It’s always encouraging to see a team forge ahead and accomplish things that have never been done in its history. Just last season, the Nashville Predators scratched a couple things off their franchise to-do list.
The Predators made it to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. More importantly, they were able to get out of the first round of the playoffs, a first for the franchise. Additionally, they did so by defeating a team seeded above them, securing the first postseason upset in team history.
While the next round against the President’s Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks didn’t go quite as well, Nashville had plenty to be proud of, and lots of success to build on. The task David Poile was then charged with was to maintain that momentum and make a move toward the Conference Finals.
After losing power forward Joel Ward and speedster Steve Sullivan to free agency and buying out the contract of playmaker J.P. Dumont, Poile had to find a way to replace 30 goals and 40 assists.
Those numbers don’t sound nearly as daunting as attempting to balance the national debt, but Poile still found it to be tough sledding. The only addition he made was bringing in winger Niclas Bergfors. While many scouts saw a significant upside to the 24-year-old Swede, he has only managed a career high of 44 points in a season.
For a team whose offense was, well, downright offensive, this singular signing puts more pressure on mainstays David Legwand and Martin Erat to produce.
By bringing in only one forward, I have to assume that Poile knew that the real Patric Hornqvist can score 30-plus goals a season, as he did in 2009, and not the 21 he eked out last season. Likewise, the re-signed Sergei Kostitsyn will have to continue his offensive development in order to keep the team balanced.
Not upgrading the offensive talent also puts more emphasis on the play of already-taxed Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. If the team isn’t capable of scoring more goals, that 20-10-11 record in one-goal games last year could get a lot uglier.
While last season’s trade for Mike Fisher may have made Ward expendable, can a team ever have too many defensive-minded yet offensively-gifted forwards? Given that Nashville plays in the ultra-competitive Central Division, anyone with a smidgen of offensive talent needs to be kept, and Ward’s absence will be felt sooner rather than later.
The team does, however, have some defensive help on the way. Rookie Ryan Ellis looks to be a lock to make the team out of training camp and has serious offensive ability. If Ellis is able to make some noise this season and take some of the offensive pressure off Weber and Suter, this "less is more" strategy Poile seems to have implemented just might work out.
If not, the Predators could be in for a long season and take a couple steps back in their march to the Cup.