What I hope was under the #Preds Christmas Trees:

It’s like a version of Jimmy Kimmel’s #meantweets … I call them #PredsMeanTweets though honestly, I don’t think they are too far off the mark… It’s like, What should we get Gabby Bourque for Christmas? HANDS!!!

So, here’s my Preds Christmas list:

2 – ANTHONY BITETTO: Rustoleum

3 – SETH JONES: Fans that believe in him and want him to stay. You know, fans that actually UNDERSTAND hockey

4 – RYAN ELLIS: four more inches (mind out of the gutter, I’m talking vertical)

5 – BARRET JACKMAN: A legitimate chance to win a cup… you know, come the trade deadline, HE could be a valuable piece for a true contender!

6 – SHEA WEBER: a couple of solid stick marks, board burns, and a tear or two on that pristine Game Worn that rarely comes in contact with a feisty opponent

8 – PETTER GRANBERG: A better fate than the last ex-Maple Leaf defenseman had in Smashville

9 – FILIP FORSBERG: A chance to play in a monster All Star Game… A chance to play WELL in a monster All Star Game

11 – CODY HODGSON: A better fate than Derek Roy or Matt Hendricks

12 – MIKE FISHER: Domination as the Preds 3C

14 – MATTIAS EKHOLM: A long, steady, injury-free career (and an IKEA in Nashville)

15 – CRAIG SMITH: Anti-Invisible Cream (to be applied BEFORE we notice he’s gone 10 games without a point.)

18 – JAMES NEAL: THE HAT TRICK: An Oscar, An Emmy, A Golden Globe

19 – CALLE JARNKROK: Respect (and continued maturation)

20 – MIIKKA SALOMAKI: To have a roll named after him at Nomzilla

24 – ERIC NYSTROM: Hand me down hands from his dad (to match the heart he was already given)

28 – PAUL GAUSTAD: Value at the deadline

30 – CARTER HUTTON: A new 5-year contract… …replacing Lyndsay Rowley

33 – COLIN WILSON: (with apologies for his 4AM omission) Obviously, he seems to share in riches with #15, so he should have some of that cream… and for all my female friends: A Hanes endorsement deal.

35 – PEKKA RINNE: To stop this guy every time these two teams meet, and having to hear Brent Peterson describe it!

38 – VIKTOR ARVIDSSON: To never visit Milwaukee again, and remove the velcro from the outside of his gloves in the 3rd period

51 – AUSTIN WATSON: Gummy Bears in the Press Box?

57 – GABRIEL BOURQUE: Seriously… I’ve been asking for three full years. This man needs HANDS … stat!

59 – ROMAN JOSI: A better publicist

63 – MIKE RIBEIRO: A Cher video, and a hunger for a new contract

84 – COLTON SISSONS: A chance to captain a team to the (Calder) Cup, and then a chance to share his experience.

…and to Coach PETER LAVIOLETTE: At least a point after three games at the start of the 2016-17 season

 

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Dear David Poile,

I know you don’t want to hear from fans whining about this being wrong, that being wrong, everything being wrong, and what’s wrong being wrong… but…

 

This hockey team is kind of a mess. Horrible on the PK. Easily defended on the PP (for the most part) and at even strength… FORGET IT. Virtually unwatchable… and not only do I watch, but I pay for a season seat, as I have since I moved here three years ago.

 

Did you see the Rangers had put Jarret Stoll on waivers yesterday? I know I did, and while I am not one of those “pick him up” guys, I thought it was worth more than a passing glance. Affordable contract, attractive Stanley Cup rings adorning two of his fingers, an almost 59% winning percentage in the faceoff circle, and a smart penalty killer who thrives on the defensive side of the puck. Minnesota grabbed him and well, you know, they were ahead of the Preds in the standings, so I know you didn’t put in a claim or we’d be seeing him in gold this week. I doubt you cared about his indiscretion in Vegas over the off season, because you know he’s clean as a whistle now, and you already had a couple solid years with Rich Clune and Brian McGrattan, so you know that sometimes guys with a past can have a tremendous impact on the present within the room. So, no Stoll. I’ll live, but I’m wondering if you’re noticing the product on the ice…

 

Let’s begin from the back out… Pekka is Pekka, except so far this year he’s been far from impekkable. The ONLY time he’s had a save percentage this low was the season he had that bacterial affliction in his hip… other than that, he’s always been a stellar stopper, and this year, .907 is not so stellar.

