GAME DAY: at Nashville
Jackets looking for win in Music City
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|The Nashville Predators and GM David Poile have never been accused of spending big, but they have enjoyed annual success by getting the most out of their money. Poile and head coach Barry Trotz have been with the Predators franchise since the beginning, and have forged a hard-working, defense-first philosophy that has become the team’s trademark over the past 14 years.
In 2010-11, the Predators were one of the strongest clubs in the NHL heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs and clinched the fifth seed in the Western Conference with 99 points. Nashville won its first-ever playoff series 4-2 over the Anaheim Ducks, before being eliminated in six games by the eventual conference champion Vancouver Canucks.
True to his style, Poile made a few subtle changes to his roster over the summer. The Predators opened their roster to allow young players to make an impact when veterans like Steve Sullivan, Joel Ward, Marcel Goc and Shane O’Brien were allowed to walk via unrestricted free agency. Nashville added winger Niclas Bergfors and defenseman Jack Hillen in the offseason, and gave more prominent roles to its up-and-comers.
Martin Erat and Mike Fisher are being counted to supply offensive production up front, and are supported by fellow veterans Patric Hornqvist, David Legwand and Sergei Kostitsyn. Rookie Craig Smith joins them to form the top-six forwards in Trotz’s arsenal, as Smith has jumped out of the gate with a stellar start to his maiden campaign.
Without a doubt, the Predators blue line has been the subject of much focus in the past six months. Team captain and All-Star Shea Weber, a world-class defender with a booming slap shot, was unable to come to terms on a restricted free agent contract over the summer – meaning he and the Predators would require salary arbitration to get him under contract for this season. Weber was awarded a one-year, $7.5 million contract meaning he will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Alongside Weber is his usual partner Ryan Suter, the American defenseman who will also need a new contract after 2011-12. Nashville has benefited from one of the deepest pipelines of defenseman in years, with homegrown guys Kevin Klein and Jonathon Blum emerging as top-four defensemen.
Pekka Rinne is the undisputed No. 1 man in goal and recently received a brand new seven-year contract extension. The 29-year-old Finn is a shining example of Nashville’s strong drafting – he was an eighth-round selection in the 2004 Entry Draft.