The Nashville Predators made waves a couple of months ago when they fired their first and only head coach in franchise history, Barry Trotz.
Despite Trotz’s ability to pull together a surprisingly good team made up of what could originally be considered table scraps of the NHL, a key factor was almost always missing.
While the Preds are well known for their strong defensive players, their lack of offensive prowess was most definitely a key factor in the dismissal of a coach who had been around for 1,196 games over the past 15 years.
Shortly after firing Trotz, the Predators hired former Philadelphia Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette, whose resume includes coaching the 2005-06 Stanley Cup Champion Carolina Hurricanes.
Laviolette began his coaching career with a two-year stint for the New York Islanders, which was followed up with five years at the helm of the Hurricanes and four years in the City of Brotherly Love.
During the 2009-10 season, Laviolette’s Flyers found their way into the Stanley Cup finals, but they were defeated by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Laviolette appears to be a coach who will place more importance on skilled offense, rather than relying on the team’s defense and goaltenders to save the day.
So what exactly does the Predators organization and powers-to-be need to focus on in this offseason?
I think it’s obvious by now that I’m going to say offense.
You can be an unstoppable defensive force, but if you aren’t scoring goals you are most definitely NOT going to be winning many games.
This past season, the Predators scored a total of 216 goals in 82 games, which is roughly two goals a game.
They posted a record of 38 wins, 32 losses, and 12 overtime/shootout losses.
Speaking of shootouts, Nashville posted the worst record in the Western Conference in those tilts, winning only two games via shootout, while losing nine.
After finishing sixth in the Central Division and 10th in the conference, the Preds once again failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
To date, Nashville has never made it past the Conference Semifinals.
Anyways, lets get back to those 216 goals.
The Preds were the second lowest scoring team in their division, and came in smack dab in the middle of the pack when compared to the conference.
Nashville saw a number of underperforming players, such as forwards Rich Clune and Viktor Stalberg.
Stalberg signed a four-year deal worth $12 million with the Preds right after winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.
While he had been a rather dynamic player for Chicago, his first season in “Smashville” proved disappointing.
In 70 games, a 28-year-old Stalberg chipped in only eight goals and had only 10 assists and finished out the season with a -14 rating for the season.
Stalberg played only 47 games with Chicago in the 2012-13 season due to injuries, but in those 47 games he recorded nine goals and 14 assists.
In 2011-12, the Swede racked up 22 goals and 21 assists in 79 games.
This is a player who can produce quality offense, but for some reason came up virtually empty handed for a team that desperately needed some firepower.
With Laviolette at the helm, I predict that Stalberg will get back to his 2011-12 self.
Even though I am a fan of Clune’s trouble-making persona on the ice, I am highly disappointed in this 27-year-old left wing.
Clune ranked fourth in penalty minutes in the NHL thanks to a whopping 166 minutes spent in the penalty box, but only chipped in three goals and three assists in 58 games.
For the summer of 2014, I hope to see Nashville GM David Poile make a move on a skilled, offensive player.
If the 2014-15 NHL salary cap goes to a projected $71 million limit, the Predators would have a comfortable space of $21,382,024 available to them and an expected $5,345,506 opening up, according to capgeek.com.
The signing of a proven scorer doesn’t seem like an easy task for Nashville.
The main reason this seems to be a tall order is the lack of “elite” forwards in the free agency pool.
It’s slim pickings out there folks, and unless Smashville trades Shea Weber, they really don’t have much in the terms of tempting trades.
Weber will never be traded, or at least in my mind, he shouldn’t.
Poile claims to be interested in drafting a promising forward, but past precedent shows that when it comes down to it, the Predators draft defensemen.
According to the Tennessean, Poile has expressed that he is open to trading his draft pick, which happens to be the 11th in the first round, for a top-six forward.
To me, this seems like a difficult scenario, because the 2014 draft class is reportedly not as strong as past classes.
In my mind, Nashville is going to have to take a good look at their players who are still in development.
Calling up players such as Calle Jarnkrok on a permanent basis, who was the best part of a trade made with the Detroit Red Wings this past season, would be a good place to start.
Split between two AHL teams, Jarnkrok scored 18 goals and had 27 assists. In the 12 games he spent in Nashville, the young Swede scored two goals and had seven assists.
At the age of 22, Jarnkrok is right on the verge of exploding onto the scene.
Another player who made some waves for the Pred’s AHL affiliate, Milwaukee Admirals, was the Finnish Miikka Salomaki.
According to past scouting reports, Salomaki doesn’t have “elite hands, top-end creativity, nor the ideal size” for the NHL.
The 21-year-old Finn must’ve missed those memos, because in his first AHL season (2013-14), Salomaki led the Admirals with 20 goals and 30 assists.
The time for Nashville to introduce some of their young players to the NHL is now.
The team has already proven that they are willing to change things up with the firing and hiring of a new head coach, and what could be better than bringing up the young guns to learn this new coach’s way?