Nashville Predators: Mid-season Report Card

Halfway into the season, and out of a post season playoff berth. Albeit, not by much, but this is hardly the Nashville Predators team any of us expected heading into the 2016-17 campaign.

No. Player Flag Pos Age Ht Wt S/C Exp Birth Date Summary Salary

46 Pontus Aberg se LW 23 5-11 196 R/- R September 23, 1993 1 G, 1 A, 2 P $842,500

Has been recalled twice and shipped back each time with the idea that he did not deliver the offensive punch they had hoped for. Fairly incomplete, but enough to know that he did not succeed given the opportunity he had (D+)

38 Viktor Arvidsson se LW 23 5-9 180 R/- 2 April 8, 1993 10 G, 15 A, 25 P $640,000

Obviously the brightest spot of the early going, has already eclipsed last season and beyond, though recently he’s tailed off a bit and it seems that in each game he either misses or flubs a great chance in front of the goaltender. Missed a couple due to injury, but takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. (A)

16 Cody Bass ca C 30 6-0 205 R/- 6 January 7, 1987 0 G, 0 A, 0 P $575,000

He’s in Milwaukee, and he’s hurt, and with any luck we won’t see him again until training camp next season (he signed a 2 year deal.) Gone, and hopefully forgotten (F)

2 Anthony Bitetto us D 26 6-1 210 L/- 2 July 15, 1990 0 G, 2 A, 2 P $575,000

Poor guy made the team out of camp as the preferred third pairing left defenseman. Injuries put a crimp in the team’s plans, and his season. Hopefully he will have an impactful second half, because he’s a tough cookie who plays a smart team game. (INC)

11 Reid Boucher us C 23 5-10 195 L/- 3 September 8, 1993 1 G, 0 A, 1 P N/A

Speaking of “poor guy,” all this guy did was score a near impossible goal on Devan Dubnyk, and then he was waived back to NJ, and subsequently to VAN, where he has yet to play a game. I’m the owner of his Preds home jersey, and so I will wear it proudly next season. (A)

25 Matt Carle us D 32 6-0 197 L/- 11 September 25, 1984 0 G, 1 A, 1 P N/A

Certainly a mistake by David Poile, as Carle was no longer playing at an NHL pace when he arrived on a one year FA contract. Bait was cut early. Sorry, Matt, but you had a nice career up to this point. (F)

14 Mattias Ekholm se D 26 6-4 215 L/- 5 May 24, 1990 2 G, 14 A, 16 P $3,000,000

Last year he was dynamic with partner Ryan Ellis, but as P.K. Subban did not fit with Roman Josi in the season’s first four games, Ek moved into a tandem with P.K. – then, when P.K. got injured, I thought sure they’d reunite him with Ellis, but they seem pleased with Ellis/Josi (I’m not sold.) What we have are an underperforming top 4. I think it could be salvaged. (C+)

4 Ryan Ellis ca D 26 5-10 180 R/- 5 January 3, 1991 5 G, 10 A, 15 P $2,500,000

I love Ryan Ellis’ game, but I love it with Ekholm (see above) far more than what I’ve seen out of the Josi/Ellis pairing. Statistically the numbers are on pace/par with last season, but having two solid offensive juggernauts together occasionally creates some bedlam in their own end. Ellis has been magnificent in front of his own net at times, but he’s 5’10, 180 no matter what. Genetics are not in his favor against some of the league’s bigger boys. (B)

56 Kevin Fiala ch LW 20 5-10 193 L/- 2 July 22, 1996 6 G, 3 A, 9 P $925,000

Consistently inconsistent, Fiala had a great stretch of games where he looked superhuman in the neutral zone, and terribly unlucky in the offensive zone. It’s a matter of time that he puts it all together, and should be a key cog in the Preds offense for a number of years, but right now the way Lavy juggles lines, Fiala isn’t going to turn a lot of heads if his luck stays as is. (Note: Optioned to Milwaukee yesterday.) (C+)

