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Season preview: Nashville Predators

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Season preview: Nashville Predators

To get you ready for the 2015-16 season, we will be previewing all 30 NHL in 30 days, division by division. Check the bottom of the page for a schedule of each preview.

Today’s team: Nashville Predators

2014-15 record: 47-25-10, 2nd in the Central

How they finished: Lost in 6 games to Chicago in the Western Conference Quarterfinals

Coach: Peter Laviolette (2nd season)

Notable additions: C Cody Hodgson, D Barret Jackman

Notable subtractions: C Matt Cullen, D Anton Volchenkov, D Cody Franson, C Mike Santorelli

RELATED: Projecting the Caps' lineup: Offensive lines

Schedule against the Capitals: Tue. Feb. 9 at Nashville, Fri. Mar. 18 at Washington

Outlook: Pekka RInne was having a Vezina caliber season last year before he suffered an injury midway through the season and he never looked the same. Nashville fell from the top team in the Western Conference to second place in their division. His health this year is the most important factor for a Predators' team that changed little in the course of the offseason.

The Predators re-signed Mike Ribeiro after a sparkling season, but he has been incredibly inconsistent throughout his career. It's hard to trust a team with him as their top line center, even if it is between Filip Forsberg and James Neal. If Ribeiro doesn't work out, the team could always turn to Mike Fisher...who is 35. Clearly his 50 point seasons are behind him.

Defensively, the Predators did improve, albeit slightly, by subtracting Anton Volchenkov and adding Barret Jackman. 

The best thing you can say about Nashville this offseason is that they didn't get worse which doesn't sound like high praise until you look around at the rest of the conference.

Expectations: Nashville has a good roster and with Rinne on top of his game it can be great, but it does not look like a championship team. Having said that, the Predators showed their potential last season. Imagine if Rinne had not gotten injured and played as well as he did at the start of the season, they could have made a run all the way to the Finals.

Look at the rest of the conference. Anaheim is the favorite but untrustworthy in the playoffs, Chicago overhauled their roster to stay under the salary cap and St. Louis took a step back unless you consider Troy Brouwer an upgrade over T.J. Oshie.

This isn't a roster I completely trust, but you can't argue with Rinne and after seeing how things came together last season, Nashville could make a deep postseason run.

MORE CAPS: Projecting the Caps' lineup: Defense and goaltending

See more team previews:

Pacific Division 
Anaheim Ducks 
Arizona Coyotes 
Calgary Flames 
Edmonton Oilers 
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks 
Vancouver Canucks

Central Division 
Chicago Blackhawks 
Colorado Avalanche
Dallas Stars
Minnesota Wild
St. Louis Blues 8/13 
Winnipeg Jets 8/14

Atlantic Division 
Boston Bruins 8/15 
Buffalo Sabres 8/16 
Detroit Red Wings 8/17 
Florida Panthers 8/18 
Montreal Canadiens 8/19 
Ottawa Senators 8/20
Tampa Bay Lightning 8/21 
Toronto Maple Leafs 8/22

Metropolitan Division 
Carolina Hurricanes 8/23 
Columbus Blue Jackets 8/24 
New Jersey Devils 8/25 
New York Islanders 8/26 
New York Rangers 8/27 
Philadelphia Flyers 8/28 
Pittsburgh Penguins 8/29 
Washington Capitals 8/30

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Former Capital John Erskine charged in driving accident

Former Capital John Erskine charged in driving accident

Former Capitals defenseman John Erskine has been formally charged by the Ontario Provincial Police for his role in a car crash in May.

According to the Kingston Whig-Standard, the charges against Erskine include dangerous driving, impaired driving and driving a vehicle with more than the legal limit of alcohol in his system.

The accident, which occurred in May, left Erskine severely injured after reports surfaced of a pickup truck driving the wrong way and crashing into a transport truck on Highway 401 in Ontario. The driver of the transport truck was not injured. Erskine is scheduled to appear in the Ontario Court of Justice in Napanee on Nov. 19.

Erskine scored 49 points and spent eight seasons with the Caps from 2006 through 2014 and played 350 of his 491 career NHL games with Washington.

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Who will the Caps' protect in the expansion draft? Breaking down The Hockey News' projection

Who will the Caps' protect in the expansion draft? Breaking down The Hockey News' projection

Just like with Vegas, the Seattle expansion draft is fascinating. There are so many different factors to consider when thinking about who teams will want to protect and who Seattle could be interested in. I can’t get enough. So of course when The Hockey News publishes a projection of the Caps’ 2021 protection list, I’m all over it.

As a refresher, the Seattle expansion draft will have the same rules as in 2017. Seattle will select one player from each team, except Vegas which is exempt. Teams will have the option of protecting either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight total skaters and one goalie.

Making a protected list for 2021 requires a few projections to be made just with the Caps’ roster itself. For the purpose of this exercise, Steven Ellis, who wrote the projection, assumes all restricted free agents will remain with the team. Unrestricted free agents are either left off the list or kept with their current team. Nicklas Backstrom, for example, is considered a Capital based on the likely scenario that he is re-signed.

You can read the full projection and explanation here.

