For many people this time of year is as exciting as Christmas. It’s hockey season. The weather is cooler and training camps are opening. Here in Nashville it’s been one of those off seasons that everyone would just soon forget. The Predators fans are ready for some hockey talk that involves the actual game of hockey and not the business of hockey.
We are tired of hearing the “hockey doesn’t belong in your city” talk and the “fire sale” talks. Neither of which are true. When you look back at this off season and think of the players that left this team due to free agency or trade one might think that this team will not be as talented as the previous years. Granted the loss of Kariya, Hartnell, Timonen and Vokoun are big losses however; I don’t think they are as significant as one might think. So let’s take a look at that a little more closely.
The loss of Paul Kariya (did you know his middle name is Tetsuhiko?) is one of those things that you look at on paper and go wow that’s a hole. But for those outside of Nashville let me introduce you to Mr. Alexander Radulov. This 6’1” 188lb right wing from Nizhi Tagil, Russian Federation (former_USSR) lit up the QMJHL. In his two years there he played in 127 games and tallied 93 goals, 134 assist, for a total of 227 points. Not to mention a plus/minus of 83. These numbers are second only all time to some guy named Mario Lemieux. In his rookie NHL season he only played in 64 games and scored 18 goals, 19 assist for a point total of 37 and a plus/minus 19. Look for Radulov to have a huge year. Plus if you have never seen this kid play you are missing out on one of the most passionate and talented players in the NHL. He brings an excitement to the game that I have not seen in a long time. Does he replace a Paul Kariya? Probably not, no one does. But will he be a very suitable replacement. Absolutely!
Secondly, there’s the loss of Tomas Vokoun. Tomas was a huge fan favorite. Nashville fell in love with Tomas Vokoun on December 12, 2002 when Mike Dunham was traded to New York. Since then this town embraced Vokoun and Vokoun embraced this town. As much as we all hated to see him go he has not been the same Vokoun in goal that we had grown to love since the blood clot incident. In steps a little known guy named Chris Mason. Last year Mason had a stellar year. Mason played in 40 games and was 24-11-4. He had a GAA of 2.38 and a save percentage of .925 that rivaled anyone in the NHL. Is Mason ready for the lead role? I think so! He is a great guy in the locker room and will be stellar on the ice. The huge question mark here is if he goes down who will step up.
Next there’s Kimmo Timonen. Timonen was the Predators third captain of all time. Kimmo was a great leader on and off the ice. No one will ever argue that the veteran leadership he brought to the ice was immeasurable in terms of numbers. However, Nashville has done a great job in the draft here. With Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Klein the core of the defense is set. Add in Marek Zidlickey who needs to have a better year, Greg Zanon who was a monster at blocking shots last year and the addition of Greg DeVries who brings leadership and experience to the ice the defense corps should be on tap for a strong year.
Finally, the biggest loss I think for the Preds this year is in home grown talent Scott Hartnell. Harts was a kid with a bright future and he lived up to every ounce of expectations. However, his relationship with Trotz was always rocky and his untimely penalties really hurt this team from time to time. However, the Preds went out and picked up left winger Martin Gelinas who had 44 points last season (14g, 30a) with the Florida Panthers. This is a great veteran addition that will not replace Harts but will definitely add maturity to a team that at times last season was lacking. His decision making will make him a better fit for this team than Hartnell and his presence in the locker room will be huge.
All in all this Preds team may not be as flashy as it was the last two years. But that’s ok. Flashy has gotten us no where in the playoffs. This team will get back to Predators hockey, which is blue collar hockey. With Jason Arnott being named Captain recently, the return of J.P. Dumont (who was named an Alternate Captain), Martin Erat, David Legwand and the hopeful and eventual return of Steve Sullivan (another Alternate Captain) and other additions such as Jed Ortmyer, this team is poised to bring a rough and tumble style of hockey that Predators fans love. They may not finish at the top of the standings but they will make the playoffs and be a lot tougher to deal with in the post season than Predators teams of the past.
Let’s play hockey and GO PREDS!!!