12 Mike Fisher (C) ca C 36 6-1 216 R/- 16 June 5, 1980 12 G, 14 A, 26 P $4,000,000

A healthy second half for the captain could spell his greatest offensive season in a 16 year NHL career. You can attribute this to his role, but also to his tremendous conditioning and work ethic. At 36, Fisher has a couple more years left in him, so don’t go ripping the C off his jersey any time soon. He will be a UFA at season’s end, but Nashville remains a perfect fit. (B)

9 Filip Forsberg se LW 22 6-1 205 R/- 4 August 13, 1994 11 G, 16 A, 27 P $6,000,000

A frighteningly bad first quarter gave way to a reasonably hot second group of games. Forsberg did this last year as well, and will need a solid 20 goal second half to make us forget that he was stuck on two goals into the second week in December. A month later he’s netted nine in the most recent 16 games. Stay hot, Filip…  (C+)

32 Frederick Gaudreau ca C 23 6-0 179 R/- R May 1, 1993 0 G, 1 A, 1 P $595,000

23-year old undrafted forward has been toiling in Milwaukee for the better part of the last three seasons, and warranted a call-up when a defensively responsible center was needed due to injuries. Gaudreau has played nine games, and has notched his first NHL point. He’s not going to show up on the scoresheet too often based on the role he’s charged with. (C)

8 Petter Granberg se D 24 6-3 200 R/- 3 August 27, 1992 0 G, 0 A, 0 P $575,000

Swedish rearguard was a recall with the injury to P.K. Subban, and has shuttled back and forth between Nashville and Milwaukee a couple times this season. While the fans don’t feel he’s a solid option, I think as a stay at home defenseman, he’s able to adequately cover the 10 minutes a night he’s called upon. Granberg has size and does not shy away from physical play. Will most probably find himself back in Milwaukee soon. A bubble guy. (Note: Placed on IR yesterday) (C-)

27 Derek Grant ca C 26 6-3 212 L/- 3 April 20, 1990 0 G, 1 A, 1 P $650,000

Recently picked up off waivers from Buffalo, Grant has circled the drain in Calgary and Ottawa before this season. Not a hugely physical player, he does have size, and takes faceoffs from the left hand side. Met Adam McQuaid’s fist up close and personal in his Preds debut, and recorded an assist in his second game. Has never lit the lamp in 77 NHL games over a span of four seasons. When/if Salomaki, Wilson return, it will be interesting to see if he retains a role. (INC)

52 Matt Irwin ca D 29 6-1 207 L/- 4 November 29, 1987 3 G, 5 A, 8 P $575,000

If we only relied on Stu Grimson’s assessment of Irwin’s play, he’d have Norris votes, and would be considered the team’s MVP. I will admit, he’s played better than a guy who was probably 9th on the depth chart coming into this season. Having watched him play himself out of the NHL with both San Jose, and Boston, I was surprised at his ability to plug in and play an actual top 4 role while Subban, Josi, and Ellis have all spent time injured. (C+)

19 Calle Jarnkrok se C 25 5-11 186 R/- 3 September 25, 1991 6 G, 5 A, 11 P $1,700,000

This guy needs a more defined role, and it might even be a more offensively defined role, because he’s a crafty guy who has moves in the offensive zone. Currently below his output from last season, it has to be chalked up to his ice time diminished by two minutes per game since 2015-16. Had three power play goals last year, has rarely been on the ice with the man advantage this season. Shame. The power play could use him. (C)

