They're back! Many Predators were practicing today and more will join the ranks tomorrow as their busses, trains and planes arrive in Nashville from Milwaukee and the rest of the world.
It's a very exciting week for the many of us who will not be boycotting the NHL as we may or may not have guaranteed to do out of sheer anger and frustration over the past four months of a hockey void.
But now that we're ready to go, let's take a look at the projected lines for Nashville's NHL franchise.
Top Pair: Weber - Josi
2nd Pair: Gill - Klein
3rd Pair: Ellis - Hannan
The Preds lost a lot of players this summer, none of whom will I mention in this post because I think we're all already bitter enough. Players on the defensive line are going to have some major stepping up to do to make up for changes in personnel. I don't believe Gill or Hannan will grace the top pairing, mostly due to their age and durability. I think most likely the top pair will be Weber and Josi. Josi shows a lot of promise and plays a defensive game. He can be a responsible defender if he puts his mind to it. Out of the possible candidates I believe his style best complements Weber's.
For the second line I am thinking of Gill and Klein. They shared some ice time during the last playoffs and didn't look bad doing it. Finally I think Ellis will be a regular started with Hannan and Blum cycling in and out. It's time for Ellis to step up and hopefully he will. He was our first round pick and many fans feel like we haven't been getting our money's worth yet. I am not sure Hannan is the pick up the Predators needed; time will tell I suppose. If he doesn't work out, I believe Blum is more than capable of being a permanent bottom pair defender.
Erat - Fisher - Kostitsyn
Hornqvist - Legwand - Smith
Bourque - Gaustad - Halischuk
Wilson - Spaling - McGrattan
Scratch - Yip
We didn't lose too much offensively, we have more or less reverted back to our 2012 post Trade Deadline days. Luckily I don't see change in our top two lines. Smith should be able to provide consistence on the second line. He was off to a great start last year but tailed off after mid-season. Hopefully this year he will be better conditionned to give us a full year.
Legwand could be iffy as a second line center. At 32 it will be interesting to see how much longer he can maintain his consistency. If it's looking shotty than a younger Spaling could step into the second line center role. Alternatively, depending on how healthy he can stay, Gaustad would be a really strong second line center.
I think this is the make or break season for Colin Wilson and Matt Halischuk. Both can be very talented forwards but are having a hard time fitting into Trotz defence first system. I think they will both be able to experience better seasons this year. But if they don't I wouldn't expect them to be Predators for another season.
Back up: Mason
There's no question on who our go to goaltender is, but there is question about Chris Mason's role this season. Will Mason be able to provide the release necessary to help Rinne get some rest? Lindback was used sparingly last season, yet he was a pretty promising backup. Rinne has already played 22 games in Russia this season, which, granted, is probable less than he would have played here.