Continuing in the tradition of "Special Guest Stars," On The Forecheck's Dan Bradley answered three questions about the Nashville Predators.
Kevin (LBC): Sometimes, (OK I’ll admit, most of the time) Pekka Rinne strikes me as the most terrifyingly efficient goaltender in the world. Does he have a weakness? How can he be exploited?
Dan (OTF): The same things that irritate all goaltenders: traffic, deflections, and being deked around by a quick skater. Nashville's defense pinches and likes to join the rush, which allows some breakaway chances. Plus, there are only two bulldozers among Nashville's defensemen.
Kevin: Speaking of terrifying - the Predators play in the NHL’s Central Division. It’s by far the best division in the NHL, and Nashville seems to be hanging onto the third seed by its fingernails despite the eighth best record in the league. Will "just enough" continue to actually "be" enough to qualify for the postseason? In other words, what is the (currently) missing ingredient that would put the Preds over the top into truly elite territory?
Dan: It's the exact missing piece that's held this franchise back since coming into the league: a legit #1 center. David Legwand was never that guy. Jason Arnott was that guy for 1.5 years. Paul Kariya was that guy for two years. Since then, it's been the tragic story of not being good enough to land a UFA target, or not being bad enough to draft that guy. And the one year Nashville was that "bad enough", Seth Jones fell to fourth. Stupid ol' Colorado really messed that up. So until Nashville gets that guy, the Preds are doomed to a purgatory of making the playoffs, but not getting too far. Check out who has won a cup over the last 10 years, and all of those teams have some serious depth down the middle. That's not Nashville.
Kevin: Two of Nashville’s best young players are Filip Forsberg and Seth Jones. Neither is making more than $1 million this season. Do you foresee the Predators being able to retain both of them along with Pekka Rinne ($7 million) and Shea Weber ($14 million)?
Dan: Yes. Forsberg will be the one on a longer term deal, and Jones (unless traded to address the center issue) will be on a bridge deal. The trouble going into this year was retaining Mattias Ekholm with those other two contracts looming. But with Ekholm out of the way and signed to yet another amazing contract (thanks, Mr. Poile) there's little doubt that they'll both be back, barring a trade. I personally am okay with Jones or Ryan Ellis (signed to a $2.5M AAV deal for the next few seasons) being traded to lure in that elusive 1C, mostly because this team is wasting prime years of Rinne and Weber without one. That hurts, but that's the best solution.
From an outsider's opinion, we all admire the Panthers' patience and planning with their current build. Barkov and Bjugstad is a very good tandem of centers, and the defense is deep and talented. Good drafting and patient development will allow them to contend before too long. It's the exact opposite of what Columbus and other teams have done when they've tried to rush players who weren't ready.
I'd like to thank Dan and our compadres at OTF for his answers. Tune in tonight, here at 7:30 for the GameThread. In the meantime, check out On the Forecheck for more Predators goodness.