Up until now, Shea Weber has been one of the captains. Now, he is ‘the’ captain.
The Nashville Predators announced their leadership group for the 2014-15 season Thursday, hours before faceoff of the season-opener against Ottawa (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena). And the only change from a year ago is that James Neal will be an alternate captain with Mike Fisher.
Weber, to no one’s surprise, remains the captain, a role he has filled since July 8, 2010.
He is now the first player in franchise history to serve as captain for more than four full seasons.
Original captain Tom Fitzgerald filled that role until he was traded late in the fourth season (July 6, 1998-March 13, 2002). Greg Johnson had it for four seasons (Oct. 8, 2002-June 30, 2006), minus a couple weeks in 2003 when he was sidelined by a concussion and Scott Walker served as interim captain (Jan. 12-27, 2003). Kimmo Timonen held the role for one season (Oct. 3, 2006-June 18, 2007) and, prior to Weber, Jason Arnott served as captain for three seasons (Sept. 12, 2007-June 19, 2010).
Weber broke into the NHL in 2006 and became captain after four full seasons. He is the only player drafted by the franchise to serve as captain. And given that he is under contract through 2025-26 it is not likely any other Predator is going to get the job anytime soon.
It’s that time of year.
Vanderbilt and the University of Tennessee will conduct homecoming festivities this weekend.
The Nashville Predators, in a manner of speaking, will do the same thing Thursday.
When they open the 2014-15 season against the Ottawa Senators at Bridgestone Arena (7 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee), they also will welcome back David Legwand. The first draft pick in franchise history signed with the Senators as a free agent during the offseason after he finished out the 2013-14 campaign with Detroit.
“It’s weird going back,” Legwand said, according to the Ottawa Citizen. “Getting traded at 2 p.m. Eastern (time), I think I was out of there at seven o’clock and haven’t been back since. It’s kind of a chapter that’s over in our lives and we’ve moved on.”
A lengthy chapter.
The Predators drafted Legwand second overall in 1998 and he made his NHL debut in the final game of the 1998-99 season. From the start of 1999-00 until he was traded to Detroit (Nashville got Calle Jarnkrok, Patrick Eaves and a draft pick) he became the franchise’s all-time leader in games played and every significant offensive category.
His 566 career points (210 goals, 356 assists) are 85 more than any player in franchise history and 219 more than any current Nashville player.
Speaking of numbers, he will wear No. 17 (his number from youth hockey) with the Senators rather than the No. 11 in which he became so familiar with the Predators. He made that decision in deference to former Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, one of his teammates late last season with the Red Wings, who is synonymous with No. 11 and Senators.
“Alfie wore it forever and it’s going to go in the rafters one day,” Legwand said. “It’s something you don’t do as a hockey player.”
One other thing he won’t do is allow emotions to play a part in his homecoming.
“I’m more worried about us than them,” Legwand said. “It will be exciting to be back, to see all the faces and those types of things.”
It’s case closed for the Nashville Predators’ opening-day roster.
Forwards Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg were placed on injured reserve Tuesday and center Mike Fisher remained a designated non-roster player because of an offseason Achilles injury.
That left 22 players on the active roster in advance of Thursday’s season-opener against Ottawa (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena).
• Forwards (13): Taylor Beck, Gabriel Bourque, Rich Clune, Filip Forsberg, Paul Gaustad, Calle Jarnkrok, Olli Jokinen, James Neal, Eric Nystrom, Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson.
• Defensemen (7): Victor Bartley, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Seth Jones, Roman Josi, Anton Volchenkov and Shea Weber.
• Goaltenders (2): Carter Hutton and Pekka Rinne.
• Injured Reserve (2): Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg.
• Non-Roster (1): Mike Fisher.
The defense and goalies are the same as a year ago at this time. The only changes have been at forward where there are three free agents (Jokinen, Ribeiro and Roy), one trade acquisition (Neal) and three part-time players from last season (Beck, Forsberg and Jarnkrok).
The expressed goal throughout the offseason was to become a better offensive team. At this point – at least – it’s a different offensive team. It remains to be seen whether those changes were for the better.