92 Ryan Johansen ca C 24 6-3 218 R/- 5 July 31, 1992 7 G, 23 A, 30 P $6,000,000

It’s pretty well documented that I think this guy is the softest, underachiever on the team. His lack of willingness to fight board battles, and his terrible decision making with the puck more often than not only means I fight a crusade most Preds fans refuse to see or admit. His 30 points lead the team in scoring. I’m supposed to be impressed? He has NINE games where 20 of his points have come from, which means he has TEN points in 34 games, which means he’s been held scoreless in 24 of 43 games, which is a VERY high number for a guy who is relied on as the team’s number one center. I could go on. You’d only get mad at me. One thing I will say, he’s gonna get paid, and it’s only going to make me angrier next season. Just remember, this is NOT a winning team to date, and offensive players have to take responsibility for the fail… (D)

59 Roman Josi ch D 26 6-1 201 L/- 5 June 1, 1990 5 G, 17 A, 22 P $4,250,000

I think it’s been a huge step backwards for Josi this season. I blame a lot of that on the loss of his defensive anchor, Weber, who for all his faults, did allow Roman to run free, and control the team’s offense for large stretches of time within the game. Now, with Ellis, the two are both extremely active, and it’s hurt in the shots and chances allowed department. No longer do the Preds have the most balanced defense in the league. In fact, it’s way out of balance. Josi is now on IR, and hopefully this will be temporary, as no matter how underwhelming he’s been this season, he’s still a solid, gifted player who can turn a game on a dime. (C)

50 Vladislav Kamenev ru LW 20 6-2 194 L/- R August 12, 1996 0 G, 0 A, 0 P $742,500

Made NHL debut playing two road games in Florida this past week. Just 20 years old, with some solid AHL stats as he’s learning the pace of the North American game. Expect him to make a push for regular NHL duty in 2017-18. (INC)

17 Mike Liambas ca LW 27 5-10 203 L/- R February 16, 1989 0 G, 0 A, 0 P $575,000

In an almost “Make A Wish” scenario, tough guy Mike Liambas was given an NHL game. 27 year old AHL/ECHL enforcer got 8 shifts for less than 5 minutes and was on the ice for a goal against. It’s not likely he’ll have a chance to add to that legacy, but he can tell his kids that he made it to the show, and that makes Poile a good guy on yet another level. (INC)

39 Marek Mazanec cs G 25 6-4 187 -/- 2 July 18, 1991 0-2-0, 4.72 GAA $575,000

Mazanec hasn’t won an NHL game since the 2013-14 season, when Rinne was hurt and Hutton and Marek manned the nets for much of the season. Expected to be the backup this season, Maz failed and opened the door for the young Finn, Saros to steal the position. Management was hoping Saros would marinate in the AHL a little longer, and it’s possible the two could flip again in the second half, but there’s no doubt the team has far more faith in the younger, higher upside talent. (F)

55 Cody McLeod ca LW 32 6-2 210 L/- 9 June 26, 1984 1 G, 0 A, 1 P $800,000

Ten year NHL veteran had spent his entire career with the Colorado Avalanche when the team began divesting itself of spare parts. Nashville seemed like a solid option for McLeod, as the common thread through the press, fans, and management is that the Predators were a bit soft along the boards. McLeod is a warrior and proved in his first game that he’ll make a difference when asked. Should see semi-regular use from now through the end of the regular season, and then, if the team makes the playoffs, would be called upon if the team were to draw a team like the Ducks, who use size to intimidate. P.S. he scored in his first Nashville game. That’s gotta make him feel useful. (INC)

18 James Neal ca RW 29 6-2 221 L/- 8 September 3, 1987 14 G, 6 A, 20 P $5,000,000

Yes, Neal has 14 goals to lead the team, and yes, Neal has missed nine games to injury so far this season. No, Neal has no regular linemates in Coach Laviolette’s lotto ball approach to setting up the lines. So, maybe Neal can get into a groove in the second half, and show off his incredible release. Or, perhaps we see the Neal that infuriates — one that is invisible for 59 minutes of a game, but for that one minute you cheer the goal that might give the team a lead. (B-)

