OK, Preds fans… Buck up! Injuries happen…

The Pittsburgh Penguins tied their series with the Ottawa Senators last night. Defensemen Brian Dumolin and Olli Maatta each scored their first goal of the post-season. A third defenseman, Chad Ruhwedel played six minutes and exited with an injury. In fact, and Preds fans should identify with this, when Bobby Ryan hit Ruhwedel, knocking him to the ice, where he lay, as defense partner Ian Cole exacted revenge on Ryan. The outcome: No penalty for charging on Ryan, penalty on Cole for roughing. Ruhwedel gone from the game in the first period. Pens skate five D. None of those five defensemen wore the name LETANG or SCHULTZ on the back of their jerseys. Up front? How about injuries to Kuhnhackl, Rust and Patrick Hornqvist? Players in the lineup included Josh (10 games) Archibald and Carter (27 games) Rowney. Winning is possible if you play within the team’s structure and execute the coaching game plan.

Losing Ryan Johansen is terrible. And, as terrible as he was through most of the regular season, he was a complete beast in the post season, and very likely the straw that stirred the drink. Be honest, people, had you seen Johansen play with this kind of intensity on a Wednesday in Winnipeg? This Ryan Johansen hit, and got hit, passed and received passes, intimidated when he was faced with intimidation. This Ryan Johansen I LOVED. But alas, he is gone. Thigh surgery… I’d love to know more. I’m not sure I’ve heard of coming off the ice, bypassing the dressing room, going straight to the hospital for thigh surgery. But, it is what it is, and now, just as the Pens did, the Preds need to put on their big boy skates and go out and do damage in Anaheim tonight!

While we don’t know what Lavy has in store for us from a roster perspective, we know that we have multiple options. Putting Calle Jarnkrok with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson seems likely. Is it as dominant a unit? Perhaps not, but both Forsberg and Arvidsson seem to will most of their chances with their feet. Either one is capable of going solo, ala Stevie Nicks when Fleetwood Mac don’t want to tour. Both guys have multiple weapons in their arsenals and all Jarnkrok has to do is play his game and make sure one of those two wingmen have the puck heading into the Duck zone. And, of course, what has to happen THEN is that SOMEONE GETS TO THE FRONT OF THE NET AND TAKES AWAY GIBSON’S EYES. He stops virtually everything he sees!

Johansen was on the ice as the Preds have gone 1 for 17 on the power play. Losing Johansen may not help, but it may force the coaches into some alternate thinking that can hardly get any worse than the power play has looked. This series would be OVER if the Preds had capitalized on their man advantage chances, and “BULLSHIT” NBC announcers, it’s NOT the Ducks penalty kill being special, it’s the Preds total inability to bring the puck into the offensive zone and station a body that isn’t 5’8, 180 (as much as I love  you, little guy) in front of the Duck net. Simple. Johansen fed the puck, yes, but with no traffic… who cares.

Then, there are the remaining three lines. Do you add Kamenev to the mix? General wisdom thinks “no.” I think a kid who was 2nd round, 42nd pick in 2014, who scored over 20 goals for MKE this season has just as much chance to have success, if not more, than 7th round, 205th overall pick in the SAME draft, Ondrej Kase, who granted spent 53 regular season games in Anaheim (compared to Kamenev’s 2 with Nashville,) but the talent level is at worst comparable, and at best a landslide for our guy. Let him play. Let him play a bunch. Especially on the man advantage. Tell him to keep his feet moving. Wonderful things just might happen.

Wonderful things probably won’t happen if it’s just more of the “put Fiddler out there” — while I admire his veteran presence and willingness to walk through walls for this team, we need speed and creativity. Maybe put Neal up on the line with Jarnkrok and Forsberg, and let Kamenev play with Arvidsson. Who knows. Lots of options, but the bottom line is this:

The Preds are not dead because of these losses. The Preds have withstood injuries in the past. I already stated that 1 for 18 on the PP happened with Johansen and with Fisher. You still have five Preds to four Ducks. KEEP THE FEET MOVING AND PUT A MAN IN THE CREASE.

Is the horse dead yet? GO PREDS! YOU CAN DO THIS!!!

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My truth about the Nashville Predators Ryan Johansen

I’ve thought hard enough and long enough about how to approach the subject of Ryan Johansen. You see, most of the Preds fans that have trolled me on the internet give me constant flack for being hypercritical through the majority of this 2016-17 season. I’ve never backed down, and constantly reiterated what I was saying, which was NOT that he “sucks” or anything even remotely close to such crude and inaccurate appraisals of his obvious talent. What I have said was that he was too soft a player to be considered the “big” number-one center the team traded young stud defenseman Seth Jones for. Ah… Seth Jones. This is where it all starts for me. David Poile’s decision to pull the trigger on such a major deal in the hopes he could jumpstart an anemic Nashville offense, and give Columbus a fixture on the blueline for the next decade. I loved Seth Jones. I appreciated how strong Roman Josi’s play was, and I loved Ryan Ellis when 90% of all Preds fans thought him to be too small, and a defensive liability. I liked Mattias Ekholm, but Seth Jones… there was the true prize. He was tough, mobile, and had skills with the puck. I knew Poile had to give to get, but what he was getting in return was a guy who had a monster third pro season in Columbus, and then saw his numbers ever so slightly disintegrate as the team had little success with him in that top pivot spot. Never mind the fact that he hamstrung the team on a deal that would pay him 6M in the final year of a three year term (which also happens to be this season), but Poile would be forced to pay, because losing Seth Jones for an 18-month rental would almost be the equivalent of Washington’s GM George McPhee giving up a young Filip Forsberg for an old Marty Erat, a trade that will haunt McPhee until his dying days.