Colin Wilson’s shoulders were fixed.
Still, that did nothing to help him carry all that weighed on his mind last season.
“There was a lot of stuff going on in my head, a lot of over-thinking,” the Nashville Predators forward said. “That’s the way it goes. … Last year there was just a little added stuff in my head coming in, having had two surgeries.”
The 2008 first-round pick had procedures performed on both shoulders following the 2012-13 season and stayed healthy from start to finish. He appeared in 81 of the 82 games but finished with 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists), the fewest in his three full NHL campaigns.
The problem, he said, was that the recovery from the surgeries did not allow him to perform his usual offseason strength-training regimen.
“No matter what, I’ve always taken pride in being a stronger person out there and as well as being strong on the puck,” Wilson said. “You feel good when you’re strong in the weight room and everything like that. So it was a little harder when I couldn’t begin lifting until the end of August. So I had a month of lifting and getting my strength back.”
The numbers suggest that he wore down as the season wore on. Nearly two-thirds of his points came in the first half of the season, and at one point he went more than 30 games without a goal.
A look at Colin Wilson’s 2013-14 point totals in 10 or 11-game stretches:
Games 1-10: 1 goal, 4 assists
Games 11-20: 2 goals, 2 assists
Games 21-30: 2 goals, 3 assists
Games 31-41: 2 goals, 4 assists
Games 42-51: 0 goals, 3 assists
Games 52-61: 0 goals, 1 assist
Games 62-71: 0 goals, 3 assists
Games 72-82: 4 goals, 2 assists
“I got to a certain point that I was happy I could at least defend myself a little bit,” Wilson said. “It certainly wasn’t where I wanted to be.”
This summer was different. He said he changed trainers but stuck with most of the offseason work he traditionally had done, which is a weight off his shoulders – figuratively speaking, of course.
“Now I’ve had a lot of lifting as well as stabilizing my shoulders – just lots of things to make them feel better,” Wilson said. “It’s just nice not to have that on your mind at all. I don’t even think about it.”
Peter Laviolette already planned to spend time the next couple days working on the power play.
Even if he hadn’t, though, Monday’s 3-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets would have convinced the first-year Nashville Predators coach to do so.
In its penultimate preseason contest, Nashville was 0-for-6 with the man-advantage, and half of those opportunities came in the first period. To make matters worse, Columbus scored its first goal on its first power play, a little more than a minute after the Predators’ second expired. The Blue Jackets then made it 2-0 early in the second when they scored shorthanded, less than a minute into Nashville’s fourth power play.
In five preseason games, the Predators have no power play goals in 19 chances.
“There’s four days coming up here to work on things in practice,” Laviolette said. “Certainly, the power play is on the docket to get attention every day. Penalty kill as well. Now that we’re down to closer numbers for our group, it’s easier to get out and work on those things.”
A game-by-game look at how the Predators’ power play has performed this preseason:
Sept. 23 at Tampa Bay: 0-5 (8:47)
Sept. 25 vs. Tampa Bay 0-5 (10:00)
Sept. 27 vs. Florida-1 0-1 (2:00)
Sept. 27 vs. Florida-2 0-2 (4:00)
Sept. 29 vs. Columbus 0-6 (11:08)
Nashville’s final preseason game is Saturday at Columbus. And with 28 players on the roster (three of them injured), workouts now can be structured similar to those in the regular season. That allows for more attention to specific situations.
Monday’s contest was the fourth in five days (the Predators played a split-squad doubleheader with Florida on Saturday), and defenseman Shea Weber, a key component of the power play, was not in the lineup.
“Obviously, the power play has to make you win games,” said center Mike Ribeiro, who tied with three others for the most power play ice time against Columbus. “I think we need to really simplify it, throw pucks at the net and really crash the net — go from there. It’s not trying to find the best shot but just get the shot to the net and go from there because usually it opens up after that first shot.”
The last time Nashville made the playoffs (2011-12), it led the NHL when it scored on 21.6 percent of its power plays. The last two seasons that number has been 17.1 and 19.2 percent, respectively.