Ellis makes the correct assumption that the Caps will protect seven forwards and three defensemen over eight skaters. Protecting eight skaters only makes sense if you have a handful of star defensemen who must be protected. The vast majority of teams will elect the option of protecting 10 skaters instead of eight and the Caps should be no exception.

Keeping all that in mind, let's breakdown Ellis' list by position.

Goalie
Ilya Samsonov

Knowing that Father Time is undefeated and that the team’s top prospect is a goalie, Samsonov seems the likely choice here. The one quibble I have is the notion that Holtby is still with Washington and left exposed. Ellis acknowledges in his reasoning that keeping Holtby would be difficult, but he seems to assume that they will and keep him as the main starter before exposing him in 2021.

That is not going to happen.

Washington’s salary cap situation is going to make it nearly impossible to re-sign Holtby, but if he does re-sign it will be at the expense of Samsonov and not in tandem with him. You do not give the type of contract Holtby will command to a player you intend to replace in another year. If you are Holtby, you do not accept that contract without some sort of guarantee the team is committed to you long-term. For most teams that would result in a no-movement clause, but Holtby will not get one because MacLellan simply does not give them out. There is no player currently on the Capitals roster who has one and there were no players who had one in the 2017 expansion draft.

Also, if the Caps do somehow manage to convince Holtby to sign at a number the team can afford and without a no-movement clause, you do not simply leave him exposed and let him get taken for nothing. If he walks after this season as a free agent, fine, but there is no way he re-signs just to be exposed later. It makes no sense for the team or the player.

Defensemen
John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov
Michal Kempny

As per the rules, we are assuming Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos are still with the team and Radko Gudas is not. Also, per my understanding, Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary should be exempt as second-year players.

Let's get two things out of the way. First, Carlson will and should be protected. He would have to decline to a precipitous degree for this even to be worth discussing and if he does, he won’t be taken anyway. He will be protected, end of story.

Second, let's relax with the Orlov hate.

I am not an Orlov hater. I know a lot of people reading this projection will say Orlov is not worth protecting and this will be a good way to get out from the last two years of his contract and his $5.1 million cap hit. Orlov absolutely has top-four skill and if you don’t believe that, there’s nothing more I can do to convince you. The sample size is large enough at this point that you either believe it or you don’t.

Given his cap hit, this is another player whose future will be decided before 2021. By that point, Orlov will either have shown that he is worth protecting or he will have been moved already. With how tight the team is against the cap, I do not think MacLellan will wait until the expansion draft and keep his fingers crossed Orlov gets taken. When I see Orlov still on the team in 2021, I have to agree with Ellis and protect him.

That leaves one more spot. I am taking Djoos out of it as he is under-sized and looks more and more like a third-pair NHL defenseman. Jensen has value as not only a top-four player but a right-shot one to boot. Given how he struggled last season after getting acquired by Washington, I think it is reasonable at this point to assume that Kempny or Siegenthaler may be more valuable to the team by 2021.

I am very high on Siegenthaler’s potential and he will only be 24 by the time of the expansion draft. Kempny will turn 31 before the start of the 2021-22 season. Add in the fact that he will be entering the final year of his contract, I would lean more towards protecting Seigenthaler over him.

Forwards
Nicklas Backstrom
Lars Eller
Carl Hagelin
Evgeny Kuznetsov
Alex Ovechkin
Jakub Vrana
Tom Wilson

It should first be noted that this projection was done before the unfortunate news of Kuznetsov’s IIHF suspension after testing positive for cocaine. There certainly is growing scrutiny around him, but I do not think it changes much. I have the same opinion of Kuznetsov as I do about Orlov. If the team wants to move on from him, they will have decided to do so long before 2021. If he remains with the Caps by the time of the expansion draft it will be because he has rebounded and put his troubles behind him. Since we are assuming he is still a Capital for this exercise, I am still protecting him.

Like Ellis, I believe MacLellan will be able to re-sign both Ovechkin and Backstrom and if he does, both will be protected. Even if both players are starting to show signs of decline, they will be big enough names to garner interest from Seattle and you have to protect them because of what they mean to the franchise.

I only have one quibble with Ellis’ forward list and that is Hagelin. Hagelin will be 33 by the start of the 2021-22 season. Protecting a bottom-six winger who is 33 is a tough sell for me, especially given that his greatest attribute is his speed. When he starts to decline, it is going to happen fast. Richard Panik may be entering his first season as a Cap, but he is three years younger than Hagelin so he would be my pick.

That means Oshie is left unprotected. Oshie will be 34 by that point, he'll still have a whopping four more years left on his contract at $5.75 million and, given the way he plays, he is going to have a heck of a lot of tread on those tires. He is not going to be top-six Oshie at that point in his career and unfortunately probably will not be living up to his cap hit either. You leave him exposed because he probably won't be taken and even if he is, it may save you from what will probably be some rough years at the end of that contract.

So there you have it. Overall, a pretty good job by Ellis and I would only add only some minor tweaks, namely replace Hagelin with Panik, Kempny with Siegenthaler and do not assume Holtby will be exposed because he will be gone by that point and the era of Samsonov will have already begun.

No doubt this projection is going to change multiple times before 2021, but that’s what makes the expansion draft so fun.

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