So, the regular season ended and fans continued to support the theory that 14 goals and 47 assists were enough, when coupled with the fact that his second-half linemates, Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson had blown the roof off of Bridgestone Arena, and became one of the most dominant lines in the National Hockey League. 14 goals were a far cry from the 33 that Johansen had scored three years prior, and the two years in between were totals of 26 and 14, so while the slide had leveled out this season, it was painfully obvious that Johansen was becoming a pass first pivot. My arguments always surrounded his play without the puck. You were not going to send him into battle for a loose puck and expect to see him come out with it. No, Johansen rarely found himself anywhere near the walls, and almost never behind either net, happily settling somewhere in open ice, after peeling off from an opponent in the hope of a turnover that would give him and his admittedly excellent vision a chance to move the puck to one of the heavy lifters that flank him. One of those heavy lifters standing about 8 inches and 40 pounds less than him. Yes, Arvidsson’s heart in Johansen’s body would produce perhaps the league’s best and richest hockey player, whereas Johansen’s heart in Arvidsson’s body would be playing Friday night beer league hockey in Kamloops.

The team played a horribly uninspired road game against the St. Louis Blues to finish up the confusing, uninspired regular season. The team clung to the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference, and would meet the Chicago Black Hawks in round one of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. The company line was that there were far more positives over the course of the second half of the season than negatives. No player, to a man, was intimidated by Chicago. Bring it on, they said. Skeptically, few gave them a chance. I didn’t make predictions, but I did reply to people who picked Chicago in 6, by saying that if that were the case, I’d *prefer* they ended it in 5 because (a) I had NO intention of watching the Smug Hawks glad-handing my team of choice at Bridgestone Arena, and (b) I could find better uses for the money than watch another disappointing season come to an inevitable end.

But, a strange thing happened. The guy I had maligned for the past 8 months suddenly became the player David Poile had hoped to acquire. Two way, tough play meant frustration of the highest order for Black Hawks captain Jonathan Toews. Epic battles including forearm shivers and crushing body blows always saw Johansen the victor, and Toews the victim. Additionally, the line (heretofore known as the JOFA line) seemingly brought its play up a level higher, as if that was possible. Throw in three other lines that did virtually nothing wrong, and almost everything right for four games. A Preds defense that limited Chicago to few serious chances in each game, and a Finnish goaltender not named Juuse Saros (a 21 year old rookie, who was seemingly annointed by the “braintrust” (read: fanbase) as the goalie of the PRESENT, not the future.) With Pekka Rinne playing sensational hockey (a number of nationally vocal pundits said it was his best hockey in a few seasons, but they forgot November of 2016, earlier this season, when Rinne was annointed NHL’s First Star/Goaltender Of The Month.) It was a messy December that brought Rinne back to Earth, and set the stage for many of the Saros believers to continuously harp on the subject that our franchise goalie was now past his peak, and needed more and more rest, to the tune of an old-folks home and a rocking chair. Sure, Rinne was taller than Saros, but his reflexes had atrophied to the point where he’d have to be replaced by the only man on the team who actually looks up to Viktor Arvidsson!

But, back to Johansen, and the Predators that eventually SWEPT the Chicago Black Hawks. What a performance. What a 180 degree turnaround. And, what’s funny is hearing all the writers and broadcasters saying that Johansen had truly upped his game to a level never seen by Preds fans prior to this series. Oh? Really? Now you want to validate what I’ve said all along? Where were you when these illiterate assholes were giving me grief 24/7, misquoting my comments, and telling me that I knew nothing about the sport. I’m firmly on THIS Ryan Johansen bandwagon, but I reserve the right to come up with a new nickname to replace the one I gave him in November, “Butter.” — Today I prefer to call him the “Anti Rick Nash” because he’s brought his post-season game to a new unworldly level, and it’s miles above his regular-season game, whereas Nash seems to go in an opposite direction when the post season rolls around.

I have a theory. In baseball, you play 162 games divided almost entirely into 3 and 4 game stints in a particular stadium, home or away. In hockey you play half the amount of games but aside from a rare back-to-back/home-and-home scenario, you play a different team every night you’re in action. The playoffs come along and you have a “Best-of-seven” that pits you against the same opponent, with only the occasional venue switch. What Johansen did was lock into Toews and make his life miserable. Each night of the regular season, Johansen flipped a coin as to whether he’d show up, or not show up. Sixty-one points in the regular season. An 82 game regular season. Johansen was a participant in all 82 games, but was held off the scoresheet in 43 of those games. While this doesn’t mean Johansen was “bad” in all of those games, the team’s record in those games was 14 wins and 29 losses (In games he recorded at least a point, 27 wins, 12 losses.) Ryan Johansen has bought in, he’s all in, and he’s executing the game plan to the max. Coach Laviolette has noticed, the broadcasters have noticed, the writers have noticed, and I’ve noticed. I’ll still hate having given up Seth Jones for a long, long time, but I LOVE this incarnation of Ryan Johansen for the time being. I hope he has 12 more wins left in him, because you throw in my already unwavering belief in guys named Arvidsson, Forsberg, Fiala, Sissons, Watson, Aberg, Fisher, Ellis, Josi, Subban, Rinne, with some immediate in the moment lust for Matt Irwin (move over Stu Grimson, this guy does more in 11 minutes than most third pairing defensemen) and Harry Zolnierczyk (every team needs a guy who can do nothing more than show his gratitude for the privilege to play in the NHL with the kind of spirit that leaves it all on the ice for however long he’s out there on a game-by-game basis) and you have a team that looks unbeatable at the best time of the year to look unbeatable.

Could it all come to a crashing end in St. Louis? or Edmonton? or Anaheim? or Washington? or Pittsburgh? … sure, but there were very few who gave Nashville even the slimmest of chances against Chicago… but then Ryan Johansen decided he had to prove he was tougher than butter… and he has!