“I think we moved it really well [Monday] night,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “For the most part, our chemistry is coming together. It’s just that finishing touch that we haven’t found yet.
“It’s preseason. It’s only four or five games in. I think that comes with time going into a season, but obviously you don’t want to start the season cold. So I think the next game is huge for that.”
The four days of practice in between will be pretty important too.
The Nashville Predators are not exactly easing their way toward their final roster.
Immediately following Saturday’s preseason doubleheader sweep of Florida, general manager David Poile and his staff reassigned 19 players to Milwaukee (AHL), one to Texas (AHL) and released eight others from tryout contracts.
With two preseason games remaining, the first of which Monday at home against Columbus (7 p.m.), 28 players (five above the regular season limit) remain on the roster. They won't play their final preseason contest until Saturday.
The current roster includes center Mike Fisher, who is injured and will not be healthy for the start of the regular season, Oct. 9.
Forwards (17): Taylor Beck, Gabriel Bourque, Rich Clune, Matt Cullen, Kevin Fiala, Mike Fisher, Filip Forsberg, Paul Gaustad, Calle Jarnkrok, Olli Jokinen, James Neal, Eric Nystrom, Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy, Craig Smith, Viktor Stalberg and Colin Wilson.
Defensemen (9): Johan Alm, Victor Bartley, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Seth Jones, Roman Josi, Joe Piskula, Anton Volchenkov and Shea Weber.
Goaltenders (2): Carter Hutton and Pekka Rinne.
The most difficult choices will be at forward.
Barring injury, the Predators are now set in goal. On defense, Alm and Piskula are the obvious choices to end up in Milwaukee. The other seven all were on the team a year ago and other than possibly Bartley, they all look secure in their spots.
Fisher is not the only one injured. Cullen and Stalberg also are currently sidelined by injury. If all three start the season on injured reserve then only one decision has to be made. That likely will be first-round draft pick Kevin Fiala, who scored a goal in Saturday’s first game.
Ryan Ellis’ deal was a long time coming.
Now that it is done, though, it ensures the 2009 first-round draft pick won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
The Predators and Ellis agreed to a five-year, $12.5 million deal Thursday, a week into training camp. According to reports, his salary will be $1.5 million this season and will increase by $500,000 every season through 2018-19.
The franchise announced the agreement shortly before their 1-0 preseason victory Tampa Bay at Bridgestone Arena. Filip Forsberg scored the only goal 3:17 into the contest with an assist from free agent center Mike Ribeiro.
Ellis is expected to join the team Friday.
The agreement provides stability at a time of transition for the franchise. In addition to a change in coaches after last season, there are 10 players, including nine forwards, in the final year of their contracts.
Only defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi have contracts that run longer than Ellis’. Goalie Pekka Rinne has five years remaining on his current pact.
It was just the second day of training camp when coach Peter Laviolette got a good look at Pekka Rinne’s second effort.
The Nashville Predators goalie slid to his right to make a save then immediately dove back to his left to make another. Laviolette, the new coach, banged his stick on the ice in admiration.
“Everything for him is second effort,” Laviolette said later. “He never quits on the puck or a play. Some of the ones that he actually gets back and he grabs where you think they’re tapping it into an empty net, it’s worthy of recognition.”
Local fans get their first look at the Predators under Laviolette on Thursday when Nashville hosts Tampa Bay (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena) in a preseason contest.
The same teams met two nights earlier in Tampa and the Lightning won 4-2. This time, though, the lineups will be different, and Nashville’s clearly is designed to make a good first impression. Among those in uniform for the Predators will be their top defense pairing (Shea Weber and Roman Josi), the two newcomers expected to play on the first line (James Neal and Mike Ribeiro) and a couple of recent first-round draft picks (Austin Watson and Kevin Fiala).
And Rinne will be the starting goalie and play the first half of the game.
Goalies: Pekka Rinne, Marek Mazanec
Defensemen: Shea Weber, Romas Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Anton Volchenkov, Joe Piskula, Johan Alm
Forwards: James Neal, Mike Ribeiro, Eric Nystrom, Olli Jokinen, Gabriel Bourque, Paul Gaustad, Taylor Beck, Rich Clune, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Austin Watson, Kevin Fiala
As Nashville transitions to a different style of play under Laviolette, Rinne’s ability to erase mistakes made in front of him will be critical.
