Predators Mid-season Report

What Happened in Game 1 Through Game 41.

Nashville has gotten off to the best start in team history. Many were expecting the Predators to fall by the wayside after dumping almost all of the experience from the defensive corps including Bill Houlder (UFA to nowhere), Andy Delmore (Buffalo), Karlis Skrastins (Colorado), and Cale Hulse (Phoenix). The remaining experience left on the blueline – The under-appreciated Kimmo Timonen and Jason York. The replacement players – Journeyman Mark Eaton, Freshmen Dan Hamhuis, Marek Zidlicky, Thomas Kloucek. and Robert Schnabel. Last years Major Change had been the trade of Mike Dunham to the Rangers and the Emergence of Tomas Vokoun as the teams #1 netminder. Initially Jan Lasak of the Slovakian national team was expected to be the backup, but inconsistent play in the preseason led to the resigning of former Predator backup Chris Mason. Forward Lines did not change much. Additional experience was added with grinding enforcer Jim McKenzie. The major prospect surprise was Jordin Tootoo, the first NHL player of Inuit descent to play in the NHL.

Overall, the team has performed above expectations for the 1st half. One of the biggest surprises is the increase in physical play displayed by the team – which for a time led the league in penalty minutes and fighting majors. Scoring has always been a problem for the Predators, and there is a need for some of the younger forwards to step up. David Legwand is in a tenuous situation as the franchise was to be built around him, and he has not met expectations thus far. He did show his value to the team at the end of last season, but has recently lost his scoring touch. This may be due to the loss to injury of his natural linemate Andreas Johansson. Denis Arkhipov has also been expected to fill the offensive role for the team, but has never regained his 2001-02 form. Consistency has been the hallmark for original Predator Scott Walker and his awarding of NHL Offensive player of the week was well deserved for the de-facto captain of the team. Vladimir Orszagh – the “Slovakian tank” also grinds his way to some ugly goals. There have been some injuries to key energy players like Andreas Johansson, Scott Hartnell and Scottie Upshall that have forced the team to dip into it’s reserves. Big news was a more consistent overall level of play and a lack of defensive slip with the loss of major experience. The slumps have been shorter and the winning streaks longer this year in what is looking to be the first realistic push to the playoffs.

Ups and Downs

Ups

Marek Zidlicky – Defenseman picked up as an afterthought in the Dunham trade. Led the team early on in goals and appeared to be an overall improvement from the loss of Andy Delmore. Too old to be considered for rookie of the year, but would have had some consideration.

Longest winning Streaks – Two hat trick games this season from Orszagh and Walker and the best ever points total for the initial 41 games. Nashville has been in the 5-8 spots of the Western Conference playoff picture the entire first half of the season and been playing better than .500 hockey for the first time ever.

Vokoun- Plays the majority of the games and has put up solid numbers. Not as good as his end of the year run from last season, But has definitely outperformed his predecessor, Mike Dunham. He needs a quality back-up.

Play VS Detroit. The Preds lead the season Series 3-1 this year. They always step up play with their Division rivals. Detroit hates to play Nashville

Downs

David Legwand- showing he is a bust as a first-round draft pick. Being relegated to the 3rd and 4th line soon as younger players step up. Look for a trade.

Attendance- As the Predators play their best ever hockey, they are doing it for smaller home crowds.

Power Play- One of the weakest in the league, and not showing much chance of getting better.

Grading Players

CENTERS

David Legwand, D- Often compared to Mike Modano in terms of size and speed. Just forgot that you need heart to be that kind of player. Responds well when sat down, but needs to show maturity. Nashville did suffer when he and Johanssen were injured last year. Prima-donna attitude without the prima-donna talent.

Greg Johnson C- I see him as “Captain Vanilla” No real passion, just consistent play, meat and potatoes. Boring – not an inspiring leader for a team that needs an extra push.

Denis Arkhipov D+ Had DUI arrest prior to last season, and has never gotten back on track with his game. Not living up to team expectations.

Vernon Fiddler – C- – undersized centerman. Seems to have lost a step in the organization. Led AHL in scoring but cannot translate into NHL success.

Jason Morgan – inc – Claimed off waivers and held in Canadian visa limbo injured in his first game as a Predator. Team needs a decent center

Simon Gamache – inc – Aquired in Klouchek trade, not enough playing time to grade yet

LEFT WING

Scott Walker, A- Should have been made Captain. Works consistently hard day-in and out. Leads team in goals and points. Willing to do anything to get the points , including sacrificing the body.

Martin Erat, B- Took to being sent down last year well. Beginning to understand his role in the NHL better. Still tries to make one-too-many passes, but gaining soring touch again.

Rem Murray C+/B- Checking line and PK are good- Rem seems to be a solid member and may have some of the leadership intangibles that help in the locker room.

Scott Hartnell C Hampered by injuries this year, he just has not been able to make the impact he would like. Considered by many to be a future captain of the tream, Hartnell needs on more season to make a serious jump in quality

Andreas Johansson, inc. Concussion injury early in season has limited play. May be what David Legwand has been missing in terms of a skilled passer to help set up goals. Due to return in next few weeks.