Onto Game 4 in Nashville

It’s highly doubtful anyone could document their belief that the Nashville Predators would be looking to sweep the Chicago Black Hawks at Bridgestone Arena tonight. In most circles, if there were to be a 3-0 edge in games to this point, it would be Kane, Toews and Co. holding all the cards as the inconsistent, erratic Predators sought to stave off elimination. But, the shoe is on the other foot, and the Preds, who seemed to shoot themselves in the foot at multiple turns over the course of the season, find themselves just a scant few hours from having a few days off before beginning round two of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. St. Louis, who have a 3 games to 1 lead over the Minnesota Wild, are the team most likely next in line, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the series may end up going the distance, as Minnesota has underachieved in the first three games, and the Blues have overachieved, and it’s time for the pendulum to swing to the North.

If the Preds can close this thing out tonight, they may get as much as a week to ponder their next challenge. That would be good news for Craig Smith, and Colin Wilson, but it would be a little tougher on a guy like Pekka Rinne, who has thrived on the post-season to this point, and is clearly the team’s Most Valuable Player after three contests.

Time to heap some praise: from A (Aberg) to Z (Zolnierczyk) the team has been playing its’ best hockey of 2017. Having been critical of star players (Ryan Johansen) and marginal ones (Matt Irwin) over the course of the regular season, it needs to be documented that everyone seems to be firing on all cylinders and I couldn’t be more positive about the team as a whole if I tried. Johansen has been very good on both sides of the redline, and despite being one of only two forwards (the other was Jarnkrok) who did not register a shot-on-goal in game Three, has created enough of a presence as to neutralize Jonathan Toews and give Chicago fits both offensively and defensively. On the blueline, Irwin has been a third pairing revelation, making every decision he makes look like the right one, and correctly gauging when to back up and when to pinch in. I saw enough of Matt Irwin’s play as a San Jose Shark, to know the guy was an AHL depth guy at best, and while Stu Grimson, Darren McFarland, and company have been praising this guy all season long, he’s saved his best for the post season and has been one tenacious MF when on the ice with his partner Yannick Weber.

Other notes include the “coming out party” for Kevin Fiala, who is showing exceptional hand/eye coordination, scoring perhaps the most important goal for the Preds this season. Patience, magic, and skill are the watchwords for the entire Nashville team, and Fiala is the embodiment of that sentiment. Hopefully he has turned the Laviolette corner and will not find himself back in the chateau bow-wow moving forward. We also have to see how creative Poile can get with Vegas Knights GM George McPhee, as any one of Jarnkrok, Neal, Sissons, Watson or Fiala all look like they’d be huge additions to the soon-to-be formed expansion franchise. Aberg and Zolnierczyk… the Admirals Club… both are laying it all on the line every shift, and both have produced prodigious results. Harry got a HUGE goal in game two, and Pontus has been tenaciously dogging Black Hawk forwards with every second he’s on the ice.

Almost 5pm. Time to hop in my car and head over the bridge to the stone… Here’s to a clean game, a clean sweep and a chance to see our Nashville Predators make a little history. And, in other games, I’d sure love to see the Rangers grab a 3-2 series lead over the Canadiens. I’d be thrilled if Columbus could live to see one more day against the Penguins, and the upstart Oilers do to the Sharks what the Sharks did to them in Game Four. Hockey be with you, my friends.

Will the Nashville Predators surprise the Chicago Blackhawks?

I suppose the short answer to my title question is, “No,” the Chicago Blackhawks will be prepared and ready for a skilled Nashville team to come into the United Center and play a game strong enough to grab two points on any given night.

Then, the converse question, “Will the Chicago Blackhawks surprise the Nashville Predators?” The answer to that, for me, leans towards “Quite possibly.” You see, this “Magic 8-Ball” approach to prognostication of the NHL playoffs is downright ridiculous. The parity of the league is such that on any given night, any team can win against any other. However, once 82 games are played and playoff rankings have been applied, pundits seem obliged to decide who’s REALLY in, and who’s on their way out. Nashville holds no chance against a mighty Chicago hockey team that goes for its fourth Stanley Cup in just eight years. Daunting challenge for an eighth seed team that could not muster much momentum heading into the post-season, although Chicago themselves lost their final four regular season games.

I can’t pick a winner. I’m a Preds season ticket holder. I have seen the ups, I have felt the downs, and I know that based on the season series between these two clubs, it’s a no-brainer for Chicago. But, I also know the Predators are a tricky team to judge. If this were a seven game series against any of the NON-playoff teams, I might go with one of them. After all, we saw Winnipeg and the New York Islanders give this team fits in the final week, with Connor Hellebuyck and Jaroslav Halak each looking like the second coming of Georges Vezina over the course of their contests vs. Nashville.