 

On defense, I’ve gone on record as saying the team has, from top to bottom, had the BEST top 6 in the league. I’ve matched it up against the stingiest teams in the league and I’ve been adamant that from top (Josi) to bottom (Jackman) this is a defensive corps that is second to none. I am ready to make some amendments to my statements.

Shea Weber: OK, I get the big shot… he’s a big shot, all right, but how about below the circles in the defensive zone? When does he actually lay the body on an opposing forward? How often does he just angle his body to seemingly avoid contact and let the opposition wheel unmolested? I know tonight I marveled when he actually took the body, but my eyes rolled when he drove his stick too high into the body of the Flames player, and took a 2 minute penalty with three minutes to go in a tie game. Unnecessary and 100% avoidable. About six inches lower and you have a clean check and perhaps a costly Flame turnover. We’ll never know. Weber is looked upon as the complete package from top to bottom, but I submit that he is NOT intimidating in the defensive zone. The thing that makes guys like Drew Doughty great are the way they punish opponents. Night after night, shift after shift, opposing skaters fear the battles that guys like Doughty will put you through. Does this more physical play come with the occasional penalty for some over-exuberance? Absolutely, but by game’s end the other team has a whole lot less fight in their game when they are constantly being hit in the offensive zone. Three years ago I noticed Weber constantly avoiding getting hit sending “suicide” passes to his d-partner, Josi. Now Josi, being the real deal, often avoids those hits and makes excellent passes up ice to begin rushes. What would make the defense a little better is if Weber took charge and did the things Norris Trophy candidates are supposed to do, and play HARD at both ends of the ice. I know he’s got 9 goals, and will end up somewhere around the 20 mark, which should make a lot of people forget a lot of soft defensive play. For me, like 9/11, I will never forget… Shea Weber, I wouldn’t want to be against you in a fight, but I do know that if we were opposing each other in said fight, I’d have looked at tape and known that you’re not the bruising behemoth a guy like Dustin Byfuglien is, and I’m free to roam the Earth without fear of pain, punishment and pugilism.

 

Now about Seth Jones… and his partner, Father Time… er, Barret Jackman. I’m a huge fan of Seth Jones. I am not foolish enough to believe he makes no mistakes. Make no mistake about it, Seth Jones is still 21, and still learning the nuances of the NHL. In each game a magnifiable error exposes him to a potentially horrific give-away, or turn-over that could cost the team a goal, but over the course of his average time on ice, Jones shows remarkable talent, patience, maturity far beyond his years. He’s called upon in all situations, and will only get better with age. Predators fans that rag on him nightly would be aghast to live in a world that has you giving him up to another team needing a franchise defenseman. You simply don’t give away an asset like Jones. As for Jackman, I loved the acquisition and for the most part, the guy, playing almost exclusively at “even strength,” is still an effective NHL rearguard. That being said, he’s almost 35, and a veteran of well over 800 NHL games. The treads on these tires are starting to thin. Wouldn’t an occasional start by younger, fresher legs (Bitetto) be in order, if only to give the solid veteran a LITTLE extra rest during the regular season? You’ve carried two extra defensemen for much of the season, only recently sending Bartley through waivers, but then acquiring Granberg (could still use an explanation on that one,) so you’ve got extra bodies atrophying in the press box, how about a time-out for Jackman, if only to reset his batteries. Obviously Ellis-Ekholm and Josi-Weber are good to go nightly, and Jones, as earlier stated, is eating huge minutes and playing with more confidence than at any time in his prior two seasons. Jackman… an easily replaceable part at this point in time, and like I said, only for a brief rest… a game here, a game there… Maybe we find out a little more about Bitetto’s game. Maybe we keep a guy like that in better game shape by actually playing him once in a while.

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Whose autograph would YOU like to see on a post-season pennant? Certainly not Mike Santorelli or Cody Franson, LOL.

