2007-08 Team Preview: Nashville Predators
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The Starting Line
By Scott BurnsideIt's been quite a whirlwind offseason for the Nashville Predators as they've gone from Stanley Cup contenders to a team fighting for their very lives. After losing $70 million since buying the team, Craig Leipold put the team up for sale and, in the process, began shedding salary (and credibility). GM David Poile was forced to trade potential free agents Scottie Upshall and captain Kimmo Timonen before July 1. Then, free agent Paul Kariya left for St. Louis and Peter Forsberg certainly will sign elsewhere if he plays at all. Finally, Poile traded Tomas Vokoun and his big contract to Florida to further bring the Preds closer to the salary floor. Having lost 255 points and 27 goaltending wins, Poile managed to offset the losses by bringing in bargain-basement free agents Radek Bonk, Greg de Vries and Jed Ortmeyer, who combined for 58 points. Yikes. To top off the offseason from hell, Poile and coach Barry Trotz found out one of the bona fide NHL scorers still left on the roster, Steve Sullivan, won't be available for at least two months of the regular season with recurring back problems. OFFENSE
No matter how good Alexander Radulov is -- and he's a terrific young talent who had 18 goals in an abbreviated rookie season -- he's not going to replace Kariya or Forsberg's lost production. The bottom line is, there's no way the Predators can overcome the hits this lineup has taken, especially on offense. Radulov will get more opportunity by default and Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont will have to shoulder an even greater load. But with almost no offensive depth, teams will be able to focus on the Predators' one lone scoring unit. Unless Bonk rediscovers the scoring touch he had 14 years ago when he was a scoring star in the IHL, the Preds are going to have to eke out victories and pray for shootouts. Look for Martin Erat to have a breakout season if the Preds are still in the playoff mix. DEFENSE
If there is one positive about the Preds' situation, it's the abundance of talent along the blue line. Even with Timonen gone, there are three top-notch defenders in Dan Hamhuis, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. Marek Zidlicky saw his production drop by 19 points last season and he'll have to bounce back as he'll have to fill some of the void. Greg Zanon is a solid stay-at-home defenseman and de Vries has been around the block, so the Predators won't be pushovers in their own zone. The real treat will be in watching Weber, who has Norris Trophy written all over him in two or three years (or whenever Nicklas Lidstrom decides he's tired of winning it every year). GOALTENDING
This is an interesting element of the Predators' equation. Everyone assumes the decision to trade Vokoun was all about economics, and no doubt the $22.8 million left on the last four years of his deal was a factor, But Chris Mason has quietly established himself as a fine NHL goaltender. His .925 save percentage was second in the league, his 2.38 goals-against average was 10th and his 24-11-4 record and five shutouts were very similar to Vokoun. The problem for Mason is the team he'll lead is vastly different than the one he backstopped in relief of Vokoun the past two years. When Mason gets tired, the Predators are expected to turn to Finnish prospect Pekka Rinne. COACHING
It's going to be a little bit like back to the future for Trotz. The only coach in the team's history began his NHL coaching career by playing it close to the vest because the Preds were an expansion team with little offensive pop. As the team improved and brought in players like Sullivan, Kariya, Arnott, Dumont and Forsberg, Trotz opened things up and the Predators were one of the most entertaining teams to watch. Now, denuded of most of that zip, expect Trotz to try and play a pressure, forecheck game that will focus on using physicality and positional play to create offense. Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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• Record: 51-23-8
• Division: Second in the Central
• Conference: Fourth in the West
• Playoffs: Ousted by San Jose in the first round
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The 31-year-old will have his hands full in his first starting role, but there are few netminders who have worked harder to get where they are than Mason. Defenseman: Kevin Klein
We loved him in "The Big Chill" and "A Fish Called Wanda." Oh, not that Kevin Klein! Seriously, the 37th overall pick in 2003 has been at or near the top of the Preds' list of defensive prospects for a couple of years now, and there'll never be a better opportunity for the Kitchener, Ontario, native. Forward: Alexander Radulov
The talented winger at one point went 19 games without a goal last season. He did pick up the pace late in the season and had three goals and an assist in four postseason games; but he will have to avoid those kinds of dry spells in his sophomore season.
MORE FROM BURNSIDEBuzz Cut
So, how do you think the local ownership group, which has said the team's payroll will reflect the fans' interest in the team, will react when Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe drops a front-loaded offer sheet on unrestricted free agents Shea Weber and Ryan Suter next summer? We say they blanch and run for the Tennessee hills with the Predators not far behind them. Where They Will Finish
The Preds will finish fourth in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference.
SPORTSNATIONWhere do you think the Nashville Predators will finish this time around? Who will lead the Preds in scoring and what's your take on the man behind the bench? Vote now!