5 Adam Pardy ca D 32 6-4 227 L/- 8 March 29, 1984 0 G, 0 A, 0 P $575,000

33-year old veteran was plucked off the scrap heap when the Florida Panthers decided he was not going to be an option for them on the blue line. Pardy headed to Milwaukee, and subsequently signed a two-way NHL deal. Recalled during a spate of injuries, the team seemed more comfortable with Granberg in the #6 role, so Pardy returned to the AHL after four games with Nashville. (INC)

63 Mike Ribeiro ca C 36 6-0 179 L/- 16 February 10, 1980 4 G, 18 A, 22 P $3,500,000

Honestly, a fan whipping boy, Ribeiro actually looked a hell of a lot better this season than last, though there were still those lazy moments when you knew he wasn’t going to shoot, but you didn’t expect him to pass directly onto an opponent’s stick. Healthy scratch the previous two games, both wins, means he will probablyhave to wait his turn to get back into the lineup barring an injury (Note: replaced Craig Smith in the lineup vs. Vancouver.) In the final year of his contract, and set to turn 37 in a few weeks, don’t expect teams to be clamoring for his services. A lot of burnt bridges with an assortment of clubs and GM’s means Ribeiro had best be saving his better play for when he finally does get his chance to draw back into the lineup. (C-)

35 Pekka Rinne fi G 34 6-5 217 -/L 10 November 3, 1982 16-11-6, 2.40 GAA $7,000,000

The NHL’s number one player for the month of November was decidedly average in December, and now gets to watch his younger, shorter Finnish counterpart (Saros) turn in unworldly performances each time he’s handed the net. It’s doubtful this is the end for Pekka, either in Nashville, or the NHL, but you know the coaching staff doesn’t want to retard Saros’ growth by having him sit for 15-20 games in a row. When Pekka is on, he’s a human highlight reel, and Saros has him pushed to the limit. A strong second half is needed by both for a shot at the post-season. (B)

20 Miikka Salomaki fi RW 23 5-11 203 L/- 2 March 9, 1993 0 G, 0 A, 0 P $575,000

I know I trace most of the team’s problems to the early exit due to injury by this gritty 23-year old forward. Slotted into the bottom 6, Salomaki is the kind of glue that can hold a lineup together, but this season he exited in game two, and save for a single rehab assignment in Milwaukee, has been out ever since. No timetable has been set for his return, and the list of plug-ins that have tried to fill the void is as long as it is unimpressive. (INC)

74 Juuse Saros fi G 21 5-11 180 -/- 1 April 19, 1995 4-3-1, 1.25 GAA $667,500

21-year old netminder has been a revelation in his first eight NHL starts this season. The numbers are settling into a solid sample size: A 1.25 goals against average, and a .957 save percentage means no team is getting a cheapy off this kid. He’s shut out a potent St. Louis offense, and gutted out an amazing performance, allowing just a single goal against a Bruins team that fired 36 shots at him. An AHL All-Star this season, it will be interesting to see if Poile allows him to go back down to play in that contest. (A+)

10 Colton Sissons ca C 23 6-1 200 R/- 2 November 5, 1993 5 G, 1 A, 6 P $575,000

Sissons (and Watson) may have found a home on a line with Mike Fisher, as the two have looked extremely capable flanking the veteran pivot. Sissons is adept at center as well as wing, and is defensively responsible in all zones on the ice. His hat trick this season was distinctive in that goal number TWO was into an empty net, but goal number THREE had the netminder back in. Up to Laviolette to determine whether the 10 and 51 Lotto balls are put back in the hopper when injured players return. (C+)

15 Craig Smith us RW 27 6-1 208 R/- 5 September 5, 1989 7 G, 7 A, 14 P $4,000,000

You think Ryan Johansen is my ONLY punching bag? Guess again. This guy needs to be cast in Hollywood as The Invisible Man. Finally broke a goalless streak that actually reached 19 games. He’s goalless in his last 4 and overall has just 2 in his last 32 games. Unacceptable on ANY level. This man gets 4 Million dollars this season, and is almost always slotted somewhere in the top-6 with additional power-play time. Doesn’t add up! (Note: Traded places with Mike Ribeiro in “Chateau Bow Wow” vs. Vancouver.)  (D-)

