Laviolette named one of three finalists for NHL's top coach trophy

This time, being named a Jack Adams Award finalist will have to serve as a consolation price for Peter Laviolette.

The Nashville Predators head coach on Wednesday was named one of three finalists for the award that annually recognizes the NHL’s best coach. The other finalists are Calgary’s Bob Hartley and Alain Vigneault of the New York Rangers.

Laviolette has been a finalist one other time in his career. That was in 2005-06. He finished runner-up that year in the closest vote in the award’s history, a near-miss that was tempered by the fact that his team, the Carolina Hurricanes, won the Stanley Cup in their first full season with Laviolette in charge.

Nashville was 47-25-10 this season, its first with anyone other than Barry Trotz in charge of the team. That was an improvement of 16 points over the previous campaign. The Predators, though, stumbled in the playoffs and lost to Chicago in six games in the opening round.

Trotz was a two-time Jack Adams finalist with the Predators (2010, 2011) but never won.

“I can tell you that after a year gone by now and having the opportunity to work with everybody, what a terrific choice [to come to Nashville],” Laviolette said following the season. “I’m grateful for the opportunity, because for me, it was a terrific year and a great opportunity to work with great people and great players.”

It just ended a little sooner than expected.

Laviolette is the second member of the franchise named finalist for one of this year’s awards. Two weeks ago Pekka Rinne was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, given annually to the league’s top goalie.

The Jack Adams Award winner is determined by a vote of the NHL Broadcasters’ Association.

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

May 6, 2015 10:31 PM

Next in line among Predators goalies signs on for next season

The line shows no signs of moving.

Nonetheless, Marek Mazanec decided to keep his place in it for now. After all, it puts him — at 23 years old — one step from the NHL.

Mazanec, a top goalie prospect, signed a one-year contract with the Nashville Predators on Wednesday that means he won’t be going to another organization even if there is no apparent opportunity to move up at the moment.

The two-way deal is for an NHL salary of $570,000 and an AHL salary of $100,000 for 2015-16. With Pekka Rinne signed through 2018-19 and one season remaining on Carter Hutton’s current contract, the most likely scenario is that he will spend most, if not all, of that season with Milwaukee (AHL) as he did in 2014-15.

He appeared in two games (one start) for Nashville in January but was 18-18-9 with four shutouts in 48 games for Milwaukee, where he split time with Magnus Hellberg, Nashville’s second-round choice in 2012. Hellberg (15-10-3, 2.33 GAA at Milwaukee) is a restricted free agent.

Mazanec, a 2012 sixth-round draft pick, has shown what he can do in the NHL. When Rinne was sidelined for roughly half of 2013-14 with a post-surgical infection, he went 8-10-4 with two shutouts in 25 appearances for the Predators. He was the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for that December.

He played well enough that season to make it seem likely he will be in the NHL full-time someday. It just won’t be next season.

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

May 6, 2015 10:10 PM

Predators players shake off playoff disappointment, perform well at Worlds

Apparently, some Nashville Predators players have dealt with an NHL playoff hangover at the World Championships.

The effect lasted one game.

Right wing Filip Forsberg and goalie Pekka Rinne each bounced back from sub-par performances in the opening contets for their respective countries with notable ones on Sunday.

Forsberg scored a hat trick and added one assist in Sweden’s 6-1 victory over Austria. He maintained the momentum Monday with a goal in an 8-1 victory over Latvia. He was scoreless in a 6-5 victory Friday over the Czech Republic.

With four goals, he was tied with Canada’s Taylor Hall for the tournament lead at the start of play Tuesday and his five points tied him for third, one point behind Hall, Canada’s Matt Duchene and Russia’s Yevgeni Dadonov.

Rinne made 16 saves in a 3-0 shutout of Denmark on Sunday and came back with another 25 saves in a 5-0 victory over Denmark on Monday. He allowed four goals Friday in a 5-1 loss to the United States.

Through three games he has a 1.35 goals-against average and a 93.6 save percentage.

