Expect more of the same from Predators, who should contend again
They’re supposed to be good again.
That seems a consensus in the hockey world outside of Bridgestone Arena.
It’s certainly the expectation inside it, too.
“We were a good team last year. We've been a good team for the last couple of years,” Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “We expect nothing less than just getting better every year.”
As unpredictable as the NHL’s postseason tends to be, as Nashville’s team has learned, the Predators have continued to be a reliable fixture in the sport. Their playoff streak under coach Peter Laviolette is at an impressive five years entering the 2019-20 season, which starts for the Predators next Thursday.
What can be expected this season? More of the same, really.
A new season is again supposed to end in the playoffs with a run at the organization’s first Stanley Cup.
The Predators aren’t exactly a Cup favorite this season, but they’re not far from it. ESPN listed Nashville fifth in its July preseason NHL power rankings, behind only Tampa Bay, Boston, Toronto and Vegas.
A site called Oddsshark.com had the Predators at 18-1 odds to win the Cup this season, which is behind eight other teams, only two of which are better than 10-1.
Something called The Sports Geek listed the over-under on the Predators’ point total this season at 97.5 (last season’s team earned 100, which won the Central Division).
You get the idea.
“It’s a pretty confident group going into the regular season right now,” goalie Pekka Rinne said after Wednesday night’s 3-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, which made four victories in five preseason games for the Predators.
Even after P.K. Subban was dealt to New Jersey in a move to cut salary costs this offseason – and the subsequent signing of center Matt Duchene – things really haven’t changed that much.
In Smashville, they seldom have. For its relative youth, this has been a franchise of remarkable stability and low turnover, from the front office to the roster. These players actually have resisted change in the recent past, asking for something that isn’t broken to not be fixed.
Of the 26 players listed on the Predators’ training camp roster entering Wednesday night’s preseason game against Carolina, all but four were listed as being a part of Nashville’s 2018-19 team.
Subban will be missed, of course. But as much as that trade might have grabbed headlines, the Predators’ top eight points scorers last season are all back: Ryan Johansen (64), Roman Josi (56), Filip Forsberg (50), Viktor Arvidsson (48), Mattias Ekholm (44), Ellis (41), Craig Smith (38) and Nick Bonino (35).
Along with Rinne, that’s a lot of familiar names and faces still in the Predators’ locker room with a lot of time together.
Such continuity, players say, has been a reason for lasting success.
“I think so,” Rinne said. “Any team wishes they have a really strong core that stays together and you can build your team on that. I think this team has had it for a long time. … It also helps the new guys. When you have the same group, for the most part, there's already that culture and that atmosphere in the locker room.”
If there’s a particular difference this season, Rinne said, it’s that “we have more depth nowadays.”
“The most important thing with this preseason is how we take over games,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “… I feel like we wear teams down. We weather the storm in the first (period), and we just keep coming at them and they can’t handle us in the second and third. This team is well built.”
Far from rebuilding, this team also hasn’t had to reload.
If there's a reason to like the Predators' chances after a tough postseason end to what had been another strong season, it'll again be so many of them remaining together.
“We haven't fulfilled our ultimate goal,” Ellis said, “but overall, it just seems like we come to play each year. Nothing changes.
“A couple of new faces, and we continue on our path to being champions.”
Reach Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.