The 2018 calendar year was an eventful, and for the most part, a good year for the Nashville Predators. From Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, they went 53-23-8. They won at least 50 percent of their games in every month but December and lost two or fewer games in January, February and April.
Ryan Johansen paced the team with 15 goals and 64 points while Roman Josi was the team’s highest-scoring blueliner with 14 goals and 59 points. The rest of the top-five consisted of Filip Forsberg’s 25 goals and 52 points, Ryan Ellis’ 13 goals and 49 points and Craig Smith’s 22 goals and 48 points.
In net, Pekka Rinne had a 38-16-2 record, seven shutouts, and a .925 save percentage (SV%). His backup, Juuse Saros, went 15-7-6 with two shutouts and a .909 SV%. The Predators didn’t receive the high-end scoring that other quality teams did, but they had an elite blue line and great goaltending.
However, this article isn’t about the players who led the Predators or about how the team performed in specific months of the year. It’s about the storylines that made 2018 a year to remember for the team. But first, a few of the year’s less newsworthy headlines.
Storylines That Didn’t Make the Cut
Feb. 26 – Ryan Hartman Acquisition
The Predators acquired winger Ryan Hartman from the Chicago Blackhawks at the 2018 Trade Deadline. In order to land him, they sent prospect Victor Ejdsell and a first and a fourth round pick in 2018 to the Blackhawks. In addition to Hartman, the Predators received a fifth round pick. In 21 regular season games after the trade, Hartman had three goals and six points. He added another two goals and an assist in nine playoff games. He’s off to a better start in 2018-19 with nine goals and 14 points in 41 games.
Giving up two picks and a prospect was a lot for a middle-six forward, especially when the first round pick resulted in defenseman Nicolas Beaudin who’s averaging better than a point-per-game in the QMJHL. The trade is another installment in a long line of deadline moves made by Predators GM David Poile. It will also take several seasons to determine whether the move was a good one for the team.
Aug. 14 – Ryan Ellis Extension
In August, the Predators and 28-year-old blueliner Ryan Ellis agreed to an eight-year extension worth $50 million. The contract will carry an average annual value of $6.25 million and has no trade protection attached to it. It was an important deal for the two sides to get done as Ellis is playing on the last year of a five-year, $12.5 million contract he signed in Oct. 2014. That contract has a $2.5 million cap hit.
The extension was also important because it means that three of Nashville’s defensemen (Mattias Ekholm, P.K. Subban and Ellis) are signed through the 2021-22 season. The contract was beneficial for both sides as it provides Ellis with long-term financial security and gives him a nice raise while also giving the team certainty on the blue line and at a team-friendly cap hit as other defensemen with his offensive and defensive skillsets are typically paid at least $6.5 million per year.
Nov. 3 – Pekka Rinne Extension
In early November, the Predators extended another important player, this time Rinne, who signed the deal on his 36th birthday. His extension, two years and $5 million per season, will take him through his age-38 season and represents a reduction in cap hit from his current $7 million. Given Rinne’s performance in recent seasons, he could have commanded at least $8 million on a short-term contract on the open market, so once again the Predators signed a key player to a team-friendly deal.
But it’s more than just his cap hit. Rinne’s extension also runs for the same length of time as Saros’ current contract. This means that when Saros needs a long-term extension, the Predators will have plenty of cap space to get said extension done. Rinne’s contract allows him to still be the team’s starter this season and possibly next before transitioning into a 50/50 split or backup role in 2020-21.
Dec. 3 – Peter Laviolette’s 200th Win with Predators
Exactly one month after Rinne’s extension, head coach Peter Laviolette reached an impressive career milestone – his 200th win behind the Predators’ bench. It occurred in a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres and marked the first time he has reached the 200-win mark with a team.
Previously, Laviolette won 167 games with the Carolina Hurricanes, 145 as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers and 77 with the New York Islanders. Reaching that milestone victory also helped him cement his status as one of the best American-born head coaches in league history. He is currently 20th all-time in wins with 595 (as of Jan. 3, 2018) and has the second-most among American coaches behind John Tortorella’s 598.