To beat Chicago:
1. Determine which team is going to battle. There are a number of players who may or may not be getting the nod in the opening game. It may seem unimportant, but the fourth line could be any number of six guys, and it needs to be nailed down. But, let’s start with the first line. With Forsberg and Arvidsson flanking Johansen over the final couple of months of the season, we saw the two wingers score some of the more determined goals of the season, and for all his soft defensive foibles, Johansen made some tremendous passes to spring these guys into action. However, there was a game when James Neal replaced Arvidsson, and with Arvy on line two, Craig Smith had a revelation in his game. Balancing out the attack and having Arvidsson play with Jarnkrok doesn’t bother me in the least. Of course Forsberg and Johansen, when neutralized, are liable to give the puck away far too much. Their defensive game must be sharper. What to do with Captain Mike Fisher, who is sorely needed in the lineup, but where? Assuming your four centers are Johansen, Fisher, Jarnkrok and Sissons, you are saying that veteran Vern Fiddler is either hurt, or just not good enough to crack this lineup, and I’m FINE with that. Fiddler played 20 games after his acquisition, and chipped in a single goal and no assists. While he did play with grit and won some faceoffs, having either Fisher OR Sissons in that role is a major upgrade. Fans joke about “regular season Colin Wilson,” and “playoff Colin Wilson.” There appears to be a difference. At least, based on the past two post-season efforts by Nashville, Wilson’s game appeared to elevate over his October through March play. This season saw Wilson record his career high in assists in a single season (23) and his goal production doubled from 6 to 12, though far off the 20 goal pace he provided in 2014-15. The enigmatic Smith is often lumped into the same category as Wilson, as each receive 4M paychecks to underachieve for large portions of the season. On a four year point decline (52-44-37-29), Smith saw his goal production dip to 12 this season after three consecutive 20+ campaigns. However, his play over the final few weeks of the season was strong and there’s no reason to think he would be excluded from the Game 1 lineup vs. Chicago. Kevin Fiala is a player who has proved to be a highly skilled forward that has shuttled in and out of Coach Laviolette’s doghouse, without suffering any real public humiliation. With Fiala, it’s been a numbers game, and of course with GM David Poile’s tinkering, adding depth guys like Fiddler and P.A. Parenteau around the deadline, Fiala sat further and further on the edge of the bubble. He was one of a handful of players who over the course of the season found themselves in the press box a game after actually scoring a goal. With Fiala, youth is on his side and he will be a part of the organization (hopefully) for the foreseeable future, but will he crack the opening lineup against the Hawks? I hope so. Parenteau, on the other hand, has been limited to just eight games in a Nashville sweater, and honestly, he’s been far more invisible than good or bad. A skilled scoring forward with liability issues in the defensive zone, it’s hard to say that beyond his NHL experience he brings more to the table than Fiala, who appears far more creative and therefore “higher risk/higher reward.” Will Lavy eschew veteran presence for youthful exuberance? Fact is, for Chicago, the youth thing is totally working and it would suck to watch Parenteau plod through a game with Fiala in a suit eating finger food in the visiting team suite, while Ryan Hartman (21 years old, 19 goals) and Nick Schmalz (20 years old, 28 points) supply depth scoring for Chicago. Throw a cantankerous Austin Watson, a veteran enforcer Cody McLeod, a career minor leaguer Harry Zolnierczyk, and the Milwaukee call-up, Pontus Aberg in the mix, and you have sixteen forwards fighting for twelve jobs.

Forsberg – Johansen – Neal

Smith – Jarnkrok – Arvidsson

Fiala – Fisher – Wilson

Watson – Sissons – ?

McLeod – Fiddler – Zolnierczyk – Parenteau – Aberg

On defense, the picture is slightly less murky:

Ellis – Josi

Subban – Ekholm

Irwin – ?

Bitetto – Hunt – Weber

I suppose if Weber is healthy, he steps in with Irwin, and Bitetto and Hunt are the guys on the outside looking in. But, if Weber is still hurt, do you go with grit and toughness (Bitetto) or the more mobile puckhandler (Hunt)?

Of course, in goal, we will be treated to Pekka Rinne, with maybe a side of the firepower of Pekka Rinne. While, Juuse Saros coninues to gather steam as the heir apparent to the crease in a couple of years, impatient fans appear ready to anoint him the starter immediately. Fortunately, Nashville’s brain trust know they have to place their faith in Rinne with an eye towards the future down the road apiece.

2. Create traffic in front of Crawford. Feet don’t fail me now. The Predators have been a terrible passing team this season. Unfortunately, this is a “stat” that goes un-kept throughout the league, but on any given night we have been forced to watch this team shoot themselves in the foot with ill-conceived breakout passes, poor zone attempts on the power play, and an inability to get the puck to a shooter in position to put the puck on net. Compound this by the number of times a puck handler has gone into the offensive zone all alone with no support rushing towards the net to gather up a potential rebound off an initial shot. Deposed Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter may not have been able to lead his troops into post-season battle this year, but he operated of over three quarters of the season without his all-World goaltender, Jonathan Quick. He did, however, team that lead the NHL in possession for the fourth consecutive season. If only a portion of that could rub off on Nashville, they would become a lethal, dominating team in this league. Giving the puck carrier an option (or TWO) when making decisions would go a long way towards furthering this team’s offensive capabilities. We’ve seen it dozens of times this season, and in seasons passed, where the opposition puts two or three men in the vicinity of the Preds crease as the shooter is about to unleash an attempt on goal.  With bodies the size of Johansen’s, we should see an increase in possession time, as well as second and third efforts on net, creating more scoring. Tiring to watch a lone Predators puck carrier cruising into the opposition’s zone as his four skating teammates are peeling off for a line change, and the ensuing players are willing to stand back at the blue line while waiting for the inevitible change in possession.

3. Special teams need to be far more special. Because you can’t expect a team with Keith, Seabrook, Kane, Hossa and Toews to just lay down against their potentially seriously weaker opponents in this area. While both the power play and the penalty kill have had moments of superiority this season, those moments have been inconsistently few and far between. In fact, when all was said and done, the Predators could muster no better than 15th and 16th on the PK and PP respectively. “Hard Outs” on the penalty kill are necessary at the most critical of junctures. Too many times saw Predators indecision resulting in the opposition keeping a puck in the zone at the blue line, when a more forceful pass or clearing attempt would have spelled relief for the unit on the ice trying to kill the penalty. As for the power play, can we see a concerted effort to enter the offensive zone with some speed and a plan to not put three guys behind the net and two up at the points? Or, that nifty trick of a box and a guy in the middle of the opposition’s PK box, with the objective to try to break into the defense’s “inner sanctum” and get the puck to a guy who has four men surrounding him? Seriously, I’ve been at wit’s end trying to figure out who believes these systems work? They don’t work on any other team.  In fact, they are rarely tried on other teams because they just make no sense. Don’t even get me started on the three defensemen, two forwards setup the team tried earlier last week on a couple of failed five on three possessions. Smarter decisions, quicker decisions, and movement of the feet are keys to making the special teams work against a very smart, well-disciplined Chicago team.