 

And now, the meat of the matter… the “What’s the matter…” The forwards. May I be so forward as to say this group actually stinks from the head down? While not a bad bunch of guys, the Preds suffer from a lot of “oop”s… Out of position… depth problems. Too many 2’s playing as 1’s. Too many 3’s playing as 2’s. Too many 4’s playing as… well, you get the idea. It’s not just down the middle, where we’ve been soft-served Ribeiro and Fisher as “1A” and “1B” for the past couple of seasons. In actuality, Ribs is a decent 2C and Fisher is the perfect 3C. So, we go back to the need for a guy to be the first line center. Not a debate we haven’t heard before, but the suggestions, the proposals… just laughable. Pry Kopitar from the Kings… maybe Malkin in the middle from Pittsburgh… Stamkos… Johansen… Hudler… Hell, Hudler doesn’t even PLAY center any more, and we have fans believing he’s the perfect 1C on this Preds team. I’m sure, Mr. Poile, that finding the right fit for Nashville will not be the trade that next comes down the pipe. In fact, I’m not sure WHICH trade we can make at this point in time that will satisfy the needs of our potential trading partner.

 

Then we can discuss positioning… Game after game, especially after a good, hard one goal loss, we hear about how the Preds have outshot their opponents by a wide margin. Clue patrol van drives by with a reality check: Most of their shots are of the perimeter variety, with no screen of the opposition’s goalie, and no one in a 5 mile radius to collect a rebound. All these shots are just numbers that inflate said netminder’s save percentage. The only Pred that appears to play in the “dirty” area is Arvidsson, who in skates makes Ryan Ellis look like Zdeno Chara from time to time. Taking absolutely nothing away from the grit and determination of Arvy, it’s an embarrassment. Do any of the other forwards on this team think they might bruise an eyelash if they took a little pushback from the opposition’s defensemen?  Whether it’s even strength, or on the power play, what is the fascination with that man in the middle of the slot, who is usually surrounded by a box of penalty killers? Do we really believe a pass to him is going to provide a quality attempt on goal, and if it does, and there’s a rebound, who actually collects the garbage? The two guys who are behind the net, or the two defensemen manning the points? It’s horrible to watch night after night. The same guys do the same things… maybe throw Gaustad in front of the net and have shooters aim at his ass, it worked for Esposito 😉

 

Truth is, the team does miss Mike Fisher, despite his subpar production this season. Colin Wilson, scratched with a mysterious injury has been missed too… on the nights he is visible on the ice, but like Fisher, and a host of others that have yet to be mentioned (Smith, cough) there are far too many nights that we leave the arena, or turn off the television and wonder if they were in the lineup or not! Then there’s Mike “Two year reward, seven million reasons to continue to be the team’s most effective passer” Ribeiro, who had a GREAT game against the Arizona Coyotes earlier in the season, but has looked vacant and checked out way more often than not in the other thirty contests. He seems to be dishing the puck off much quicker than he did last year, when playing for just a single million reasons meant he had something to prove to Poile and Co. We should also touch on Filip Forsberg. The Swede whose sweet play had him rockin’ the Calder Nominations all the way up to about the 60 game mark last season, when his production dipped just enough to let Ottawa’s Mark Stone in the conversation. What’s happening this season? Forsberg has been good, but really B or B- good, partially due to mediocre play from his linemates, but also because he just hasn’t been electrifying like he was when he burst onto the season last year. As for the numbers, just looking at goals and assists: Forsberg sits at 6G, 13A, good for 19 points and tied with defenseman Weber for third on the team. This projects out to 16G, 34A for the season, which is a downward trend from last year’s 26 and 37. As for some Calder competition among forwards, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, who assisted on last night’s overtime winner, has 12G, 20A, and projects to 33 and 55, which is more than a tick UP from his 24 and 40 last year. Additionally, he leads his team in scoring by nine points over his center, Sean Monahan. Then, there’s the Sens’ Stone… and linemate Mike Hoffman. Stone snuck into the Calder race last year with 26G, 38A (and was also a +21 on that fabled Ottawa team that rode obscure goaltender Andrew Hammond into the post-season after a dreadful first half of the year.) This year Stone is off his goal pace, with just seven, equating to 19 over the season, but he has 21A, which projects out to 58, and his 77 points would be a reasonable uptick over last year’s 64. Linemate Hoffman, who had played 25 games in 13-14 (with 3G, 3A) became a very good player the following year with 27G, 21A and this year his numbers are off the charts. Hoffman has 17G, 13A, and currently projects to 49G and 38A, which, although a tough pace to maintain, would place him firmly among the elite scorers in the NHL. We could go around the league and do this all day, and we’d see Forsberg as dynamic, but not productive, and this spells trouble for the Predators. The guy needs to take charge and make his statement. Look at Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl. Last year the played just 37 games, scored a pair of goals, added seven assists and was a whopping -17 on a horrible Oilers team. Starting the season in Bakersfield, the 20 year old Draisaitl, picked third overall in the 2014 draft gets recalled due to injuries, and is placed on the top line. In 22 games, he’s just delivered 9G, 18A and shockingly, or not-so-shockingly is a +11. His numbers project out for the remainder of the season at 29G, 59A… that’s 88 points in 72 games. Factor in the first ten games of the season as he toiled in the American League, and you have a hundred point player… something the NHL has seen just three times since 2009-10. Leon Draisaitl, people… you heard every Edmonton Oiler fan wanting to send his rights to 29 other teams for a zamboni driver and a couple of cheese steaks or hot chicken sandwiches last year. Just a nifty reminder not to throw the baby out with the bathwater (Jones, cough.)

