Even with playoff berth, Predators to be represented at World Championships

Because they missed the playoffs the last two years, members of the Nashville Predators have been available to play for their national teams at the World Championships.

And they have played well.

They will be busy this year, but the Predators will be represented at the annual international tournament nonetheless.

Top prospect Jimmy Vesey, a 2015 Hobey Baker Award finalist, is one of three college hockey players committed to play for the United States in this year’s event, USA Today reported Wednesday.

Vesey, a 2012 third-round draft pick (66th overall), leads the NCAA with 32 goals this year as a junior. He recently said he plans to return to Harvard for his senior season. The World Championships, though, will allow him to play against NHL-caliber opponents and raise his game a bit more following his breakout campaign.

Exactly how much he can gain from the experience is tough to predict, but playing at the World Championships has been beneficial even for proven NHL players – at least as far as Nashville in concerned.

Last summer goalie Pekka Rinne was named the tournament’s most valuable player after he led Finland to a silver medal, and Seth Jones was named best defenseman. For Rinne, the tournament marked his return to top form after he missed more than half of the NHL season due to a post-surgical infection. This season he has been one of the league’s best netminders.

In 2013 Roman Josi was named both, most valuable player and best defenseman. Now he not only is one of the Predators’ top players but is in the discussion of the NHL’s top defensemen. That same year Craig Smith rediscovered his game and has been one of Nashville’s top offensive players ever since.

The 2015 IIHF World Championships will take place May 1-17 in the Czech Republic.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Apr 8, 2015 9:58 PM

Good news/Bad news — Predators and the remainder of the regular season

Tuesday was not a good night for the Nashville Predators.

They missed out on a chance to regain the Central Division lead, and their current losing streak reached four games (one in overtime, one in a shootout) with a 3-2 loss at Colorado, which included an apparent goal that officials waived off.

It was not all bad, though. And with two games remaining, there is still a lot on the line.

The good news: Nashville could not have gotten more help from foes. The Blues lost 1-0 to Winnipeg and the Blackhawks lost 2-1 to Minnesota. Those weren’t exactly elite performances but they were understandable in that the Jets and Wild, respectively, were still battling to get in the playoffs (Minnesota clinched with its win) and, therefore, the much more desperate teams.

The bad news: The Predators, whose game at Colorado on Tuesday started later than the other two contests, had a chance to move back into first place — and the players knew it. They led 1-0 but allowed a couple goals nine seconds apart late in the second period and gave up the game-winner with 12:54 to play. Colorado has long since been eliminated from playoff contention and had a number of top players out with injuries, which made the Predators’ loss much worse than those of their division rivals.

The good news: With Chicago’s loss, Nashville got closer to assuring itself of home-ice advantage (if nothing else) for the opening round of the playoffs. One victory in the remaining two games and the worst the Predators can do is finish second in the Central, which would match them with the third-place team and give them home-ice advantage for the series.

The bad news: If Nashville finishes second, it’s a virtual certainty that its first opponent will be Chicago. The Blackhawks, of course, won the only playoff series between the two (2010) in six games. Plus, Nashville has had home-ice in three of its all-time playoff series’ and twice was eliminated in five games.

The good news: Even though the Preds are second in their division with two games to play, there is still a chance to finish first overall in the Western Conference. It would take some help to get there (they’re currently three points behind Anaheim). But if they do, their likely first-round opponent will be Winnipeg, a team they have beaten three times in five meetings this season.

The bad news: Of the other seven teams that have clinched or are currently in possession of a Western Conference playoff berth, the Predators have 11 wins and 16 losses (nine in regulation, seven in overtime/shootouts). Those records: Anaheim 0-2-1; Calgary 0-2-1; Chicago 1-1-2; Minnesota 2-1-1; St. Louis 3-1-1; Vancouver 2-0-1; Winnipeg 3-2-0.