"In the U.S. game we tried to make too many plays, we lost of lot pucks and they were coming back at us right away," Rinne said, according to the IIHF website. "In these last two games we've been using our speed creating a lot more opportunities, the guys are scoring goals. Our power play, our special teams have been doing more. It's a much more typical Finnish team. This is the way we like to play."

Other Nashville players:

• Seth Jones had two assists for the U.S. in a 4-2 victory over Russia on Monday.  Those were his first two assists (and points) of the tournament.

• Defenseman Roman Josi has a goal and two assists in three games for Switzerland, which ties him for the team lead.

• Mattias Ekholm has two assists in three games for Sweden.

• Kevin Fiala, Nashville’s top draft choice in last year’s draft, has two assists and a plus-2 rating in Switzerland’s first two games.

• Prospect Jimmy Vesey had an assist for the U.S. against Russia and has two assists in three games. He is one of only four U.S. players (Jones is another) with multiple assists.

This is Forsberg’s first appearance for Sweden’s top national team. He was a two-time silver medalist for his country in the under-18 World Championships and won one gold and two silvers at the under-20 World Championships.

“I’m just trying to contribute offensively,” Forsberg said. “That’s a big part of my game. I’m just happy to be here and play for my country.”

Pool play continues through next Tuesday and the tournament concludes with the medal games on May 17.

(Photo: IIHF Images)

May 5, 2015 1:44 PM

Former Predators executive named New Jersey Devils general manager

Ray Shero, a former assistant general manager with the Nashville Predators, is the new general manager for the New Jersey Devils.

The 52-year-old replaces Lou Lamoriello, a Devils’ institution who has had the job since 1987 and twice (2005-06 and 2014-15) has served as interim coach after he fired a coach in midseason.

Lamoriello, 72, will remain with the franchise as team president.

“It was a big attraction for me to have Lou stay on,” Shero said, according to Yahoo.com. “It’s a great situation for me. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Shero was Nashville’s assistant general manager from its inaugural season (1998-99) through 2006. He left to become general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a position he held until the end of the 2013-14 campaign. His Penguins teams won three division titles, two conference crowns and the 2009 Stanley Cup.

Before Nashville, he spent five seasons as assistant general manager with Ottawa preceded by a stint as a player agent.

“Ray is well-respected throughout the hockey industry and knows what it takes to win,” Lamoriello said in a release from the Devils. “His 22 seasons of NHL front-office experience will be beneficial to the New Jersey Devils organization. I look forward to working alongside Ray.”

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

May 4, 2015 3:35 PM

United States roughs up Rinne in World Championships opener

Pekka Rinne was introduced to one of his future Nashville Predators teammates Friday.

It was not greeting the veteran goalie and Vezina Trophy finalist would have preferred.

Steve Moses, who last month signed a free agent deal that will bring him to Nashville next season, had a goal and an assist for the United States in a 5-1 victory over Finland to open the 2015 IIHF World Championships.

Rinne was Finland’s goalie and allowed four goals in 26 shots. His backup, Juuse Saros, is a 2013 Nashville draft pick.

Moses, who was the Kontinental Hockey League’s leading goal scorer this season, started the scoring with a goal at 19:37 of the opening period. He then had the primary assist on Nick Bonino’s goal, which made it 4-1 at 6:19 of the third period. Moses had one shot on goal in each period.

Defenseman Seth Jones led the United States in ice time at 21:28, and Predators prospect Jimmy Vesey made his national team debut with more than 15 minutes of ice time. Neither had a point.

The next game for the U.S. is Saturday against Norway. Finland faces Denmark on Sunday.

May 1, 2015 11:55 AM

Predators' value to Fisher, Ribeiro goes beyond salary figures

Mike Fisher enjoyed the opportunity to be on the same team as Mike Ribeiro this season. After all, for years they faced (and literally faced off against) one another when Fisher played for Ottawa and Ribeiro was with Montreal.

“He was a great teammate,” Fisher said. “We were drafted together and I played against him for a long time. It was fun to watch him play and be on the same team.”

Now the veteran centers are in the same boat.