23 Trevor Smith ca C 31 6-1 195 L/- 5 February 8, 1985 0 G, 0 A, 0 P $575,000

Played in the famous “Food Poisoning” game vs. Pittsburgh. Has played many NHL games since his debut in 2008. It’s not likely he’ll get much more from the Preds this season, but he’s a capable veteran in Milwaukee, and the organization has to be happy to have him. (INC)

76 P.K. Subban ca D 27 6-0 210 R/- 7 May 13, 1989 7 G, 10 A, 17 P $11,000,000

You can’t “blame” an injury on a player, and you can’t “blame” the trade of a player on the incoming player. Poile saw an opportunity and he moved on it, and I for one think it was a genius move. That being said, the natives are restless. Subban has been electric at times, and short-circuited at others; when healthy. His +/- is dreadful, on a team that has been a pretty solid + in recent years. He has 7 goals, and almost all of them have been monster shots that would make anyone remember (or forget) Shea Weber on any given night. His skating and puck handling is stellar, but he needs to “play well with others.” I’d like to believe it’s coming in the second half. (C)

51 Austin Watson us LW 25 6-4 204 R/- 2 January 13, 1992 4 G, 7 A, 11 P $575,000

…and suddenly, the coming out party for former first round draft choice, Austin Watson, is in full swing. Having celebrated his 25th birthday this week, Watson is currently riding a four-game point scoring streak, with 3G and 1A. When he was waived at the beginning of the season, and no NHL team bit, he went to Milwaukee and decided to give his all to become a player both Poile and Laviolette could no longer avoid noticing. I like his willingness to use his frame. Stay the course offensively, and this guy could become a very useful player within the organization. Leads all Preds forwards in +/- in the first half. (B-)

7 Yannick Weber ch D 28 5-11 200 R/- 8 September 23, 1988 1 G, 3 A, 4 P $575,000

I expected a little more on the offensive side of the puck, but I expected a lot less on the defensive side. Weber has impressed me with his poise, and I doubt the 28 year old could find a better situation for himself than the one he has here in Nashville. He’s had a multitude of partners throughout the first half, and has somehow managed to cobble together a nice string of games that have not hurt the team. Chalk this up as a Poile dumpster dive win. (B-)

33 Colin Wilson us LW 27 6-1 221 L/- 7 October 20, 1989 6 G, 11 A, 17 P $4,000,000

Oh Colin, it’s been just a shade over 500 games played since the Preds drafted you 7th overall in the 2008 draft. You’re 27 years old and can no longer be called one of “the kids.” You’ve contributed some of your best play in the post-season, and every time you do light the lamp in the regular season, you remind us of how powerful and impactful you’re supposed to be. It’s doubtful you’ll hit the 20 goal mark this season, and although you’ll clearly best the 6 you put up last year, as well as the 6 you have now, you get too many opportunities to succeed, and too often you disappoint. Let’s make the playoffs and give you a victory lap around the ice, as next season you most probably will be wearing a different sweater, disappointing fans in some other city. (C-)

26 Harry Zolnierczyk ca LW 29 5-11 180 L/- 5 September 1, 1987 0 G, 1 A, 1 P $575,000

Z is for Zolnierczyk. A man who has been in NHL lineups for Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the New York Islanders and the Anaheim Ducks, makes his way into the Preds lineup as injuries factored into his call up twice this season. Speedy, and willing, but most probably never a guy who will perform well enough to stick long term in the NHL. This being said, you’ll get honest minutes from this guy whenever he’s tapped to jump over the boards. If you buy his game worn sweater, you’re getting your money’s worth IF you have very broad shoulders. (C)


Let’s Not Engrave The Cup Just Yet, Preds fans…

OK, the Vancouver win, with Jarnkrok scoring with less than two seconds to go in OT was thrilling to say the least, but of course, how did they get there? They gave up the puck with less than a minute to go, and watched helplessly as Brandon Sutter rifled a shot behind Pekka Rinne to tie what should have been a 1-0 shutout win.

