Division Rivals – A Q&A With Predlines


March 30, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher (12) and Detroit Red Wings center Valtteri Filppula (51) prepare to face-off in the second period at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Kirk, the editor of the Nashville Predators FanSided site Predlines was kind enough to answer a few questions about the state of the Predators. I wanted to know how Predators fans feel about the division and their team this season.  Here are his thoughts on how the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators will match-up this season, with a little commentary from me of course.

Will Pekka Rinne be able to duplicate the success he had last season?

I think that Pekka is more than capable of duplicating last season’s success. His 2010-11 campaign was actually a more impressive season from him than last year’s, with a higher save percentage and lower GAA. There’s no reason to believe his performance level is going to take a sharp turn.

I think chances are good that Pekka will either match or better last season’s results (prorated for the short schedule) in 2013. The key is the workload he’ll be asked to carry. In his more impressive 2010-11 season, he “only” played in 64 games. That’s significantly less than the 73 he played last year, which I think is one reason he had better numbers in ’10-11. This year he also has a proven veteran backup in Chris Mason, who is an immediate upgrade over the talented but unseasoned (and now departed) Anders Lindback, so the coaches won’t be afraid to let Pekka rest when he needs it. I expect that will only help his numbers as well.

Me: Rinne is a great goalie, but will the loss of Ryan Suter affect him? No, it probably won’t.

How will the Predators minimize the loses of Ryan Suter, Alexander Radulov, and Andrei Kostitsyn?

One of those players was a loss, and the others were experiments in team chemistry that just didn’t work out.

Ryan Suter was one of the cornerstones of Nashville’s franchise for years so it’s fair to wonder what the team will do to replace him. The short answer is that they won’t replace him. Instead they’ll look to spread out his contributions among a number of players. Think of how the Oakland A’s attacked the problem of losing Johnny Damon in Moneyball by spreading those needed contributions around other positions. That’s how Nashville is approaching its situation on defense with Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis. I think Josi will adapt quickly to playing on the top pair alongside Weber. After all, Weber made Suter a better player just as much as vice versa. Ryan Ellis should fill in for Suter just fine on the power play unit, since it’s one situation where his size disadvantage is lessened.

One overlooked aspect on Nashville’s defense in the absence of Suter is the presence of Hal Gill. He arrived a few weeks before the trading deadline and instantly made Nashville a better team. He was paired with Roman Josi and the leap forward in the young defender’s game were evident as he learned from the veteran. Gill will be able to relieve the top pair of having to bear so many minutes the way Weber and Suter did last season, and he’ll be an excellent mentor to Ellis on the third pairing.

As for Radulov and AK46, Nashville is better off with them gone. In January and February, before either of them arrived, the Preds went 16-5-3. Nashville’s 12-7-1 record after their arrival was still a winner, but not so definitively as without them. Besides, their arrival so late in the season created a logjam at forward that held some of Nashville’s rising talent back. Colin Wilson had just begun to come on and produce the way fans here in Nashville have hoped for, he had to take a back seat to the rentals. He had 11 points in 22 games from January 7th to February 25th but only grabbed 2 in limited playing time for the rest of the season. Then there’s Craig Smith, who scored at nearly a point-per-game pace at the start of ’11-12 and helped the Preds stay afloat in a rough stretch.

Me: Yes the human pylon will make things all better for Nashville. While Gill is holding down Nashville I am sure a few more bars popped up when Radulov and AK46 touched down in Russia.

Who will win the series between the Red Wings and Predators this season?

Nashville has had the edge in the series at 7-4-1 the last two seasons. (Plus there was that five-game playoff victory.) So even before losing the skill, experience, and leadership of Nicklas Lidstrom, the Wings were losing to the Preds more often than not. With only four games between the teams in this Frankenschedule, I think the most likely splits for Nashville against Detroit are either 3-1-0 or 2-1-1.

Me: Expect more of this,  this season. 

Which Red Wing player are you most afraid of playing against this season?

I hate seeing Pavel Datsyuk on the ice because I hate having to root against a player who’s so skilled and likeable  There aren’t many players who have his combination of a intelligence, work ethic, and an ability to just make everything look so easy. It’s clear that he sees the game on a level that mortals just don’t have access to. I’d never say that I hope he stays over in the KHL, but if he did decide to…well, I would like Nashville’s chances better than I already do.

Me: They don’t call him the Magic Man for nothing.

With Jordin Tootoo now a Detroit Red Wing, who will take over his role with the Predators?

In the short term I don’t think anyone is a direct on-ice replacement for the exact role he played here. Long-term, I think that role will fall to Michael Latta, who’s currently playing in Milwaukee and is probably still about a year away from seeing any regular action in Nashville. He’s actually more of an offensive than Tootoo ever was and has more size as well. I’m looking forward to his arrival here.

The real place I think the Preds will miss Tootoo is with casual fans. It might sound funny outside of Nashville since Toots isn’t a traditional skill player, but the fact is that he put a lot of butts in Bridgestone Arena seats for a lot of years. He was especially popular with kids – ask any Preds fan under 10 who his favorite player was and it’s even money to be Tootoo. You can’t just replace that kind of presence in the fans’ hearts overnight.

Me: Just please no whistles.

How do you feel the Predators will do this season and where will they end up in the standings? (Central/Western)

In my Central Division predictions, I have the Preds finishing 2nd in the Central (behind St. Louis) and 4th overall in the Western Conference. They have the talent and the coaching to outdo that prediction and win the Central. They also play in a tough enough division that they could pick up three fewer points than I’m predicting and finish 3rd or 4th. I’m sticking with my prediction, but I will say that it’s going to be a lot of fun seeing how it all shakes out.

Me: Trotz is a very good coach and has done a lot with the Predators, but Nashville is young and not ready for the grind of a shortened season.

A big thank you to Jason Kirk and Predlines for taking the time to answer these questions. If you would like to learn more about our division rivals the Nashville Predators, head on over to Predlines.