It was not long ago the Nashville Predators were drafting #4 overall and again #11 overall. Things seemed to be on the down side in Tennessee, especially after watching their top two defenseman headed out. Ryan Suter signed a multi-year multi-million dollar contract with now division rival Minnesota Wild. Shae Weber signed a 14 year offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers, however, Weber was a RFA (Restricted Free Agent) so Nashville had the choice to match the offer or not allowing themselves to keep one of their two prize defenseman.
A shortened 2012-13 season was tough on nearly every team, except of course for Chicago, but none the less 48 games is not much time for a team to bond. In back to back seasons 2011-12 and 2012-13, Nashville goaltender, Pekka Rinne, was the busiest he had ever been in his NHL career. Of 130 possible games Rinne found himself in 116, which is 89.2% of the games. It’s no wonder Pekka ended up injured last season where he still managed to play 24 games, 9 of which were played before the second hip operation to remove an infection from the first.
Pekka (Rinne) spent the off-season taking care of his hip and strengthening it for the upcoming season, yet with his healthy return, some expected him to help Nashville yet no one anticipated them to make the post-season. Nearly everyone in the hockey world had no idea 20 games into the 2014-15 season, Nashville would be one of the hottest, if not the hottest team in the NHL.
A healthy Pekka Rinne is 12-3-1, with 1 shutout and an outstanding 1.92 goals against average on top of a .930 save percentage. All together the Central Division Leading Predators are 12-4-2 with 26 points for 5th in the league. Where all but one of those five teams have played two more games than Nashville, Pittsburgh is the exception having played only 17 games.
A healthy Rinne is all that has gotten Nashville off to the races, a few off-season additions brought in some experience and goal scoring ability in addition to adding a new head coach, only the second coach in Nashville history. Barry Trotz, the one and only coach of Nashville was moved out in favor of Peter Laviolette. Nashville traded for James Neal for Patrick Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. They also brought in Olli Jokinen, Anton Volchenkov, Mike Ribeiro, and Derek Roy.
With those guys producing in Nashville, they also needed their young talent to show up. Guys like Filip Forsberg, who they traded for, and Seth Jones their #4 draft pick a year ago. Forsberg burn has done it all since being brought back to the NHL level, he is currently sitting #1 in league +/- with a +20, tied for 4th in total points at 22. The 20 year old center is certainly showing why he was taken 11th overall in 2012 by Washington.
Another kid with a strong start to his 2nd NHL season is Seth Jones, although he doesn’t have 22 points or any super fancy numbers, Jones has been solid on defense for the Predators. In 18 games Jones sports 5 assists and a +3 while averaging around 17:00 minutes a game. After a miserable Nashville season last year and a -23, Seth Jones is beginning to also show why he could have gone #1 overall had there not been such gifted forwards in last season’s draft class.
If Nashville were to continue on this terror they are on, they could be duking out the Division title with the St. Louis Blues or the surprising Winnipeg Jets. St. Louis currently sits 1 point behind Nashville at 12-5-1 and 25 points, while Winnipeg is 10-7-3 with 23 points. If Nashville wins their next two games, they would be sitting at 20 games played, 14-4-2, if they play this exact way, with the one day return of Mike Fisher, Nashville could easily see a 50+ win season. Again, it is only 20 games into the season and anything can happen at any point. Maybe Colorado, Dallas, Chicago and Minnesota find their stride, if this is the case, that’s four scary teams that can bite you in the heel and spin the entire season into a spiral.
As of now though, I believe so far, the Nashville Predators are the best team in the West but they will fall back down to Earth at some point. Teams like Chicago don’t seem to stay down long, St. Louis is on fire with their tandem of goalies everyone questioned. Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota are all struggling far more than expected. This Central Division is about to become the toughest division in the NHL hands down, even over the Metro. Just wait and see.