“We want to play an up-tempo, fast game and now I feel like we have tools to do that,” Rinne said. “I feel like we have more skill. We have more speed. We have more scoring this year. Obviously it’s easy to say all these things but we need to show that on the ice.”
On the other hand, Laviolette and everyone else in the organization hopes to see the same, old Rinne, the one who was a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist. Post-surgical complications limited him to 24 games played last season and his extended absence undeniably was a factor in the franchise’s failure to make the playoffs for the second straight year.
“It’s one of those positions that you need to make sure you’re set in and Pekka looks like he’s back in form,” Laviolette said. “There’s certain positions in sports where you have to have it, it’s got to be there in order for you to be successful. You can talk about a quarterback or you can talk about a starting pitcher in baseball, whatever it is, and goaltending is one of those positions that is a make or break thing.
“It’s good that he looks like he’s back and on top of his form.”
Peter Laviolette already has done something Barry Trotz did not.
He lost his first preseason game as Nashville Predators head coach.
The Predators led after two periods Tuesday, but goalie Marek Mazanec allowed three third-period goals and they fell 4-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Tampa. That was the same score in Trotz’s first competitive situation, but the result was different. Nashville won its 1998 preseason opener 4-2 over Florida at Huntsville, Ala.
Filip Forsberg scored started the scoring 1:02 into the second period, and Craig Smith put Nashville up 2-1 at 7:40 of the second. Colin Wilson and free agent forward Derek Roy, respectively, assisted on the goals.
Mazanec played the final 26:56 and allowed three goals on 15 shots. Carter Hutton started in the nets and made 19 saves on 20 shots.
The Predators failed to convert on any of their five power play chances.
Of course, preseason games don't count in standings or records, etc. And for the record, the Predators lost their first regular-season game under Trotz.
Laviolette, no doubt, would like things to go differently in that regard as well.
Taylor Beck knows it won’t be as easy for the Nashville Predators to send him to Milwaukee this season even though the franchise once again has made it difficult for him to make the NHL roster.
“I’m out of my entry-level deal now,” he told the Nashville Post. “If they want to send me down, I’ll have to go through waivers. So we’ll see what happens.”
The 23-year-old forward was one of the bright spots of the disastrous, lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He stood out among a host of young players who got NHL opportunities due to a rash of injuries with seven points (three goals, four assists) in 16 games.
Rather than make room for the 2009 third-round pick (70th overall) last season, though, management did just the opposite. They signed four veteran free agent forwards and basically guaranteed Beck would play another year in the American Hockey League.
He was recalled (briefly) twice and appeared in just seven games.
This season, another round of veteran forwards (Olli Jokinen, Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy) was added, which has clouded Beck’s future with the organization. If Nashville wants him to go to back to Milwaukee, where he was the team’s second-leading scorer last season, every other team will have a chance to claim him first.
“I feel like I belong here,” he said. “A couple years ago, I felt like I played really good. Last year, I’m not sure I got the same opportunity that I got the year before. But I was happy with the way I played. Obviously, I want to contribute more offensively than I did last year and just show that I can play at the top level.”
During the early days of training camp, he is one of several young players who has worked on a line with Ribeiro and James Neal, who figure to comprise two-thirds of the Predators’ top line.
That suggests he at least has an opportunity. Others who have done the same are Gabriel Bourque and Filip Forsberg. Of the three, only Forsberg can go to Milwaukee without going through waivers.
The decision likely will come down to performance in preseason games, the first of which is Tuesday at Tampa Bay (6:30 p.m.).
“I’m an offensive guy,” Beck said. “So I want to do that every time I’m on the ice. It doesn’t matter what line I’m playing on, I want to contribute offensively but also be very responsible defensively and handling all aspects of the game away from the puck too.
“… It’s been a journey. So hopefully, it’s this year. We’ll see what happens the next couple weeks.”
And we’ll see where he ends up.
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