 

If we were seeding the Western Conference playoff matches today, Los Angeles would face Chicago in round one, along with San Jose vs. Arizona, St Louis vs. Minnesota and our Predators would draw Dallas. Dallas is 23-6-2 at this point, and have Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin firing on all cylinders. Yes, you can always point to the Stars goaltending as the potential weak link, but Antti Niemi is 12-5-2 with a 2.5 GAA and a .909 save percentage, and his “backup,” the “1B” Kari Lehtonen, who you always think you have a shot against… well, he’s just 11-1-0 this season with a 2.5 GAA and a healthy .916 save percentage. Both of those goalie’s save percentages should go up considerably facing the harmless shots fired by Predator forwards. Oh, and their top 6 defensemen are led by Alex Goligoski and John Klingberg (Klingberg was recalled a bit late to be in the Calder conversation last year, but he played 65 games last year with 11G and 29A. This year, he continues to improve and has already eclipsed his power play output with 13 points in 31 games (he had 12 last year in 65) and with 5G, 26A projects out to a full season at 13G, 69A for 82 points in 82 games. Again, an example of a second year player making a statement and improving along with his team. Chicken or the egg? The fact is, Dallas looks strong over the first third of the season, and Nashville clings to a wild card spot, with teams like Colorado (5 points out), Calgary, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver (6 points out) and the sleeping Ducks, who still boast a pretty impressive arsenal of All-Stars, nine points out. Reminder that Minnesota and Ottawa were at the bottom of the heap as the new year rolled around and both made significant runs to knock contending teams out of the post season. Both were FAR more than 9 points out of a playoff spot when they began their ascent into the post season, leaving Stanley Cup winning Los Angeles on the outside looking in. Losing overtime and shootout points contributed mightily to the Kings demise last season, and they have turned that ship around this year. Nashville continues to get pummeled in the 3 on 3 (they are 0-5) and these points are as valuable as they were to LA last year. Coaches see a silver lining, and claim that if the team keeps shooting, pucks will go in, but I’m here to tell you, they have a far better chance of going in if the opposition’s defense and goaltender don’t see them coming.

 

Let’s try something new Nashville. At 15 wins, and 16 losses, you can’t say what’s working is working well enough to warrant post-season excitement. If we believe Fisher, Wilson and Gabby Bourque (who, will replace guys like Sissons, Watson, Salomaki, and even, perhaps the human cannonball Arvidsson (currently listed on the team’s roster as the ONLY natural RW) — we are in self-delusion mode. None of those guys make THAT big a difference, and mediocrity only takes you so far beyond game 82.

 

Respectfully,

 

Marc Nathan
Predators season seat holder

NHL season seat holder in various incarnations since 1975-76 season.

 

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