Get the catfish ready and plan the parade on Broadway. The Nashville Predators are going to win the 2018 Stanley Cup.
The Nashville Predators came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the 2016-17 Stanley Cup playoffs.
This season will be a different story.
The Predators’ journey begins Thursday, April 12. The Presidents’ Trophy winners, who finished the season 53-18-11 with 117 points, will bring the Stanley Cup to Nashville this season for these five reasons.
5. Pekka Rinne for Vezina 2018
Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne is a favorite to win this year’s Vezina Trophy. It should not come as a surprise, as Rinne has been among the top goalies in the league for several years. This is the best team that Rinne has had in front of him and his numbers show it. His top-level play is one of the many reasons the Nashville Predators will win this year’s Stanley Cup.
When it comes to stats, Rinne is one of the best in the league. He is currently third in the league with 42 wins and carries only 13 losses. His dominant play is one of the top reasons the Nashville Predators are leading the chase for the President’s Trophy. Games are easy to win when you only need to score one goal. Rinne was able to help his offense out by posting a league-high with eight shutouts.
As the playoffs begin, the Predators will be relying on Rinne keeping his Vezina form. When he is on his game is one of the best in the game. Teams will have a difficult enough time getting into the offensive zone with Nashville’s great defense. It gets even harder when they need to face a goalie like Rinne. One of his most underrated abilities is playing the puck. At times he can seem like a third defenseman. He is great at making breakout passes that give opposing teams less time to make line changes or set up a good forecheck. His ability to play the puck is one of the reasons that Nashville is one of the best transition teams in the league.
Pekka Rinne’s Vezina level play is one of the reasons that the Nashville Predators will be Stanley Cup Champions.
4. The best defensive core in the league
Night in and night out Nashville is able to start the best group of six defensemen in the league. Many teams looking to build their organization should take notice of how general manager David Poile has done it. Nashville has always had great depth on its blue line in Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Dan Hamhuis. Poile also knows when it is time to refresh his core on defense. All three of those defensemen were let go at some point during the franchise’s history.
Today’s team features plenty of starpower all on its own. The player that every hockey fan knows is P.K. Subban and for good reason. Subban is in the top 10 in points scored by defensemen and is a dynamic personality both on and off the ice. This team is much more than Subban. Often overshadowed by Subban is Roman Josi. Josi has been steady for Nashville for a long time. After being drafted in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft, Josi was able to learn by playing with Shea Weber. But wait — there’s more. Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are two great depth defenseman who give Nashville so many possible combinations. None of its defensemen are worn down during the regular season with high minutes of ice time.
Every year depth is a major factor to a long playoff run. Nashville’s blue line is one of the deepest in the league. If Nashville is going to run into injuries on the blue line during its push for the Stanley Cup, the Preds will be ready for it. Their top four is strong; Alexi Emelin and Matt Irwin are good bottom pair defensemen. If they are injured or playing poorly, Anthony Bitetto and Yannick Weber are strong options to fill in. The options that Nashville has on defense are unmatched by any team in the playoffs, and it will be one of the reasons they win this year’s Stanley Cup.
3. Plenty of options at center
The Predators are strong on defense; however, their depth at center is even more impressive. Strong play by centers can make or break a team’s chances in the playoffs. It is one of the most important positions on the ice and Nashville has five good ones. Because of this, when the Predators are healthy they can slide a player to the wing. As the playoffs roll on and players get injured the depth players take on expanded roles. All five of the centers on the Nashville Predators can play effectively; their great level of play allows for the Predators to have a high level of lineup flexibility.
It all starts with Ryan Johansen. The young center was added to the team in a blockbuster trade for Seth Jones, and has been great for Nashville since he arrived. His production was not the same as last season, but he has carried the load of top-line center minutes. Last playoffs Johansen suffered a season-ending injury in the Western Conference finals and the team struggled in his absences ultimately losing in the Stanley Cup Final.
Last season the Predators did not have the same level of depth as right now. The addition of Nick Bonino is the offseason and Kyle Turris in a midseason trade are a major boost to the lineup. Not to mention the Predators got a free addition at the trade deadline when Mike Fisher came out of retirement. The depth at center and the flexibility the Predators have will be another major factor when the Predators win the Stanley Cup.
2. Last season’s heartbreak equals success this year
Last year, the Nashville Predators had a great season. They were able to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, but lost in six games. Over the course of their playoff journey, they created one of the greatest atmospheres in the league. Nashville became one of the best hockey cities in the league. Celebrities filled the rink, sang the national anthem and even held catfish. The previous experience of last season will only help Nashville this year.
The Predators dominated the Western Conference last season in the playoffs. They opened the first round with a sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks. Then they moved on to play the St. Louis Blues — after beating the Blues in six games, the Predators moved to the Western Conference finals. No one predicted the Predators would make it that far because they qualified as a wild-card team. Even after the losses of Kevin Fiala and Ryan Johansen, the Predators were able to beat the Anaheim Ducks and advance to the finals.
Even though the Predators did not win the Cup, they gained valuable playoff experience. This year they will not face any new challenges they haven’t seen before. One of the few things that will be different from last year will be helpful for the Predators is home-ice advantage. The Nashville Predators clinched the Presidents’ Trophy, meaning they will have home ice advantage in every round. As the hockey world found out last season, Nashville is one of the best atmospheres in the league. Any extra home games will be a boost for Nashville.
1. X Factor: Eeli Tolvanen
The Predators’ roster is so deep that Eeli Tolvanen cannot crack the lineup. This is a very good problem for the Predators to have. Tolvanen is a former first-round pick who had a great season in the KHL as an 18-year-old. He finished the year in Russia with 38 points in 51 games. Nashville signed Tolvanen to an NHL contract once his season was over. He has only played three games for the Predators so far, and has been held without a point. They are such a deep team with talent in every position that Tolvanen is developing slowly and not being forced into the lineup.
How can a player with no points and next to no experience be an X Factor? Because injuries are going to happen. It is the playoffs and no team stay healthy for the whole thing. The other thing that happens every season is a player has a breakout performance. Tolvanen is the perfect candidate for both situations. It is a great luxury for Nashville to be able to plug in a player with the talent of Tolvanen. Once Tolvanen makes the lineup he will make it incredibly difficult for the Predators to take him out. He can follow the path of Kevin Fiala last season and have his breakout moment in the playoffs and carry that momentum into next season.