Predators’ Top-5 Storylines of the Year
Now it’s time to get to the biggest Predators headlines from 2018. They are not in order of importance or by how newsworthy they were, but in chronological order.
Jan. 31 – Mike Fisher’s Return
The story of Mike Fisher’s return to the Predators began after the team was ousted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. On Aug. 3, he announced his retirement from the NHL following a 17-season career. He became the first player in franchise history to retire as captain.
“It’s moments like that which I know I’ll miss. This job I’ve been able to have for a majority of my life is so much fun. To help create that entertainment and to see the joy we can bring to people is such a unique and exciting opportunity. I’ll miss my teammates, my coaches and the game itself. This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I know I’ve made the right one. I’ve decided to retire from the NHL.” Mike Fisher’s retirement letter as republished on NHL.com.
Less than six months later, on Jan. 31, Fisher announced that he was attempting a comeback by signing a professional tryout contract and practicing with the team before making a decision. On Feb. 26, he signed a one-year contract with the Predators with the goal of providing a boost for their playoff push. Feb. 26 was also the trade deadline and the last date that he could sign a contract and be eligible for the playoff roster.
While he was a great off-ice boost and locker room presence, his on-ice production had mixed results. In 16 regular season games, Fisher scored two goals and four points while averaging 12:21 of ice time. He did, however, win 58.2 percent of faceoffs. In the 2018 Playoffs, he played in 12 games and netted one goal, his only point, won 65 percent of draws and averaged 11:14 per game. That was a six-minute dropoff in ice time compared to the previous postseason. After the Predators were beat in the second round, Fisher again announced his retirement, a decision that, so far, has stuck.
March 1 – David Poile’s Win Mark
On March 1, the Predators beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-2. It was the team’s 40th win of the season and Scott Hartnell, Viktor Arvidsson and Austin Watson scored to overcome a 2-0 first-period deficit. But that victory meant more than just a regular late-season win. It was Poile’s 1,320th win as a general manager in the NHL. With the victory, he passed Glen Sather, long-time GM of the Oilers, for the all-time mark.
As the only general manager in Predators history, Poile has had ample time to accumulate wins. However, he was also at the helm of the Washington Capitals for 15 seasons and led them to a 594-454-132 record and 14 playoff appearances. Since being fired by the Capitals, Poile has been the architect of the Predators since their inception ahead of the 1998 Expansion Draft.
He has been their general manager for 1,565 games with a record of 763-593-60-149 with 11 playoff appearances and a likely 12th this season. Since recording his 1,320th win in March, he has added 37 wins to his resume.
In his career, Poile has been recognized as one of the game’s best general managers. He was named 2017 General Manager of the Year and has been a finalist for the award three other times. In Dec. 2018, he was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, a fitting honor as he has helped USA Hockey on several occasions, including serving as GM of Team USA at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
April 8 – Franchise’s First Presidents’ Trophy
At the end of the 2017-18 regular season, the Predators were awarded the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy for having the most points in the league. They finished the season with a 53-18-11 record with 117 points, three more than the second-place Winnipeg Jets. Their 117 points were seven more than their previous best in 2006-07. It also was their second time with 50-plus wins in a season and their first time winning the division.
Predators top Capitals, win first ever Presidents’ Trophy https://t.co/YcTGs4Tlov
— NHL on NBC Sports (@NHLonNBCSports) April 6, 2018
In 2017-18, they never lost more than three games in a row and had three winning streaks of at least five games. This included a 10-game streak between Feb. 19 and March 8. A four-game winning streak soon followed as they won 14 of 15 games near season’s end.
Against division opponents, the Predators went 18-5-3, including 4-0-0 against the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues and 3-0-1 against the Dallas Stars. The only teams in the league they had a sub-.500 points percentage against were the Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild and Hurricanes. They also went 28-9-5 against playoff teams. When the Predators scored first, they had a 41-4-6 record and were 18-4-4 in one-goal games, not including shootouts. It was truly a remarkable regular season for them.
May 10 – Upset in Conference Semifinals
The Predators entered the 2018 Playoffs on a downward trend with five wins in their final 10 games. However, they remained the league’s best regular-season team and would have had home-ice advantage through the Stanley Cup Final had they advanced that far.
