It’s Christmastime, and many people are finishing up on their wish lists. Nashville Predators fans are hoping that Santa Claus can grant some wishes they have for their favorite hockey team.
The Predators had a good opening month of October but were sluggish in November with scoring troubles and injuries. The team did secure a 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 21 to go into the Christmas break.
However, there’s still concern whether this team is a Stanley Cup contender in the rugged Central Division. I decided to take a page from my childhood and came up with a Christmas wish list for the Nashville fans.
Keep in mind that I didn’t ask for a Stanley Cup because that would be greedy. (One thing I learned growing up was to not overreach when it comes to a holiday list.)
Here are the top 10 things Nashville fans want this holiday season.
A Front-Line Center
This is the big-ticket item much like my SEGA Genesis was when I was 12 years old. The Predators need a top-line center to make them elite. There’s been plenty of speculation on who general manager David Poile is trying to acquire.
The three names that come up the most is Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes, Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Nashville was inquiring about Nugent-Hopkins before the roster freeze.
Poile is going to have to make a hard choice to if he wants to pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal. However, it could put Nashville into the mix for home ice in the first round.
Healing From Injuries
Injuries are a given with any team, but the injury bug bit Nashville hard in late November and early December. The team felt the losses of Paul Gaustad, Eric Nystrom, Colin Wilson and are still without Mike Fisher. The loss of the latter hurts a lot because of his leadership and offense.
Return of 2014-15 Pekka Rinne
Rinne is one of the best goalies in the world, but he’s been average this season. He’s 14-9-6 with a 2.34 goals against average and a .912 save percentage, and those numbers aren’t up to the impressive standard that he’s set.
He was a contender for the Hart and Vezina trophies after a stellar first half of last season before injuries derailed those bids. Rinne did make 35 saves in the win over the Habs, and Preds fans hope that’s the start of an upward trend.
The lack of success from the faceoff circle has been a problem the last couple of season for the Preds. Nashville was 21st in winning percentage in 2014-15 with a 48.9-percent success rate. The problem has gotten worse this season as the Preds are 25th with a 48.6-percent win ratio.
Mike Ribeiro has had a particularly bad year from the faceoff dot with a 36.3-percent success rate. Ribeiro is one of the top-two centers (at this time) for Nashville, and he’ll need to start winning more draws.
Extensions for Forsberg and Jones
One thing that has Predators fans worried is whether or not Poile can sign Forsberg and Seth Jones to contract extensions at the end of the season. Both will wrap up their entry-level deals and should get deserved pay raises.
Preds’ fans are worried that overpaying to keep the pair could hamstring the team in pursuing other additions. However, don’t doubt Poile when it comes to working around the salary cap. He’s weaved magic plenty of times like he did most recently with the Mattias Ekholm deal. Don’t be surprised if he can pull it off again.
A Norris Trophy for Weber… or Josi
One of the biggest mysteries in hockey is how someone like Shea Weber hasn’t won the top prize for the league’s best defenseman. Weber has been a solid player at both ends of the ice but has been overshadowed by more offensive-minded blue-liners like P.K. Subban of Montreal and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators.
However, Weber has already put up 10 goals and 15 assists this season. Weber’s 10 goals are good enough for second on the club behind Neal.
The man in first place is Roman Josi, who is Weber’s defensive partner. The Swiss defenseman has nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Josi got the Norris Trophy instead of Weber. Both have played like deserving candidates so far.
Improved Penalty Kill
Nashville started off the season with great special teams, but bad execution and injuries have the team mired in 29th in penalty kill at 76-percent. I already touched on this problem last week, but the point bears repeating.
The power play has stepped up and is 10th with a 20.9-percent conversion rate. Hopefully, the PK can follow the power play’s lead.
The Predators have been to overtime eight times this season and only have a pair of shootout victories to show for it. They are tied for the third-most OT losses this season with five (Detroit and Anaheim are the other clubs tied with Nashville.)
Nashville is a good defensive team that’s been struggling in the extra session. The 3-on-3 format lends itself to more open ice and mistakes are magnified now more than ever.
Wins are important no matter who you play, but they take on even more significance in the Central. The division was predicted to be one of the most tightly-contested divisions in a recent history. Any one of six teams have a realistic shot of making the postseason.
Teams like Dallas, Chicago and St. Louis have played some of the best hockey in the league, and Nashville will have to win to keep up with its rivals.
The Predators close out the calendar year with road games against the Blues and Stars, and wins over them would help them grab an automatic qualifying spot.
A Playoff Series Win
It’s something that Predators fans have waited on for a few years. The last series victory for Nashville was when they beat Detroit in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The team has never made it to the conference finals, but anything can happen in the postseason with their good defense and a goalie like Rinne. Advancing to the next round would feel like Christmas in May.
Can the Predators Fill Out This List?
I didn’t always get everything I wanted for Christmas, but I was thankful that I got some of the things on there. It’s very realistic that the Preds can check off most of the things on this list.
Let’s hope you all have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Covered hockey since attending SUNY Oswego in Upstate New York in the early 2000s. Has written about college, major junior and professional hockey for the last five years.
Resides in Watertown, NY.