Jim McKenzie B- Not noticed much on the point side. Seems to be providing intangibles of leadership. When he takes the ice other teams notice and it seems to give room to smaller players.

Scottie Upshall -C+ – “Devil Boy” almost made the team last season as a Jr. did not have the training camp he would have liked. Has been performing well in Milwaukee and made the jump back to the team but has injured knee now. Needs to step up scoring and size.

Libor Pivko – inc- 1 game

Timofei Shishkanov -inc – has not made the jump to the team yet. LW is a crowded house.

Mathieu Darche -inc – 2 games

RIGHT WING

Vladimir Orszagh B+ The “Slovakian Tank” is one of the best grinders on the team. Every shift is his best effort.

Adam Hall B Continues to make strides in his game, solid 2nd line wing in the making. Willing to stand up for teammates and fight for the close in goal.

Jordin Tootoo, B+ Fan favorite and doing a good job of creating energy and excitement to the team. Has had a difficult beginning with all of the media attention. Excellent job for a first year pro learning the game. Needs to focus a bit more on scoring touch, but doing what he needs to do to stir things up and draw penalties.

Jeremy Stevenson – C Hampered by a jaw injury early in the season, plays on the 4th line as a checker. Not able to do as much enforcing as he was before the injury.

Mike Farrell – inc – 1 game

Defense

Kimmo Timonen, B Consistently one of the best unheralded defensemen in the league. The power play does need to step up and he is a big part of that.

Dan Hamhuis B+ Initially was going to be sent to the minors for a few games. Key D injuries gave him a chance and he has not looked back. Leads all rookie D-men in average ice time. Has punishing Hip-Check and mean slapper. Growing leaps and bounds this season – most improved player.

Jason York C- One of the more experienced defensemen, yet one of the least productive. Often takes poor penalties in his own end. Not on track after initial preseason eye injury. Probably will be let go in offseason.

Mark Eaton B+ Has definitely stepped up to the challenge. Was a #7 d-man all last year. Now actually a Veteran on this defensive Corps. Has shown a solid understanding of role and served well.

Robert Schnabel – B – Injured early in the season provided much needed size to Defensive corps. Needs to build back to previous level.

Marek Zidlicky. B+ Early in the season was top goal scorer on the team. A bit of a sleeper that other teams have keyed on to. Excellent replacement for Delmore, as he actually understands the concept of defense.

Jamie Allison – C – Consistent, but not a standout. Some fights, no scoring

Andrew Hutchinson – inc – Regarded by many of the coaches as the most improved player to not initially make the team. Has been called up for limited ice time. May get great opportunity with injuries to defensemen.

Goalies

Tomas Vokoun – B+ – Has started all but 2 games this season, does not get the notice he deserves in the league. His stats have fallen some from the end of last season. Needs a backup able to play some games as he is burning out.

Chris Mason – D- Signed last minute before season. Not a capable NHL backup. Team has no confidence in him and does not feel they can afford to start him – even in games the Predators should win.

Coaches

Barry Trotz – B- Barry does more with a lower talent pool than any other coach in the league. I question the development of some key players that have not stepped forward. If the team does not make the playoffs, Barry will be replaced.

Brent Peterson – B- Special teams have not performed as well, but there are injuries to some key scorers. PK seems to always be solid with the Preds. May be one of the assistants in the league ready to move to head coach position

Peter Horachek – B – new this season with the Preds. Seems to have the respect of players that have come up through Milwaukee system.

Changes That Should Take Place.

It’s time for the Predators to give up on David Legwand. There are other players in the league that teams may be ready to part with for a shot at him. For whatever reason, David is not performing to the level he is capable of with this team.

It may be time for a coaching change. Barry Trotz has done an admirable job, but he has not moved the team to the next level. There are some quality coaches available that may be able to fire up the team for a solid push to the playoffs. I do not believe he has inspired the emotional intensity this team need to step to the next level.

Captain Greg needs to go back to assistant. This team needs intensity and “Captain Vanilla” does not inspire anything but a “Golly gee, we’ll get the next one guys!” Scott Walker is the emotional heart and soul of the team.

If the team is still in solid contention at the end of January, a push for a legitimate goal scorer should be made. Legwand should be packaged and traded.

The team must get a quality backup to provide some relief to Tomas Vokoun.

What to Expect in Game 42 through Game 82.

Injuries are starting to show the lack of experienced depth the team has. They are continuing to put rookies out on the ice with little or no NHL experience. The biggest loss on ice from last year was Karlis Skrastins to Colorado – a solid salary-based move of a drafted player. Financially – the team is on shaky ground with the season ticket base. The owner, Craig Leopold, is one of the owners spearheading the CBA effort on behalf of the league.

I expect some dropoff as the young players wear out form not being used to a full NHL season. The question remains whether the team is emotionally able to make the push to the playoffs and whether the owner will do what is necessary to ensure that they make it before a work stoppage. Much of this will be based on attendance figures after the NFL season ends. The Tennessee Titans are making a Superbowl run, and so the media attention and fan base are focused there instead of on the midseason Predators. Lack of fan support will doom the rest of the season. This is sad for a team that has been developing solidly.

If attendance were to move up, I would expect a financial commitment from the owner with a player move and a 6th pace finish in the West.


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