 

Starting Thursday we have a potentially epic seven-game-series against the chief rivals of all things Nashville hockey. Blackhawks will be on their game and ready to show Predators and their fans what the make up of this year’s Blackhawks team is about. It’s up to the Preds to crash the party, steal some thunder, and position themselves right where most fans thought they’d be at this time in the season: On the way to a destiny meeting with the Stanley Cup.

Preds begin playoffs with dreaded lower body injury. Soldier on.

While most injuries are veiled in disguise, and rarely disclosed, it would be tough not to acknowledge the team’s injury heading into the playoffs. You see, the Nashville Predators continually shot themselves in the collective foot over the course of the 2016-17 season, with the latest bullet fired with less than a minute to go in a game vs. Winnipeg that closed out the regular season.

Come On, David Poile, let’s get that Ryan Johansen tribute ready by Thursday!

David Poile, you are fearless. You make deals that most GMs don’t have the cajones to make. You sent your captain to Montreal for P.K. Subban, and before that, you dashed Seth Jones off to Columbus for WHAT YOU THOUGHT would be the NUMBER ONE CENTER this franchise has both been looking for and needed desperately for since the beginning of time.

The trade deadline is March 1st, but this year things might get done a little sooner. The Preds are in the midst of a four game homestand, with games coming up against Calgary, Colorado, Washington and Edmonton.

Yesterday, Calgary popped the cork, acquiring Michael Stone from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for a third round pick in the upcoming draft. A conditional fifth round pick, a year later will go to Colorado if Stone re-signs with Calgary when his deal is up at the end of the season.

Colorado arrives on Thursday with some baggage they are looking to unload. Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog are allegedly “on the block.” Teams are supposed to be ponying up a king’s ransom for either of these two blue-chip forwards. Let’s look under the hood.

Duchesne: http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php?pid=106808

Third overall in the 2o09 Entry Draft, and joined the Avalanche immediately as an 18 year old in the 09-10 season. Scored 55 points and immediately established himself as an elite NHL player. Has hit the 30 goal plateau (last season) and hit a career high 70 points in 71 games during 2013-14. Duchene is set to be a free agent after the 18-19 season, and is currently making $6M. The alleged price is a high draft pick, a prospect, and an established top pairing defenseman.

There was reason to believe the Predators might be a good fit, and reports circulated that “all it would take,” was a Mattias Ekholm, perhaps a Kevin Fiala, and the Preds top pick in the upcoming draft.

But wait, perhaps, David Poile, if you act now, there could be more…

What if you entertained the idea of grabbing both Duchene and Landeskog? Now THAT would be the completion of a trifecta of deals that would send the NHL into a complete tailspin!

Landeskog: http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php?pid=118530

Second overall in the 2011 Entry Draft, and like Duchene, joined the Avs immediately as an 18 year old in the 11-12 season. Scoring 52 points, again, like Duchene established himself as an elite NHL player from the very beginning. Has played four full seasons and scored between 52 and 65 points, as well as 20 goals in each full campaign. The bulky Swede is signed through the 20-21 season, and is paid roughly $5.6M each season.

Oh, did I mention Landeskog wears uniform number 92? Do you see where I am going here?

I am sure the Avalanche would love to get their hands on Ryan Johansen, almost as much as the Predators would love to give him a touching tribute on Thursday. Johansen, who, if I was a voting member of the NHL’s media, would get my vote for league’s Most Valuable Player this season, by virtue of his SUBTRACTION from the roster of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are currently seeing a league best turnaround from last year’s tough campaign. Ask John Tortorella. Ask Jarmo Kekalainen. Ask Jody Shelley. The Blue Jackets are a MUCH better team now that they have rid themselves of this creampuff prima donna who had the nerve to complain to the media about not getting a video tribute upon his return to Columbus this past Sunday. As if a big Preds win wasn’t enough, let’s shine the light on THIS GUY.

This guy, who, the night before, along with his linemates Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg each were a nifty -4 in a 5-2 loss against the Minnesota Wild (and yes, the other Minnesota goal was a PPG, hence no minus given.) This guy, who, despite leading his team in scoring (9G, 31A for 40 points) has actually been held off the scoresheet in 32 of the team’s 58 games. This guy, who has just 22 even strength points this season, which ranks him somewhere tied with nineteen other players at 130th in the league. The man is the number one center, drawing a paycheck of $6M this season, has hamstrung his former team for a contract that sent him packing once, and now he’s set to be a free agent in this off season, and surely will have the audacity to ask for a raise. Oh, those 22 even strength points puts him on par with Casey Cizikas, Antoine Roussel, Connor Brown, Lee Stempniak, Sven Baertschi, and a few defensemen like your old friend Ryan Suter, Matt Niskanen, Jared Spurgeon and Dougie Hamilton. Household names like Brady Skjei and Nick Holden have 23. Sinful.

Johansen is 6’3. A big BC boy, weighing in somewhere around 218 pounds. This guy plays the perimeter. An adept passer who rarely finds himself winning a single board battle because he’s rarely found within 5 feet of the boards, Johansen has certainly showcased what he can do in a Preds uniform. He can skate, he can pass, he can shoot, he can score, and he can pout about video tributes. What he has done best is pout. The team flounders with a win one-lose one kind of record, heading into a stretch run that doesn’t GUARANTEE a post season berth, but with the dogfight they find themselves in with Los Angeles and Calgary (chances are two of these three teams will be the two wildcard participants from the Western Conference) players like Johansen need to step up the level of intensity, and frankly, we’ve only seen it in his game MAYBE six or seven times this season. Sure the fans think he’s peachy-keen, but this whole “he leads our team in scoring” nonsense would only work for me if the team was in one of those top three seeds in the Central Division, far ahead of any competition that might be considered a threat come post-season time.