Each is scheduled for unrestricted free agency when the current NHL business year expires and each has a unique set of circumstances that likely will make him willing to accept less than market value to return to Nashville for 2015-16 rather than play somewhere else.

For Fisher, of course, Nashville is now home. It is the epicenter of the music industry in which his wife, Carrie Underwood, is a star. Plus, the couple recently welcomed its first child, and the idea of being gone a significant amount of time from October through April cannot be appealing.

“My focus is being here with this group and being a part of this,” Fisher said. “At this point in my career, obviously, your family is No. 1 and you want to win too. I have both here and feeling like we have a great team that’s only going to get better and it’s something I’d love to be a part of.”

For Ribeiro (pictured), Nashville was a chance for him to start over with his wife and children after one season of personal and professional turmoil in Phoenix. The Coyotes bought out his contract following the 2013-14 campaign but still owe him $1.444 million each of the next two seasons and $1.944 million each of the two seasons after that, which provides flexibility in negotiations with Nashville.

“It’s more about who we have to sign too,” Ribeiro said. “There’s key players that we need back. Most of it is veteran players in the middle of their career now that can be really good for this team. And I think we love each other in there. So it’s going to be more of a team concept, thinking about everything and figuring out what’s right.”

PAYDAY
A look at players whose contracts with the Nashville Predators are up at the end of this season:

Unrestricted free agents
Matt Cullen, LW/C, 38 years old (2014-15 salary: $4 million)
Mike Fisher, C, 34 years old (2014-15 salary: $4.2 million)
Mike Ribeiro, C, 35 years old (2014-15 salary: $1.05 million)
Mike Santorelli, RW/C, 29 years old (2014-15 salary: $1.5 million)
Anton Volchenkov, D, 33 years old (2014-15 salary: $1 million)
Cody Franson, D, 27 years old (2014-15 salary: $3.3 million)

Restricted free agents
Taylor Beck, RW, 23 years old (2014-15 salary: $550,000)
Gabriel Bourque, LW, 24 years old (2014-15 salary: $825,000)
Calle Jarnkrok, C, 23 years old (2014-15 salary: $790,000)
Craig Smith, RW, 25 years old (2014-15 salary: $2 million)
Colin Wilson, LW, 25 years old (2014-15 salary: $2.5 million)

Nashville had one of the lowest total payrolls in the league this season at $61.9 million. Fisher was the second highest paid forward with a salary and a cap hit of $4.2 million. Ribeiro was a bargain at $1.05 million (he got another $1.444 million from Arizona).

Currently, the team has just over $15 million committed to forwards for next season. Conversely, six of the top eight defensemen are signed at least through 2015-16.

So there is money to spend on the group of forwards, although it might not take a lot to bring back a couple of them.

“I think (negotiations) will be just about [what is] the right thing to do,” Ribeiro said. “I look forward to it.“

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

May 1, 2015 11:35 AM

Some Predators get to play on after playoff elimination

An early playoff exit means that several Nashville Predators can keep playing.

Franchise officials announced Monday that goalie Pekka Rinne would play for Finland and defenseman Roman Josi and forward Kevin Fiala would play for Switzerland at next month’s World Championships.

Defenseman Seth Jones confirmed that he would play for the United States as well. He was named the tournament’s best defenseman last year. He was the youngest American player on the roster yet led the team in assists (seven) and points (nine).

“It will be good,” Jones said. “I went last year and I’m excited for the experience. … Obviously, it was a long [playoff] series here against Chicago and I’ve had a day or two now to recover and get some sleep.”

The tournament, held this year at Prague and Ostrava, Czech Republic, begins Friday. One of the opening games is the United States against Finland, which means Jones likely will face Rinne, who was named the Most Valuable Player at the 2014 Worlds after he went 6-3 and helped his country earn the silver medal.

He also represented Finland at the 2009 and 2010 Worlds, the latter after a first-round playoff loss to Chicago.

“I was planning on playing way longer [in the NHL] this year,” Rinne said. “To me, I think, the older you get you never know when these opportunities are going to end. I always feel like representing my country is a big honor. Instead of going home and working out and stuff you stay in shape playing games.