The following game, the Preds had to match the momentum against the Boston Bruins, but instead were outshot 36 to 19, and spent a majority of the game flailing about in their own end, watching the B’s deftly pass the puck looking for a crucial shot. Fortunately, Finnish rookie Juuse Saros was there with crucial saves at virtually every turn. In short, (and yes, compared to Finnish veteran Pekka Rinne, he most certainly is) Saros was incredible, and deserving of all three stars on the evening (he, of course, did garner number one for his acrobatic effort.)

Taking yet a third Finnish goaltender (Boston’s Tuukka Rask) out of the mix had to be considered key in this victory, as the Preds were then left to test rookie Zane McIntyre, who has yet to win an NHL game. Despite Boston’s dominance both on the shot clock and territorially, a couple of nice individual efforts from Nashville forwards Austin Watson and Filip Forsberg gave the team two points they most probably didn’t deserve. That being said, the Hockey Gods looked favorably on Nashville tonight, and it was time to steal one in the W column, because the Preds have actually looked better than a team that won just 18 of their first 41 contests.

This disturbing trend of being outshot game in and game out calls to question the system the coaching staff has in place. Yes, the team was charged with finding more offense, and activating the defensemen in an effort to create more opportunity, but the team’s greatest success has always (in recent years) come from a shut down defense, limiting the opposition’s shot total and being defensively responsible.

At one point last night I wondered if the off-ice official in charge of handing out Takeaways and Giveaways would need an extra pencil. The number of Preds passes that went tape to tape onto Boston sticks felt staggering, with even Saros in the mix a couple of times. In the game, excluding goaltenders, Boston was credited with 3 giveaways and 4 takeaways. Nashville grabbed 8 on the takeaway, but… 17 giveaways??? That’s astounding. I’ve gone on record numerous times this year about the fact that this team is one of the poorest, if not THE poorest passing team in the league, and tonight continued to cement my documentation. Talk about the five minute power play the team was handed when Swedish rookie Anton Blidh interfered with Roman Josi and received a major for his infraction. In the ensuing five minutes, Nashville put ONE shot on net against a rookie goalie who had come in cold about three minutes prior. Shameful. Two points? Absolutely! Optimism? Why not? St. Louis was St. Lousy last night in Los Angeles, with Jake Allen and Carter Hutton each giving up goals like candy for trick-or-treaters. The Preds, as inept as they have been over the first half of the season are just two points behind the number three seed in the Central Division. Why worry about stats when you can steal a game now and then? Perhaps because it’s a disturbing scenario to watch this team get outworked in the corners, outworked on the specialty teams, outworked in terms of possession and be too easy to play against.

Toughness and physicality only rear their heads when a guy who’s not far removed from wearing a Milwaukee Admirals jersey hits the ice. Veterans are soft and non-combative. One six million dollar man rarely touches an opposing player over the course of a 60-65 minute game. Others may half-heartedly make efforts to win the hard battles, but on some nights it feels like Nashville never comes out of a scrum with a puck OR a bruise.

Injuries play a factor, and certainly losing Neal, Subban, Salomaki (a much bigger deal than most would give credence to) and now Wilson, possibly Josi, et al means the personnel is switched in and out playing different roles, and sometimes playing multiple roles throughout the course of the game. Players need to step up, and be accountable.

Are they on a two game winning streak? For sure. Do they play a weak sister team in Colorado on Saturday? You betcha! Is this time to dwell on the negative? Perhaps not, but facts are facts, and the team needs to get a whole lot better both physically and emotionally as they play some very important contests over the next two weeks.

Stay tuned.