Let’s make it easy for everyone concerned and give Colorado the larger, less tough #92. He can dazzle them with his brilliance or baffle them with his bullshit as he has done in both Columbus and Nashville over the past few years. While we’d give up a couple inches, and/or a couple pounds, based on what we see night in and night out from players like Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis, it takes heart more than body mass on most occasions. I’ve said it a dozen times. Arvy’s heart in Johansen’s body and you have a $10M player. Conversely, Johansen’s heart in Arvy’s body and it’s Friday Night Beer League Hockey in Kelowna.

So we give up Johansen. Do we have to give up Ekholm? Do we have a suitable replacement? It get’s tricky. Subban, Josi and Weber are an impressive top 3. Matt Irwin has shocked most with his more than adequate play over the course of the season, but he’s hardly going to be up to the standards of just a couple seasons ago when you could boast Ekholm, Jones and a veteran like Volchenkov or Jackman to round out one of the, if not the best top 6 in the NHL. The good news for the Preds is that guys like Girard, Fabbro, Carrier, Dougherty are all coming up in the system, and will compete for NHL jobs before this decade is out.

I’m not totally advocating giving up a guy like Ekholm. In fact, I advocate Coach Laviolette putting him BACK with Ryan Ellis and restoring some semblance of defense to the team, so that they are not giving up quite the number of shots and chances they seem to put their goaltenders through on a game in/game out basis. So MAYBE it’s a three way deal with Johansen being the component to GET the defenseman that Colorado covets.

Would the New York Rangers want Johansen the way they wanted Nash years back? It’s the same story. Gifted player, mediocre work ethic, losing culture…  or perhaps the Caps would cough up a Karl Alzner, ready for a contract soon. Columbus themselves would laugh at reacquiring Johansen obviously, but maybe they feed him to Colorado as a method of ridding themselves of Jack Johnson, who would slot right into the Avs’ turnover selection at the bakery counter.

There are ways to get creative, and I’m all for it. Let’s pay homage and tribute to a guy that deserves everything he has coming to him, and let’s get Johansen the video he so richly deserves. You can start editing by inserting a clip of him missing an empty net opportunity from last week, and then go back from there. Each game gives you at least one honest and open attempt at something spectacular that ends up craptacular or just plain crap.

Will I take flack? Of course I will, but if Mr. Poile is reading this, know there will be only tears of JOY if, in fact, he can find a nice home for a soft puppy who needs a warm bed and a hug since he didn’t get his video tribute. (There there now…)

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.

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Nashville Predators (not a game day look)

Currently, the Columbus Blue Jackets are an astounding 22-5-4. They started the season 0-2, and 2-3-1. This means that in their past twenty-five games, they are 20-2-3. Rather remarkable for a non-playoff team from last season. A team that started the 2015-16 season with eight consecutive losses (7 under Todd Richards, who was then replaced by John Tortorella,) en route to a 34-40-8 season, good for last place in the Metropolitan Division, and 8 points away from New Jersey, the 7th place finisher in the Metro.

On January 6, 2016 Jarmo Kekalainen and David Poile swung the big deal of the NHL season, swapping a “#1 center” that the Predators claimed to never having had in 18 seasons, for a 21 year old defenseman in his 3rd NHL season, trapped on the 3rd pairing with Nashville, due to incredible defensive depth on the Preds roster.

At the time of the trade, Columbus had a record of 15-23-3 (33 points) and with Jones on the blueline, the team finished 19-17-5 (43 points.) Add the 2016-17 record into their post-Johansen totals, and the team has played 72 games, and has a record of 41-22-9 (91 points) In 82 games last season, the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins made the playoffs with 93 points. It’s safe to say that in the next 10 games, the Jackets, currently on an ELEVEN game winning streak, should win a game or two, and would have qualified for the post season last year based on these numbers. Of course, this year they appear to be a post-season lock, as they are currently number ONE in the 30 team NHL at this point in time. Both Columbus and Chicago have 48 points, but Columbus has FOUR games in hand. With those games in hand, Columbus still has the fourth most goals scored in the league, and have given up the second least goals, trailing Minnesota by just 2 with a game in hand.

One might say that if only addition by subtraction, Kekalainen made a great trade for the Jackets. The fact that Jones is part of their number one pairing on the blue line, is nothing but bonus for Columbus right now. Jones is projecting to score at a pace of 16 goals, 22 assists for 38 points. His three season totals have been 6-19-25 in his rookie year, 8-19-27 in his sophomore season and a combined 3-28-31 last year. Needless to say he’s at 5-7-12 in 24 games (he missed 7 games due to injury earlier in the season) and is paired with rookie sensation Zach Werenski, who has been the cream of the freshman class on the blue line this season. Werenski is currently projected to score at a 16-41-57point pace, averaging over 21 and a half minutes per game (Jones is close to 24 minutes per game, as he contributes on the penalty kill, as well as the power play.)

So, Columbus disposes of their top pivot before he becomes a 6 million dollar man, with a contract negotiation due at the end of this season, and finds it doesn’t miss him in the least. After back-to-back seasons of 33-30-63 and 26-45-71, Johansen slumped to 14-46-60 last year (repeat: goal totals decline from 33 to 26 to 14 as his contract goes from three million to six million in 2016-17) in his split season between Columbus and Nashville. Johansen is currently on pace for a season that looks like a small bounceback in goals (18) but a slight drop in assists (41) for 59 points, which would be pretty close to equaling his disappointing 2015-16 season. Number One center numbers? Marginal at best. Given the ice time and wingers he has in Nashville, special teams alone should give him a boost, but the Predators power play, which was #1 in the league in October, coincidentally when Johansen was not producing at all, has been dismal of late, dropping from first to twelfth in the league, and hitting just three times in the last thirty-seven power play attempts since late-November (13 games.) Remarkably, Ryan has maintained his LAST PLACE standing of NHL centers in the face-off dot during the Preds man advantage, winning a paltry 33% (9 of 27) of his draws on the power play. In fact, Coach Laviolette must read these stats, as he hasn’t allowed Johansen to take a draw on the man advantage for the better part of the last month. Yielding to both Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro. Of course, with Nashville’s power play in the toilet, I guess Johansen’s abilities in the faceoff circle are the least of the team’s worries (For the record, Fisher has actually won 61 of 91 power play draws. Ribeiro has won 21 of 56.)

