NHLN Notebook: Predators finding themselves, Wild expansion issues, and a Shootout controversy

Christian Pagnani
January 23 2017 12:50PM

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The NHLN Notebook is a semi-regular feature of interesting hockey content from the past few days that doesn't quite deserve its own article. 

The Nashville Predators are finally getting things figured out after a forgettable start, and are looking like the team that was projected by many to be a Stanley Cup Contender. The Leafs lost to the Sens in a shootout, causing Leafs Twitter to question the validity of a skills competition deciding games. And finally, the Minnesota Wild have a wealth of solid blue liners on their roster, but with expansion looming, they're at risk of losing some of them for nothing. 

NASHVILLE HEATING UP

After a slow start and injuries to some of their top players, the Nashville Predators are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. The Predators seemed like a surefire playoff team after making two of the highest profile trades last season. The Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen deal allowed the Predators to deal from a position of strength to fill a desperate need at centre. Johansen gave them someone to compete against other centers and he's providing that after a slow start himself. Trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban also let them turn the clock back four years on their top pairing right-handed blue liner. Weber and Subban may play differently stylisticaly and the arguement can be made for either, but they're both top defensemen and Nashville decided to bet on the younger, mobile defensemen. 

Nashville has had injury troubles, but they're getting healthier and Rinne is having another strong season after last year's poor outing. The Predators also have a young Finnish goaltender in Juuse Saros, who has been lights out in the American Hockey League and hasn't skipped a beat when promoted to the NHL. Add in young surprises like Viktor Arvidsson with Fillip Forsberg getting hot and Nashville could be one of the biggest threats down the home stretch of the season.

Buyers or Sellers?

The Predators are heating up and will likely be buyers at this March 1st trade deadline, but who are the sellers? Colorado and Arizona are clear sellers, both teams are more than 16 points out of the last playoff spot and should be going into full selloff mode to accumulate assets. 

The rest are a little murkier. Every other team, Western or Eastern conference, is within five points of a playoff spot, although that's with a various amounts of games played. The NHL's new scheduled bye week has Toronto currently one point back of Boston with six less games played. Ottawa has five less games played than Boston, but are three points up. Boston is a lot less secure than they seem, but the points system has made it appear that almost every team has a fighting chance at the playoffs with almost two thirds of the season completed. 

Every team is still somewhat in it, but it'll make for an interesting deadline as teams either believe they can make up the distance or shut it down for the year and build for the draft instead. 

SHOOTOUT SPECIALISTS

As great as 3-on-3 overtime has been, shootouts still exist and provide an opportunity to showcase league's best talent to win a game. Except, the shootout stars aren't exactly names that would reflect that. Claude Giroux has had the most shootout attempts with nine but only has three successful shots. Other names high up on that list include Mark Letestu, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Cousins, and even a defensemen, Jaccob Slavin.

Edmonton has participated in seven shootouts, but McDavid has only made an appearance in three of them. In fact, Todd McLellan put Mark Letestu and Patrick Maroon out as his first two shooters against Nashville last Friday. Crosby has only two attempts this, same with Toews and Getzlaf. Tom Pyatt scored the winner against Toronto on Saturday, and he has 33 career goals.

In terms of the shootout, the stars sometime take a backseat to the shootout specialists making a strong argument for games to be decided differently. 

MINNESOTA'S DEFENSE AND THE EXPANSION DRAFT

With expansion looming ahead and every team wanting to add either a top-six forward or a top-four defensemen, the Minnesota Wild are a crucial team to follow. The Wild have a ton of players who need to be protected and one of the more vulnerable teams in terms of losing a really good player.

Going with the 7-3-1 route means of one their defensemen is heading to Las Vegas, and it could be either Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba, assuming the first two are Ryan Suter (NMC) and Jared Spurgeon (2nd in TOI). That's without even mentioning Marco Scandella, who might be left unprotected regardless of which protection option they take. 

Things get easier if the Wild get Jason Pominville to waive his no-move clause and allow them to retain the bulk of their forward group since Vegas probably doesn't touch his contract anyways, but the defense still remains a huge issue. The Wild could try and make a deal with Vegas to take a different player, but if the Golden Knights want to be competitive, a young, top-four defensemen does a lot more than draft picks do. 

Chuck Fletcher will have to do some serious manoeuvring to maintain his team's top blue line.

Stats from hockey-reference.com.

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I like to read and write about sports. I'm @chrispagnani on Twitter.