With only 4 games remaining in the season, the Predators will be in a position that they have not found themselves in since the 2008-2009. The Predators have officially been eliminated from this season’s playoffs and instead of competing for a chance at the Stanley Cup, they will spend the rest of the season hoping to play spoiler for 3 of the teams remaining in the playoff hunt.
Hawks, Wings, and Blue Jackets; Oh my!
Over the next eight days, the Predators will travel to face the top team in the West, the Chicago Blackhawks, host the Calgary Flames, another team eliminated from playoff contention, at the Bridgestone Arena, then finish the season on the road with the two teams currently in 8th and 9th in the Western Conference, the Detroit Red Wings and the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets. While the allure of a high draft pick might have some hoping that the Predators finish with a less than stellar season, the team will be looking to make sure their division rivals share their fate.
With the playoffs already long-wrapped up and clinching the Western Conference, the Blackhawks have their sights set on the President’s trophy. With 70 points in 42 games, the Blackhawks have six games remaining to finish off their best season in recent years. Although the Predators won’t have a chance to spoil Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks playoff chances, making the end of their season slightly less pleasant wouldn’t be a terrible way to start the beginning of the end.
Battling for the final few playoff slots in the West, the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets will host the Predators hoping to roll over them on way to securing a spot in the post-season. With playoffs officially out of the equation, ruining not one, but two division rivals playoff chances could still give the team something to look forward to.
Even without a playoff spot to fight for, beating the Red Wings, on their home ice, en route to knocking them out of playoff contention would be something for both the team and fans to celebrate in a rather painful shortened season. Additionally, knocking off the Red Wings might make it easier for the biggest surprise of the season, the Columbus Blue Jackets, to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-2009 season.
As two of the newer franchises in the NHL, the Blue Jackets and Predators couldn’t have had much of a different recent history, with the Predators making the playoffs 7 of the last 9 years, while the Blue Jackets have only made the playoffs once in that same timeframe, being swept by the Red Wings in their only appearance. I think its fair to say that if the Predators have a choice, they would much rather see the Blue Jackets make the playoffs over the Red Wings.
Is Winning the Wrong Choice?
Simply put, no. Even at the cost of a higher draft pick in a deep draft, the difference between 8 points in the standings could move them a few spots, but the fact is that the Predators will most likely end up with a top-10 pick in this years draft, if not higher. Here’s a good look at the NHL Draft lottery standards, as of April 18th from Smashville24/7. Its no secret that the Predators lack offensive punch, but its important to remember that wherever the team drafts, the prospect, like many other prospects, will take time to develop.
At the same time, its also important to remember that the Capitals drafted highly-touted prospect, turned Nashville Predator, Filip Forsberg with the 11th overall pick. If the Predators end up with another prospect of the same skill level, lets just say the team and their fans won’t be disappointed. Between this upcoming draft and the stockpiling of what looks like one of the most promising prospect groups, outside of Edmonton.
With players like Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne as veteran leaders on and off the ice next year, younger players like Colin Wilson, Roman Josi, Jonathan Blum, Gabriel Bourque and others will be expected to step into bigger roles with the team. While the younger guys are adjusting to larger roles on the team, prospects like Forsberg and Austin Watson will get a chance to shine on a bigger stage, most likely seeing time in the top-six and on the powerplay. Others like Daniel Bång, Ryan Ellis, Chris Mueller, and most recently Mattias Ekholm will all get time with the big club at the end of this season due to injuries.
Regardless of what happens in the rest of the season, win or lose, the Predators have a chance to not only play spoiler to their division rivals, but also remain in line to draft another franchise player.