Welcome to the first installment of Five Thoughts For Friday. For those of you who are experiencing some feeling of deja vu, fear not as I used to do this piece over at the other Nashville Predators blog I wrote for. So, if you’re in the know, congratulations and thanks for sticking with me.
For those of you who are new, here’s how this works. It’s a Predators’ themed rip off of Elliotte Friedman’s “31 Thoughts”, where I start off with an opening paragraph that will address something current, then I’ll write five thoughts of mine over the past week or so. Three or more will always be about the Predators and the rest will be about random goings on in the NHL, AHL, CHL or European leagues. My thoughts will be as short as 5 words while also being as long as 1000. There’s a method to the madness, I swear. With that out of the way, let’s get started.
1. Disappointment In Nashville
I personally went to the Tuesday night game against the Carolina Hurricanes, and I have to say, everything looked about right. The Predators roster featured a bunch of NHL players who had their spot locked up while Carolina featured mostly rookies and players younger than 24 years old.
It was a classic Always Hungry League (AHL) vs Never Hungry League (NHL) matchup, where the hungry team won. Despite the lack of desire in a pre-season game, what scared me was the strategy on display. The Predators kept banging their head against the wall by sending their wings out of the defensive zone before possession was established. Its woeful attempt to draw the defense out of place, but it doesn’t always work. What it consistently does is create an odd man situation in their defensive zone, which can easily stab them in the back. I see what they’re trying to do, but NHL defenses are too good to be fooled. The Hurricanes tried a similar strategy, but the main difference was that their wingers stayed glued to their post until their defensemen or center controlled the puck. This idea of establishing possession before stretching out the defense worked wonders for the Hurricanes, while also proving too complex for the Predators.
I was really hoping Peter Laviolette would adjust his system over the summer, but alas, he seems content re-define insanity. Granted, it’s only the pre-season, so it might’ve been a fluke.
2. Ryan Ellis’ New Deal
6.25 million dollars per year is probably the most fair deal the Predators could’ve signed Ellis for. What’s curious is the lack of no movement or trade clause. It would lead me to suspect that Ellis will likely be on the exposed block once Seattle comes knocking, although both P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm will need new deals in the following years.
I don’t know a ton, but I do know that 6.25 is going to look better and better as each year passes. The lack of no movement clause is definitely not nothing, but the guaranteed money and term is a weapon in this instance. The truth is that we don’t know what will happen in the next two years, and something could chance quite quickly. If you don’t believe me, look at the Ottawa Senators who went from one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final to being a literal garbage fire within a 12-month period.
Nevertheless, Ellis’ new deal should be a point of pride for David Poile and the Predators as a whole. Sure, there is still uncertainty in the coming years, but that exists for every team.
3. Speaking of Ottawa…
For as much smack as I talk to Ottawa, I really do love them. Their 90’s and 2000’s sweaters were incredible and their fans are some of the best in the NHL. And before anyone says, “how can they be best when they don’t show up?”, watch these videos and tell me their fanbase isn’t awesome! Make sure to look at the 2:00 minute mark of the first video and remember, this was made 10 years ago. The second video is an instant classic that needs no introduction. Both have rough language, so be careful.
I don’t know what else to say about the Senators, except that their situation might only solved by what saved the Chicago Blackhawks all those years ago. In the meantime, Brady Tkachuk is a good young player and I genuinely like Thomas Chabot, even if I’m not as high on him as I used to be. Tkachuk will look great down with the London Knights this year, as he plays alongside fellow top 10 picks, Evan Bouchard and Adam Boqvist.
If I had to choose between watching the Knights, the Belleville Senators (AHL), or the Sens, I’d pick London all day. The only bright spots on the Senators roster is Mark Stone (an elite under appreciated two way talent) and Matt Duchene, who might be the unluckiest man in the world.
4. Eeli Tolvanen On His Way North
Eeli Tolvanen made me watch a few KHL games last year and for that, I’ll never forgive him. On a more serious note, his talent is undeniable but so is his recent play. He’s been underwhelming at best, but he also hasn’t given me any reasons to dislike his game. His defensive positioning was better than I thought it’d be, but his lack of offense in general was disturbing.
Tolvanen’s possession numbers are extremely average, his high danger numbers are just above worrisome, but his zone starts are what’s most puzzling. The sample size is unforgivably small, but he’s started in the offensive zone less than 38% of the time, too low for an offensive player that needs to score to build his confidence.
The lack of points is understandable, but there are other things that worry me. He only produced three shots in four games off of eight attempts and six unblocked attempts, at five on five. What comforts me is that he created six scoring chances including four high danger chances.
Tolvanen is going to be a good player one day, but he’s clearly not ready. I think a year or two in Milwaukee would do him good, but he could decide to bolt to the KHL after 10 games. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him go play for his hometown team, Jokerit, as the call of home cooking can be difficult to ignore. Time will tell, and I’m sure all will work out for the best.
5. The Best Defense In The West
The Nashville Predators had the best defense in the NHL till September 13th, when Erik Karlsson became a San Jose Shark. Don’t agree with me? Let’s go through it player by player.
Subban is a top three defenseman in the NHL, but Karlsson is easily a generational talent who we haven’t seen the likes of since Nick Lindstrom retired. Roman Josi is also a stud, but Brent Burns is a better point producer while also being less bad (no, I don’t mean better) on defense. Mattias Ekholm is also a defensive stud, but Marc-Edouard Vlasic literally changed how shutdown defense is played. He’s like if Ekholm was a little smaller, but faster and much smarter. His defensive play cannot be understated. I will happily admit that Ryan Ellis is better than Justin Braun, but Braun isn’t a slouch by any means.
Then there are the bottom pairs… The Predators bottom pair received a huge upgrade when Dan Hamhuis came on board, but either Yannick Weber or Matt Irwin will be filling in that last spot. I’m sure I don’t have to get into why that’s not necessarily a good thing. The Sharks, on the other hand, have Joakim Ryan and Brenden Dillon. Ryan is coming off a decent rookie season and Dillon has been a steady presence on the back end for the Sharks for years. The Sharks win this one for me as well.
One of the big aspects of this argument will rely on the line combinations. If the Predators continue to give the third pair sheltered minutes, they’re going to have a tough time. But the Sharks have the chance to always have a Norris Candidate on the ice at all times. A pair of Ryan-Burns, Vlasic-Braun (best shutdown pair in the game), or Dillon-Karlsson could be out there for every minute of every game. That must be terrfying for other clubs, although it looks like Vlasic and Karlsson will be a pair to start the season.
This is a scary time for the Predators. Their unmatched strength is now being tested by a team in their own conference. Things aren’t getting easier in the thunderdome, that’s for sure.