, Jerred has discovered that he can put a few in the back of the net. If it weren’t for the downturn of the penalty kill results, he’d easily have a higher grade.
Joel Ward- Unable to participate in training camp, yet he still has produced 22 points after the slow start. Ward has combined with Smithson and Legwand to really provide a great two-way second line. I can’t remember the last time Ward took a night off.
Barry Trotz, Peter Horachek, and Brent Peterson- It’s really hard to argue with 55pts and being very much in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. That said, it’s a team whose achievements to this point are in spite of the power play units, penalty kill units, relatively flat play at home, and multiple defensive breakdowns. Someone also has to explain the consistent pairing of Hamhuis and Klein. The results are consistently beyond poor- even strength and on the penalty kill.
Martin Erat- With Martin Erat, there has been no gray (or grey for our Canadian friends) area. Erat started the season about as bad offensively and defensively one could possibly start. It didn’t help that he had the largest contract on the team salary-wise for this season. Many fans were hoping to see him dealt. And then someone flipped a switch and Erat has stormed to near the top of the team in generating points. He’s easily been the most dangerous sniper on the team since. He’s the only player on the team with an adjusted shot percentage (including blocks and misses) in double digits (13%).
Shea Weber- Shea Weber is Nashville’s version of Wild Thing. Weber can shoot the puck with such power. Unfortunately, they more often than not miss the target. He has almost double the number of missed shots of anyone else on the team (81 to Joel Ward’s 48). I wonder what Shea would look like with the skull and crossbones glasses and would they help? When he does find the net, the results are positive. Weber’s misfirings along with the perception of being hampered by an early season foot injury seems to have him a little off. His off play is better than many others.
Cody Franson- Cody hasn’t played at the same level of Weber and Suter to be sure. Nor has he played against the competition those two have. That’s no reason to sell him short though. After a less than spectacular training camp, he’s take advantage of his opportunities once called up. He leads all defensemen with a +6 and has provided additional offense from the blueline. He’s made a real contribution to the Predators this season.
Pekka Rinne- Pekka has not played as well as last season to be sure. He isn’t tracking the puck as well and appears to be overplaying opponents much more frequently. That said, he’s still giving his team more than a fair chance on most nights. He and Dan have both been victimized a little too often by the defense in front of them.
Dan Ellis- Ellis is Nashville’s 1B goaltender for good reason. He’s having another good year even though he’s still fighting rebound control some. Much like Rinne, he’s been left out in the cold by the team in front of him much too often this season. Dan’s puckhandling ability has also proven useful as well.
Jason Arnott- It’s only fitting that the team’s captain best embodies the rollercoaster in play that has been the team’s season. Arnott has been very streaky. When inspired, he is a player to be feared. I only wish that inspiration would strike a little more often. As captain, I also look at Arnott when the team plays flat at home- which has occurred much too often.
Francis Bouillon- Another surprise free agent signing this past offseason. Bouillon has really brought a steadying presence to the blueline along with a needed dose of physicality. Regardless of his partner, he’s been a solid, solid addition to this team.
Dan Hamhuis (Jekyll)- I struggled over how to grade both Hamhuis and Klein. Both have looked beyond terrible this season, yet both have looked really solid as well. Since the results have been consistent (terrible together, different players when apart) I decided to grade them as such. When paired with someone other than Klein (usually Franson), Hamhuis has been fairly solid. He’s turned up the offense this season, while turning down the physicality however.
JP Dumont- Another very streaky player. Dumont started the season on the top line with Arnott and Sullivan with some success. As all three have struggled somewhat (and fought injuries), they have all struggled with consistency. Dumont is on the rise again having found chemistry with Marcel Goc.
Steve Sullivan- Sully leads the team with 29 points. He’s still really dangerous with the puck on his stick. The downside is that he’s second on the team in giveaways (one behind Legwand) with less ice time. His timing at losing the puck has really been a problem for a team that is built more for a puck possession game this season. He seems to have lost a little bit of a step as well.
Ryan Jones- Started out invisible and spent a lot of time in Milwaukee. Brought back up and appeared to hit a new gear. He’s starting to get invisible again however.
Kevin Klein (Jekyll)- See Dan Hamhuis’s grade for the full story. When paired with Bouillon, they’ve proven to be a solid pair. Klein still makes a number of mistakes, but he is, essentially, a second year player (something easy to forget) at the NHL level. Of course, he’s also from the same draft that brought Nashville Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. He can only live on his breathtaking speed for so long.
Mike Santorelli- After a very strong training camp on a line with Erat and Legwand, the trio fell like a lead balloon at the start of the season. Santorelli never rebounded like Erat and Legwand. Being a rookie, he’s also on a shorter leash. I’m on record wanting to see the rookies and younger players given a better chance by the coaching staff. That doesn’t eliminate the need for those players to grasp tightly to every opportunity they have at this level. Unlike Hornqvist, Santorelli has not been able to do that outside of some great moments in the shootout.
Wade Belak- While not given a lot of opportunities, Belak really hasn’t capitalized on the ones he’s had. Nashville’s poor play on the penalty kill has probably had an influence as well. That said, Predators fans have seen too many liberties taken with their favorite players this season.
Dan Hamhuis (Hyde) and Kevin Klein (Hyde)- This is just the damndest thing. These two go together as well as oil and water. Not only do they consistently not play well together, they unfortunately get plenty of opportunities to prove that. Knowledgeable Predator fans have noted Klein’s propensity for not communicating on the ice (notably SLake). While that would certainly contribute to the problems, one would think it would equally affect his other partners. That really hasn’t been the case.
All of the following players have been in and out of the lineup enough that I can’t give them a fair grade. All have made some positive contributions to the team this season at one time or another.
Firstly, I have to apologize for another long spell without an entry. The holidays, work, and a lack of televised games really has taken their toll on me. Since we are about to kick off a new, several month-long project at work, I hope to be able to devote more time to another occupation I love.
Finally, I close by passing along the information for local Nashville fans that Eric Yutzy is leaving NewsChannel5. For those in the Nashville area, you already know that the enthusiasm and professionalism that Eric brought to the Nashville airwaves were the best of the best. His efforts in reporting the hockey news were trumped only by his willingness to come to the message boards and talk hockey. For those that would like to leave their well wishes for Eric, he’s posted his goodbye’s on the official Predator forum.
Perhaps the most stunning story he’s ever brought to us is the story of Chase Donnell. If you’ve never watched the amazing and heart-wrenching video, please do so.
Eric, good luck in Indianapolis. It would be an understatement to say they are getting a fine sportscaster.
About the Author: Nashville Predators Blogger, Software Engineer (C#.NET), Novice Woodworker, Southern Cook, Husband, Father of Two. You may contact me at David.R.Singleton AT gmail.com.