In fairness, the overtime/shootout records don’t offer much insight because the five-minute, four-on-four extra period and subsequent shootout are not used in the postseason. Still, it’s clear that the Predators have beaten up on the bottom half of the league and will find the going much more difficult in the playoffs.

The good news: The Predators are, in fact, in the playoffs. So how bad can any of the rest of it be?

Apr 8, 2015 2:19 PM

Predators to battle two others all the way to finish for division title

The final week of the NHL regular season holds plenty of intrigue for the Nashville Predators.

They trail the St. Louis Blues by one point for first place and are two points up on third-place Chicago. All three teams have three games remaining.

Nashville never has won a division title. The closest it came was 2006-07, when it set a franchise record with 110 points and finished three behind Detroit.

The Predators, however, were on top at this time a week ago but have not won since. The dropped a 5-4 shootout decision to Vancouver on Tuesday and fell 4-3 to Dallas in overtime on Saturday.

In all, they have lost three straight.

“We’re just going game-by-game here,” coach Peter Laviolette said following Saturday’s loss. “… We’ll straighten it out, head on the road and worry about that one [Tuesday at Colorado].”

St. Louis took over first place Sunday with its 2-1 victory over Chicago. Coincidentally, former Nashville forward Olli Jokinin (traded to Toronto in February and subsequently dealt to St. Louis) scored the decisive goal. It was his first in six games with the Blues and just his fourth this season.

A look at what remains for the three teams that still have a chance to win the Central Division:

ST. LOUIS – 105 points (49-23-7)
Tuesday vs. Winnipeg
Thursday vs. Chicago
Saturday vs. Minnesota

NASHVILLE – 104 points (47-22-10)
Tuesday at Colorado
Thursday vs. Minnesota
Saturday at Dallas

CHICAGO – 102 points (48-25-6)
Tuesday vs. Minnesota
Thursday at St. Louis
Saturday at Colorado

Apr 6, 2015 6:33 AM

Trotz joins select group of active coaches with latest milestone

Barry Trotz is a now a member of a select group.

The former Nashville Predators coach became the fourth active NHL head coach with 600 career victories when the Washington Capitals defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 in a shootout last Thursday.

Predictably, Trotz, who notched No. 601 on Sunday, spread credit for the milestone among a large group of former assistants and players.

“It’s pretty special in terms of when I look at other people who have been in the game that I admire and look up to and respect,” Trotz said, according to the Washington Post. “… To me, it’s a team game. You don’t win anything by yourself. I’ve been fortunate to stand behind the bench with some great coaches and we always win it together, and that includes the players.

“I don’t really look at it as a personal thing. I look at it as a group thing.”

The group of active 600-game winners includes Dallas’ Lindy Ruff, St. Louis’ Ken Hitchcock and Chicago’s Joel Quenneville. Coincidentally, they are all coaches Trotz likes and admires.

Of course, the bulk of his victories came in Nashville – 557 of them, to be exact. He was 557-479-100 with 60 ties in his 15 years with the Predators. He’s gone 44-25-11 in his first season with Washington.

By comparison, Quenneville has coached three teams and has not won more than 316 for any one of them. Hitchcock is with his fourth team and has not won more than 277 with any of them.

Ruff has had the most comparable career – 15 years with Buffalo, where he won 571 games before he took over Dallas in 2013-14.

“I don’t really think about the individual stuff,” Trotz said. “It’d probably mean a lot more when I’m not in the game or I’m not coaching anymore or whatever. I will probably look back and realize I’ve been very privileged to work with some great people for a long time and a lot of great players that allowed us to win some hockey games.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

Apr 6, 2015 5:10 AM

Vesey named finalist for college hockey's top individual award

Jimmy Vesey’s season just keeps getting better.

All that’s left is to find out whether the Nashville Predators prospect rates as college hockey’s best in 2014-15.

Thursday, the junior forward at Harvard was named a Hobey Baker Award finalist. The award is given annually to the top NCAA men’s ice hockey player based on skill, statistics, integrity and scholastic achievement.

