The 2016 World Cup of Hockey is now in full swing and anticipation for the 2016-17 NHL season has amplified. Of course, hopes are high within the Nashville Predators organization, as well as its fanbase. It has been an action-packed offseason and everyone is excited to see if this is the year a Stanley Cup is finally brought to the city of Nashville.
With all of the optimism surrounding the Predators these days, there are still some major questions with uncertain answers hovering over the franchise before the new season officially begins on October 14th.
Who Will Provide the Goals?
In his second full season with Nashville, Filip Forsberg continued to prove that he will be a scoring powerhouse on the Predators for years to come. He finished the 2015-16 season with 33 goals, tying Jason Arnott’s franchise record. It is possible that the 22-year-old winger jumps up to 40 goals in his third season which will really help a Predators team uncertain of where their offense will come from.
Nashville can always count on James Neal to light the lamp somewhere between 25 and 30 times a season but the team is going to need more players to step up and contribute if they are going to improve off their impressive efforts last season. Besides Forsberg and Neal, the Predators only had two more men score 20 goals plus goals last season. One of them was Craig Smith and the other gentleman will now be lacing up his skates for the Montreal Canadiens. Smith has steadily scored over 20 goals for the past three seasons but has seen his scoring numbers slightly decline since putting up 24 in 2013-14. P.K. Subban will be adding his creative scoring talents to the Predators this season which could translate into more goals. Don’t be surprised if he puts up a career-high number in that category.
The bottom line is the Predators are going to need to put the puck in the net more frequently this season if they want to continue their climb up the Western Conference. It is uncertain at this point where the offense will come from but hopefully this question will be answered early on.
Will Pekka Rinne Bounce Back?
Since the 2008-09 season, there has been no question about who the man in net for the Nashville Predators is. Pekka Rinne has been a face of this franchise with his stellar goaltending ability. However, there is cause for concern that the 33-year-old netminder might be on the decline. Yes, he was able to record an amazing .923 save percentage two seasons ago but saw that number drop to .908 last year. Rinne has actually had a save percentage of .910 or lower in three of the last four seasons. Statistics like that are simply not going to cut it in a league full of talented scorers. In addition, no team wants to see a performance like that from a guy who is making $7M annually for the next three seasons.
Nashville cannot afford to witness another effort similar to last season from Rinne. With a new backup goaltender behind him, either Marek Mazanec or Juuse Saros, the Predators need the 2014-15 version of Rinne back in net. If he is able to return to form, the team should be in good shape this season.
Can the Predators Go Further This Season?
The Predators finished in fourth place in the Central Division last season with 94 points. They shocked the hockey world in the first round of the postseason taking out a Stanley Cup hopeful team in the Anaheim Ducks and were one win away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals. Now that the bar has been set quite high, the question has to be whether Nashville can do even better in 2016-17.
Besides for the departure of Shea Weber and the addition of Subban, no other major changes have happened to the roster over the offseason. This can truly be seen as a good or bad thing. As mentioned before, the team needs more scoring and they will have to rely on the same group of characters, for the most part, to do so. Luckily, some teams such as the Blackhawks and Blues could experience slight declines in production which should result in the Predators moving up the Central Division rankings. It could also be argued that the opportunity for Nashville to be one of the top four teams in the Western Conference is there due to uncertainty about how good the Ducks and Kings will be this season.
There is a lot of hype surrounding the Nashville Predators and how far they can go this season. Fans and the hockey world as a whole should be nothing but excited at this point as they wait to see if this team can make it to the Western Conference Finals or further next spring.