We’ve looked closely at the remarkable rise of the Columbus Blue Jackets as a team both this season, and since the Jones/Johansen trade, so let’s check Nashville’s numbers. This season finds the team currently out of the playoff picture, with a record of 15-13-5 (35 points.) Last season the Predators did make the playoffs (as fans hardly noticed the loss of Jones on the blueline since they had Josi/Weber, and Ellis/Ekholm eating the majority of the minutes — which allowed Poile to swing this deal without incurring the wrath of the fan base, who amusingly never really bought into Jones, which was bizarre and unfathomable, because despite his occasional gaffes, he was 18, 19, 20 years old, and was caught in a learning curve, especially during periods when Shea Weber missed time due to injury. People who watched and could properly assess talent were raving around the upside Jones showed. He’ll be a top flight rearguard for the next decade plus.

The Preds have played 33 games this season (15-13-5) and last season at the same juncture were 16-11-6, so just 3 points ahead of their current pace. In the following seven games prior to the trade, the team went 3-3-1, so their record stood at 19-14-7 (45 points) and the swap was made. The team went on a four game road trip, and came back with just a single point (getting an overtime loss in Winnipeg to close out the trip.) Just two and a half minutes into his first game with Nashville, Johansen scored a power play goal, and later in the game added an even strength assist. In fact, in his first seven games as a Predator, Johansen netted 3 goals, added 6 assists in five of those contests. He followed that with one assist in four games, then added a goal and 4 assists in the next three. But from February 12th through March 3rd, Johansen added just two assists in eleven contests, and I began to notice his lack of visibility in these games. Amazingly from February 22nd in Montreal, through March 8th the Preds played eight games, going 7-0-1, accruing 15 of 16 points, and your number one center, Johansen, a single goal and two assists. He finished the regular season with 3 goals and 12 assists over the last 13 games, and the team did make the post season, so the fans were oblivious to the little invisible man streak that snuck its way into the schedule in February/March.

After acquiring Johansen, the team went 22-13-7 (51 points in 42 games) and add in this season’s 15-13-5, and in 75 games, the Predators are 37-26-12 (86 points) Nashville needed 96 points to grab a playoff spot last year. With 86 points in 75 games, the Johansen Preds would need to win 5 of their final 7 games to achieve that number. While not impossible, based on the team’s “win two, lose two, win one, lose two, win two, lose three” type of season, this is beyond calling the team a “bubble team.”

We can debate the Weber/Subban deal, and talk about how the team has gone 2-1-1 without P.K. in the lineup (and his absence was quite noticeable last night against Los Angeles), but it’s closing in on 3AM and I’d like to get some sleep now.

 

 

 

What to do, David Poile… what to do (with Ryan Johansen.)

FROM ADAM VINGAN’S MAILBAG IN MONDAY’S TENNESSEAN:

How is David Poile going to justify paying Ryan Johansen $6 million a year (or more) based on what he brings to the table compared to true No. 1 centers? — Marc Nathan (@mdnathan)

The structure of Johansen’s current contract — a three-year, $12 million deal signed in October 2014 — is advantageous to the pending restricted free agent. His salary this season is $6 million (up from $3 million in each of the first two years), which means the Predators have to extend a qualifying offer worth $6 million in order to maintain his rights. It also means that Johansen should make more than that in annual salary in his next contract.
That begs this question — has Johansen proved to be potentially worth, for argument’s sake, $7 million per year?
He scored a career-high 71 points two seasons ago, had 34 points in 42 games after being traded to the Predators last season (a 66-point pace over 82 games) and has a team-leading 18 points this season. NHL centers currently making a salary around $7 million include Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom, Los Angeles’ Jeff Carter and San Jose’s Joe Thornton. Johansen might not be in that same class yet.
The Predators, however, might not have much choice but to pay Johansen that much. As of now, they have no other options to replace him adequately, and acquiring him from the Blue Jackets cost them defenseman Seth Jones, which would be a steep price for one full season.
Nashville never has had a No. 1 center like Johansen, who at 24 still hasn’t entered his prime. The Predators’ lack of young center depth will work in Johansen’s favor at the negotiating table.

via Predators mailbag: Why can’t Nashville win on the road?

First, I want to thank Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) for his taking my question via Twitter, and delivering a solid answer based on what the fans need to know.
So, I submit my headline for the following discussion on said subject.

POILE SET TO BE HAMSTRUNG IN JOHANSEN NEGOTIATIONS

or, perhaps…

JOHANSEN SET TO BE MOST OVERPAID PLAYER IN THE NHL

or, yet again…

PREDATORS BETTER PRAY “#1 CENTER” CAN RISE ABOVE LAZY FACTOR AND EARN DOUGH HE’S OBVIOUSLY GONNA GET DESPITE HIS MOTIVATION LEVEL BEING CRAP ON A LEVEL OF CRAP TO BETTER THAN CRAP.