The other finalists are Boston University forward Jack Eichel, one of the top two 2015 draft prospects and the first freshman in 12 years to be named a finalist, and North Dakota goalie Zane McIntyre, who has led his team to the Frozen Four.

Vesey had at least one point in 34 of the 37 games he played this season, including the first 20. He finished with 58 points (32 goals, 26 assists) in 37 games. He currently leads the country in goals and is third in points.

Harvard’s first Hobey Baker finalist in 10 years, he already has collected several major awards this season and has created excitement among Predators executives, who believe he is ready to turn professional at any time. Earlier this week, though, Vesey said he planned to return to Harvard for his senior season.

Nashville selected him in the third round in 2012.

Apr 3, 2015 6:49 AM

Forsberg falls from first in rookie points, Calder Trophy races

In the race for the 2015 Calder Trophy, Filip Forsberg was the hare.

The Nashville Predators left wing got off to a fast start and – for a time – looked as if he would run away with the award that annually goes to the NHL’s top rookie.

Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, however, is not quite the tortoise. While it’s entirely possible that he has overtaken Forsberg just before the finish he has not done slow with a slow-and-steady approach. He has finished with a flourish.

Wednesday, the 21-year-old was named the NHL Rookie of the Month for March, the final full month of the regular season. He led all rookies with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 15 games.  He started the month with a six-game point streak and along the way had four multi-point performances.

It was his most productive month to date – more than double what Forsberg produced – and gave him a one-point lead in the rookie scoring race. At the start of the month Forsberg was eight points ahead.

Even oddsmakers currently see Gaudreau as a heavy favorite for the award.

A month-by-month statistical comparison between Filip Forsberg and Johnny Gaudreau (goals-assists – points):

Forsberg – 1-7 – 8 
Gaudreau – 2-4 – 6

Forsberg-x – 9-6 – 15 
Gaudreau – 2-9 – 11

Forsberg – 4-8 – 12
Gaudreau – 8-5 – 13

Forsberg – 3-4 – 7
Gaudreau – 3-4 – 7

Forsberg – 4-6 – 10
Gaudreau – 0-7 – 7

Forsberg – 2-5 – 7
Gaudreau-x – 7-9 – 16

(x-NHL Rookie of the Month)

Apr 1, 2015 11:44 PM

Predators' Stanley Cup odds grow longer as end of season draws near

A month ago, the Nashville Predators were one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

With a little more than a week to go in the regular season oddsmakers don’t like their chances nearly as much.

Bovada.lv had Nashville at 14/1 to win it all Wednesday, when it released updated NHL odds. Back on March 3 the Predators were tied with Anaheim for the best odds at 9/1.

                                             3/3/15                           Current Odds  
New York Rangers                     12/1                              13/2
Chicago Blackhawks                 15/2                              7/1
Minnesota Wild                         14/1                              8/1
Anaheim Ducks                         9/1                                9/1
Montreal Canadiens                   10/1                              10/1
St. Louis Blues                          10/1                              10/1
Tampa Bay Lightning                 14/1                              10/1
Nashville Predators                   9/1                                14/1
Pittsburgh Penguins                  12/1                              14/1    
Los Angeles Kings                    12/1                              16/1
Boston Bruins                           14/1                              18/1
New York Islanders                    12/1                              18/1                
Detroit Red Wings                     14/1                              20/1
Vancouver Canucks                   25/1                              20/1
Washington Capitals                  18/1                              22/1
Calgary Flames                         33/1                              33/1
Winnipeg Jets                           33/1                              40/1
Ottawa Senators                        200/1                            50/1
Florida Panthers                        66/1                              300/1

Things are no much better on the individual front.

Pekka Rinne once was considered a leading candidate for the Hart Trophy (league MVP), now he’s not among the top five most likely to win it. And Filip Forsberg has taken a backseat to Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau in the battle for the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year).