“Last year was a great experience for me and hopefully I can repeat that.”

The tournament runs for two and a half weeks with the gold medal game scheduled for May 17.

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Apr 28, 2015 6:31 AM

Dislocated knee had Weber off the ice, 'on the edge' during playoffs

Shea Weber couldn’t find a comfortable spot to watch, and it had nothing to do with the pain in his right knee.

The Nashville Predators captain said he tried several different vantage points from which to view the final four games of the Western Conference quarterfinal series after a knee injury late in Game 2 forced him off the ice. He watched one from the training room at Bridgestone Arena. For another he was in a Chicago hotel room. He said Game 6, when the Blackhawks closed out the series with a 4-3 victory, he was on his couch at home.

None of them put him at ease.

“I was sitting on the edge of whatever I was sitting on the whole time,” he said. “I was definitely way more nervous watching than it is playing. I don’t know why that is. Maybe because you can’t control anything, it’s a different feeling.”

The Predators revealed Monday that Weber sustained a dislocated kneecap that required surgery late last week. The rehabilitation period is expected to be four-six weeks, so there is no concern about his health for the start of next season.

He described the sensation the moment it happened as a ‘snap’ or a ‘pop’ and then immediately was unable to put any weight on it. The same was true when he went to the locker room and addressed the situation with the team’s medical staff.

“It was painful,” he said. “I’ve had some really painful stuff but it was just weird. I just knew something was wrong with my knee and I couldn’t stand on it. You don’t want to jump to conclusions but right away a million thoughts start going through your mind, especially in Game 2 of the playoffs.

“You play all year to get to the best time of the year, which is the playoffs, and now you’re like, ‘Geez, am I done? Can I keep playing?’ You try and stand on it in the locker room and when you can’t, there’s a million things you think about right away.”

It is easy to think the Predators would have fared better with Weber, who was tied for sixth in goals (15) and tied for 16th in points (45) among all NHL defensemen during the regular season.

Without him, they lost three of four games and failed to hold leads. In Game 4, which they lost in triple overtime, they were up 1-0 and 2-1, and in the series clincher they had leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in the first period but could not hang on.

“Obviously, he’s one of the top players in the league and one of the best defensemen in the game,” goalie Pekka Rinne said. “… Missing Shea, that’s huge. It’s that physical element. Power play takes a hit when he’s gone, but I’m still happy how guys responded after that.”
In a way, the response for his teammates was easy. They just kept playing.

For Weber, it was a bit more difficult.

“One of the hardest things when you get injured is you almost don’t feel like you’re a part of the team,” he said. “You’re not out there. You’re not playing. So it’s almost like a separation. I tried to stay as attached as I could with the guys … and tried to offer as much encouragement and help and experience as I could.”

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Apr 28, 2015 6:05 AM

Predators' short playoff run a result of going too far with offensive mindset

It’s a classic case of be careful what you wish for.

The Nashville Predators wanted to be a better offensive team. So they fired coach Barry Trotz after last season and replaced him with Peter Laviolette, who transformed them into an aggressive, always-attacking bunch. They are now the Go-Go Preds.

The question, after they were eliminated from the opening round of the playoffs with a 4-3 loss at Chicago on Saturday, is whether this team is better equipped to go deep into the playoffs than it was under the decidedly defensive-minded Trotz.

Consider this. The Predators lost three times in the six-game series with the Blackhawks after they scored the first goal. That’s the exact number of regulation defeats they had after scoring first in the entire 2013-14 regular season (82 games), the last under Trotz.

Plus, until now Nashville, when scoring first, never had lost more than one playoff game in any given year. The last two times Trotz took this team to the postseason it was a combined 9-1 in games it led 1-0. Not coincidentally, those are the only two times the franchise made it out of the first round.

TAKING THE LEAD
A year-by-year look at Nashville’s playoff record when scoring first:

2015: 1-3
2012: 5-0
2011: 4-1
2010: 1-1
2008: 1-0
2007: 0-1
2006: 0-1
2004: 2-1
Total: 14-8

Simply put: The ability to protect a lead, no matter how small, is paramount to postseason success.