Yeah, you guessed it. I think the Predators are going to be feasting on a $*** sandwich as Ryan Johansen plays out his $6 million dollar season and prepares to enter the next phase of his NHL career. Remember that this is a guy who was pissed off at Columbus, threw a tantrum and held out after his breakout 2013-14 campaign, when the then 21 year old netted 33 goals, and added 30 helpers in a regular season that saw Columbus make the playoffs, and exit in six games in round one. With his jackpot season, Johansen was able to parlay his efforts into a contract that paid him 3M in 14-15, 3M in 15-16, and 6M this season. In season one of that deal we saw mixed results. Missing training camp may or may not have helped, but with the ink still drying, Johansen was on the ice on opening night. The team itself took a step back. Johansen slipped a bit in goals, with 26, but saw his assists increase by 50%, garnering 45 helpers. His +/- took a hit, from +3 to -6, and the team missed the post season. It should also be noted that he was usurped as the top scorer on the Jackets, as his left-winger, Nick Foligno notched 31 goals, 42 assists and beat him to the team’s scoring title by a couple points. Nick was a +16, by the way. Fresh off the disappointment of no playoffs, the Blue Jackets were on the short leash with management, and the Todd Richards coached squad started the season with seven consecutive regulation losses, and the call was put in for John Tortorella. As for Johansen, he lasted 38 games, seeing his goal totals drop to 6 in the almost half season, and with 20 assists was on pace for what would have to be considered a sub-par season from a points perspective. Players such as Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad and Cam Atkinson supplied the goals, and Johansen was shipped to Nashville for 3rd year stud defenseman Seth Jones. Jones showed signs of superstardom during his tenure with the Predators, having been drafted fourth overall in 2013 (Johansen was picked in that exact spot in 2010.)

Johansen played 42 games for the Predators in the regular season, and did not show signs of being anywhere close to a 30 goal scorer, notching 8 in 42 games for his new team. He did however add 26 assists and was a reasonable +10 as the Preds went on to two rounds of playoff hockey, culminating in the heartbreaking seventh game loss in San Jose during the second round. Johansen netted 4-4-8 in the 14 playoff games. Overall, coming off seasons of 63 and 71 points, Johansen’s two team composite line read 14-46-60 which are adequate numbers, for offensive talent, but a dropoff, nonetheless, from his prior campaigns, and now he doubles his salary and becomes the Predators 6M dollar number-one center that “the team has never had.”

I cleaned the slate as to how I felt about this guy’s play, and on opening night, Johansen garnered three assists and was deemed the team’s number one star in a solid 3-2 defeat of chief rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks. What followed however was awfully hard to ignore. A goalless October, and just one power play assist in the following seven games. Going into November with just the four power play points in eight contests, Johansen began November with a goal and an assist in a 5-1 victory over the Avalanche. While the goal was with the man advantage, the assist was his first even strength point in nine games. This was followed with four more pointless games, and then a three-game point scoring streak (all three, assists, as the Preds scored 12 goals in that stretch.) This was followed by two more goose-eggs, so going into play on November 23rd, Johansen boasted one goal, eight assists over the team’s first eighteen games. Four even strength points in eighteen games are not the kind of numbers team’s first line centers can boast proudly. The team won three of the next four to end November on a happy note. Goaltender Pekka Rinne was voted the NHL Player of the Month. Johansen added four goals and three assists in those Predator victories (the team was shut-out 3-0 in Winnipeg) and suddenly the numbers started to look almost respectable. Fans certainly thought the guy was pulling his weight, but naggingly I kept looking at long stretches of invisibility, and as a season seat holder, I got a pretty good chance to watch him float aimlessly shift after shift. Passing could be considered erratic at best, though occasionally  very strong. Receiving passes, and fighting battles for loose pucks was evidently NOT a strong suit, as two Predator losses could be directly related to pucks bouncing off Johansen’s skate to opposing players who converted them into game winning goals.

So far the Preds are 1-3-1 in December, and in those five games have scored 13 goals. Johansen can lay claim to just 2 assists in that period, and now sits at 27 games played with 5 goals, 13 assists (18 points) and removing power play points, this top line center has just 2 goals and 7 assists at even strength. I could name players in the NHL who have done far more with and for far less to this point in the season, and I must go back to my original point. David Poile is hamstrung, and is in the unenviable position of having to sign Johansen to a long term contract, or run the risk of being the GM who traded Seth Jones (who has since signed a long term extension with the suddenly surging Columbus Blue Jackets) for a year’s worth of disappointment in Ryan Johansen.

Fans still love this guy, and I’m not sure what they are basing their decision on, because statistically, he is a weak link in the Preds top 6. He takes a majority of the team faceoffs and is sitting at just 51.5% (including a LEAGUE WORST 33% on the power play.) He is the heaviest forward on the Preds roster, and only fourth-liner Austin Watson at 6’4 is taller (Johansen stands 6’3, 215) yet he ranks seventh among the team’s forwards in hits, and  has blocked just nine shots within the year.

Poile will pay and the fan base will cheer, but at this point he is on pace for just 15 goals and 39 assists (55 points) unless he starts doing more number one-center like things. Right now, the team has a gaggle of forwards who, for the past few seasons, have carved out careers that have frustratingly allowed them to disappear for long stretches of time (see: Craig Smith, Colin Wilson and even James Neal,) but based on most team’s top pivot, the Preds can ill afford to allow a guy like Johansen fade into the scenery as he has for long stretches since his being acquired. The immediate call to action is now for Ryan Johansen. He must start to use his body more to win battles, and he must show up on the scoresheet at even strength. I don’t know where Lavy and Poile stand on this, and if they even believe that this guy is coming close to living up to the potential he displayed as a 21-year-old Columbus Blue Jacket, but we are fairly certain Seth Jones is going to be a mainstay CBJ’s top defensive unit (with incredible rookie Zach Werenski) for many years to come, and we don’t want to be the guy who cried “I told you so,” when talking about winning/losing what was one of the biggest trades of the last decade.

May Ryan Johansen’s best Nashville days lie ahead of him, and may he be worth the money that David Poile is most certainly going to have to throw at him in an effort to save face for what has so far been a very luke warm return for a tremendous young defenseman, in Jones.

 

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