Awards Odds
Who will win the 2014 Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player? 
Carey Price (MON)         1/3
Alex Ovechkin (WAS)    7/2
Sidney Crosby (PIT)      7/1
Devan Dubnyk (MIN)     15/1
John Tavares (NYI)        20/1

Who will win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year?
Johnny Gaudreau (CAL)             4/7
Filip Forsberg (NAS)                  7/4
Mike Hoffman (OTT)                  6/1
Aaron Ekblad (FLA)                   8/1

Apr 1, 2015 11:39 PM

Predators obviously missing something without Weber

It’s understandable if Nashville Predators fans and the hockey world in general have come to take Shea Weber for granted.

It’s easy to do. After all, it’s nothing new that the Nashville Predators captain has topped 40 points this season. It’s the sixth straight time in a full schedule (that does not include the 48-game, 2012-13 campaign) that he’s gotten there.

Roman Josi’s emergence as an offensive star and the continued development of youngsters Seth Jones, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm have been much more interesting this season.

Now, though, we all know.

The Predators without Shea Weber are not the same team. Or to put it another way: they’re not as good.

Sometimes you really don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Weber, a three-time Norris Trophy finalist, has been out of the lineup for the last three games and suddenly Nashville can’t protect a lead.

The latest example was Tuesday’s 5-4 shootout loss to Vancouver at Bridgestone Arena.

The Predators led 2-0 after the first period and gave up two goals in the first 6:04 of the second. They led 3-2 after two periods and allowed two more goals in the first 5:48 of the third. The Calgary Flames scored twice in each of the first two periods Tuesday and easily overcame an early one-goal deficit. The Washington Capitals registered a pair of goals in the second period Sunday and cut a three-goal lead down to one.

That’s five times in the nine periods that Weber has been sidelined Nashville has allowed more than one goal in a period. Opponents had multiple goals in five of the last 33 periods before Weber was injured.

The surprise of it all is that the Predators actually won one of those games. They held on at Washington and won 4-3.

“Weber is our leader on defense, and if you lose a guy like him you’re going to feel that,” Josi said. “He’s a great player. We’ve got to find a way to be good without him. The last couple of games we weren’t good enough. We gave up five against Calgary and four (Tuesday) night against Vancouver. We definitely have to find a way to be better.”

One thing that makes voting for the Norris Trophy so difficult is the lack of statistical evidence to quantify a player’s ability and production on defense.

So often the player deemed to be the NHL’s best ‘all-around’ defenseman is one with notable offensive numbers.

Through the first 75 games of this season Weber’s offensive numbers are right where they’ve always been. Although because he’s not among the top 10 in defenseman scoring and he’s not even the highest scoring blue liner on his own team those numbers are not likely to carry as much weight with Norris Trophy voters.

His value on defense, however, never has been more apparent than in the last three contests.

Now more than ever Weber’s all-around excellence has to be recognized – quite possibly with a trophy.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Mar 31, 2015 11:53 PM

Rinne gets Masterton Trophy nomination for ability to bounce back

Pekka Rinne knows how to make a comeback.

The latest example is his performance during the current NHL season, which has two weeks remaining. The Nashville Predators goalie is tied for the league lead with 41 wins and ranks among the top five in goals-against average (2.10) and save percentage (.926).

All of that has come after a post-surgical E. coli infection in his hip sidelined him for four months of the 2013-14 season and threatened to end his career altogether. In 2007 he came back from a freak, off-ice shoulder injury sustained during the offseason and was a full-time NHL goalie two years later.

Rinne, therefore, is the Nashville Predators’ 2015 Masterton Trophy nominee, as determined by the local chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA).

The Masterton Trophy is awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. One player from each team is nominated and the winner is determined by a vote of the full PHWA membership.

Steve Sullivan won it in 2009 as a member of the Predators.