Last season’s champions, the Los Angeles Kings, were 10-2 in the postseason when scoring first and 11-1 when they won it all in 2012. The year in between Chicago was 11-3 en route to the Stanley Cup. In 2011 Boston was 12-1. And so on and so on and so on.

To make matters worse this year, the Predators did not simply score first more often than not this postseason. They scored early and often.

More than half of Nashville’s goals against the Blackhawks (11 of 21) came in the first period. Three of them came in the opener, a double-overtime defeat, and three more were in the series clincher.

No other team, thus far, has scored more than seven in the opening 20 minutes.

Yet the Predators led after the first period just twice – and won only one of them. No lead was safe. Not 3-0 in Game 1. Not 3-1 after just 11:16 of Game 6.

None of this is not to suggest that the decision to go from Trotz to Laviolette was a mistake. It was time for change and the injection of fresh ideas and philosophies undoubtedly fueled the team’s early success, which helped end a two-year playoff drought.

However, the coaches, players and everyone involved should learn from what happened over the last week and half. All the offense is nice, but at some point you have to play defense. You have to stop going forward, hold your ground and even back up on occasion to make sure the other team does not have room to operate.

To put it another way, defensemen have to understand when it’s time to play defense. The fact that Roman Josi and Seth Jones and Shea Weber and Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis can all carry the puck and create an attack that disrupts virtually any defensive system is a real asset.

Chicago got offense from its defensemen too, though. In fact, blue liners scored three of its four game-winning goals (Duncan Keith two, Brent Seabrook one) but much of the rest of the time those same players limited the Predators’ shooters to chances from the perimeter and took care of rebounds when needed.

Keep in mind, the Blackhawks got good goaltending at times but their starter was pulled in half of the games – yet they’re the ones moving on to the second round. It was their team defense, the league’s best during the regular season, that helped them advance.

‘Defense wins championships’ is one of the classic sports clichés for a reason.

What Nashville needs to do now is strike a balance between what they were under Trotz and what they are under Laviolette. Otherwise, they’ll remain what they always have been – a team that can make the playoffs but can’t do much once they’re there.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Apr 27, 2015 5:26 AM

Rinne a rarity with regular Vezina finalist recognition

If performance over the long haul meant anything, Pekka Rinne would be a shoo-in for this year’s Vezina Trophy.

The Nashville Predators netminder, also a finalist in 2011 and 2012, is one of only five goalies to be named a Vezina finalist more than once in the last 10 years (one of three with three or more nods). For this year’s other finalists, who were named Friday, Montreal’s Carey Price and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk, the distinction is something new.

Yet the Vezina Trophy is given annually the NHL’s best goaltender for that particular season, as determined by a vote of the league’s 30 general managers.

The overwhelming opinion throughout the hockey world is that Price, who led the league in wins, goals-against average and save percentage (he was second in shutouts), is certain to relegate Rinne to one of the two runner-up spots once again. Rinne tied for second in wins (41), was third in goals-against average (2.18) and tied for seventh in save percentage.

Three of the other four who have finished among the top three multiple times in the last decade have won at least once. Henrik Lundqvist  of the New York Rangers leads the way as a five-time finalist, and he did not win it until the fourth time (2012).

Fourteen others have been finalists just once, including Price and Dubnyk this year. Among the one-timers are four winners, Tuukka Rask (2014), Sergei Bobrovsky (2013), Ryan Miller (2010) and Miikka Kiprusoff (2006).

SUSTAINED EXCELLENCE
A look at the goalies who have been Vezina Trophy finalists multiple times in the last 10 years (2006-15) and where they finished in the voting each time:

Henrik Lundqvist
2013:
Second
2012: Winner
2008: Third
2007: Third
2006: Third

Martin Brodeur
2010:
Third
2008: Winner
2007: Winner
2006: Second

Pekka Rinne
2015:
TBD
2012: Third
2011: Second

Tim Thomas
2011:
Winner
2009: Winner

Roberto Luongo
2011:
Third
2007: Second

(Photo: Getty Images)

 

Apr 27, 2015 5:25 AM