They ousted the Avalanche 4-2 in the first round in what was a closer series than many would have predicted. Two wins and one loss were by one goal as the Nathan MacKinnon/Gabriel Landeskog/Mikko Rantanen line blistered the Predators for 17 points. It also didn’t helped that Rinne allowed 14 goals for a .909 SV% and was pulled in Game 3.
So it’s no surprise that the Predators struggled against the high-flying Jets who won nine of their final 10 games to conclude the regular season. The Jets beat the Wild in the first round 4-1 and had shutouts in the final two games.
Despite having home-ice advantage, the Predators gave up that advantage in Game 1 as they lost 4-1 and managed a split in the first two games at Bridgestone Arena thanks to a gutsy 5-4 win in double overtime. The gutsy performances continued as the Predators won Game 4 by a 2-1 score and Game 6 in Winnipeg 4-0 to force a seventh game. Ultimately it didn’t matter as they dropped Game 7 by a 5-1 score as Rinne continued his streak of poor playoff performances.
In the series, he allowed 21 goals for a .900 SV% and started all seven games despite his struggles. Meanwhile, Saros appeared in Games 1, 5 and 7 after Rinne was pulled and gave the Predators a chance with a .917 SV%. He played well enough that many were hoping Laviolette would give him the start over Rinne in Game 7. Perhaps it would have made a difference, perhaps not.
The Predators received high-end offense from Forsberg, Johansen, Arvidsson and P.K. Subban, but Roman Josi and Ellis were all but invisible. Conversely, the Jets had scoring throughout the roster with Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Paul Stastny each producing 10-plus points and an additional four players had at least five points.
On paper, the Predators may have been upset by the lower-seeded Jets. But on the ice, it was more of an even split as the league’s two best teams faced each other in the second round, the result of the NHL’s bizarre playoff seeding. Regardless, the Predators drew the Jets and lost to a better team.
June 20 – Pekka Rinne’s Vezina Trophy
Luckily for Rinne, though, regular season awards don’t take into account a player’s postseason performance. This means that Rinne’s playoff struggles didn’t negate his dominant regular season and allowed him to still win the Vezina Trophy at season’s end as the league’s best goaltender. Although he was in his age-35 season, it was his first win in his fourth time as a finalist. It was also the franchise’s first Vezina Trophy.
— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) June 21, 2018
Rinne certainly deserved it with a 42-13-4 record in 59 starts and had eight shutouts, a .927 SV%, a 2.31 goals-against average and 27.49 goals saved above average. He led the league in shutouts and goals saved above average. At five-on-five, he had a .937 SV%, a .935 SV% against medium-danger shots and an .833 SV% against high-danger shots. What’s remarkable is that 2017-18 wasn’t his best season.
He had more wins in 2011-12, a higher save percentage in 2010-11, a lower goals-against average in 2010-11 and 2014-15 and currently has a lower one in 2018-19 and saved more goals above average in 2010-11. However, his eight shutouts were a career-high. He ran away with the trophy, receiving 129 votes, including 22 first-place votes, while runner-up Connor Hellebuyck received 82 votes and seven first-place votes.
Rinne was consistently good throughout the regular season. He allowed more than three goals 12 times, but had 35 games in which he allowed less than three. He allowed more than three goals in consecutive starts once. In what was one of the best goaltending seasons in franchise history, Rinne warranted a Vezina Trophy win, cementing his legacy as one of the game’s best netminders in recent history.
His victory also wrapped up one of the best seasons in franchise history and was a fitting conclusion to 2018, a year that had numerous headlines in the first six months, but relatively few in the last half. Hopefully 2019 will produce as many, if not more, headlines, including more postseason success than they experienced a year ago. What were your favorite Predators storylines from 2018? Let me know in the comments below.
*All stats from Hockey-Reference and Corsica
My name is Kyle, and although I’m from Pennsylvania and grew up a Penguins fan, I cover the Predators here at The Hockey Writers. And while I would consider myself a Predators fan, I really enjoy watching all hockey and try to always take an objective approach to things. In addition to covering the Preds, I write hockey history and some statistical analysis pieces as well as book reviews.