Rinne’s ability to persevere is obvious. The fact that he’s even in the NHL is a testament to his willingness to stick with it. He was a little-used backup goalie in Finland when Nashville drafted him in the eighth round in 2004. A year later he came to North America and led the Milwaukee Admirals to the AHL finals.

He is one of the most competitive and hard-working players on the team whose dedication to hockey extends beyond the rink. Last fall, he partnered with defenseman Shea Weber to form the 365 Fund, which funds pediatric cancer research at Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. He also works with Best Buddies of Tennessee, which creates friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The 32-year-old is the Predators’ all-time leader in wins (204), shutouts (36) and playoff wins (13).

(Photo: Getty Images)

Mar 31, 2015 1:19 PM

Predators' regular season offensive muscle could provide playoff strength

The Nashville Predators have made it look easy at times this season.

They clinched a playoff berth with two weeks remaining in the regular season when they won 4-3 at Washington on Saturday. They have spent a significant amount of time atop the division, conference and league standings and even after Sunday’s 5-2 loss to Calgary at Bridgestone Arena they still are one of only four NHL teams with at least 100 points.

When it comes to scoring, though, they have done it the hard way.

Roman Josi’s goal at 6:17 of the first period Sunday was the Predators’ 158th  5-on-5 goal of the season, tied for the second highest total in franchise history.

The only time they scored more often with both sides at full strength was 2006-07. However, that was the season they set the franchise record with 266 goals scored but their 173 5-on-5 tallies accounted for just 65 percent of the total.

With five games to go in this season Nashville is on pace for its highest percentage of 5-on-5 goals ever. Nearly three-quarters of all of their scores have happened with the full complement of players on ice.

A look at the Nashville Predators’ highest single-season 5-on-5 goal totals:

173 – 2006-07
158 – 2014-15
158 – 2011-12
154 – 2010-11
152 – 2007-08
151 – 2009-10

A look at the seasons in which the highest percentage of Nashville Predators goals were scored 5-on-5:

73.8 percent – 2014-15 (158 of 214)
72.4 percent – 2013-14 (155 of 214)
72.3 percent – 2010-11 (154 of 213)
71.6 percent – 1998-99 (136 of 190)
70.6 percent – 2012-13 (77 of 109)
69.9 percent – 2009-10 (151 of 217)

Why is this important?

Because referees call far fewer penalties in the postseason than they do in the regular season. So the ability to score at 5-on-5 becomes much more important because more of the game is played that way. On top of that, there is no four-on-four in overtime unless each team has a player in the penalty box. The rules don’t change beyond regulation.

Consider that in 2012, the last time Nashville got to the second round of the NHL playoffs its percentage of 5-on-5 goals in the playoffs was much higher than during the regular season – 77.3 percent (17 of 22), up from 68.1 percent.

The only other time the Predators won a playoff series was 2011. That year they had one of their best 5-on-5 regular season percentages (72.3) and improved upon it slightly in their 12 postseason contests (72.7).

By comparison, the 2006-07 team that was so potent offensively, scored nine of its 14 playoff goals (64.3 percent) with both teams at full strength, a rate almost identical to that regular season – and well below what franchise history suggests is necessary to advance. Not surprisingly, it lost in five games to San Jose in the opening round of the playoffs.

Among the current top eight in the Western Conference standings, Nashville’s percentage of goals scored during 5-on-5 play and the number of 5-on-5 goals are second only to Minnesota.

A look at the number of 5-on-5 goals and the percentage of total goals scored during 5-on-5 play by the Western Conference’s top eight teams:

161 – Minnesota (215 total goals), 74.9 percent
158 – Nashville (214 total goals), 73.8 percent
150 – St. Louis (219 total goals), 68.5 percent
148 – Anaheim (217 total goals), 68.2 percent
145 – Calgary (220 total goals), 65.9 percent
139 – Vancouver (211 total goals), 65.9 percent
138 – Chicago (200 total goals), 69.0 percent
133 – Winnipeg (205 total goals), 64.9 percent

Mar 30, 2015 5:25 AM