(Sports Network) - The Nashville Predators spent most of the offseason re-
signing their own players, but couldn't keep one of the game's top defenseman
in the fold.
The Columbus Blue Jackets faced a similar problem in being forced to deal
their franchise player, Rick Nash.
The Preds hope that still having goaltender Pekka Rinne and defenseman Shea
Weber in the mix will be enough for a return to the playoffs and they begin
this shortened season on Saturday night against the Blue Jackets.
Nashville was a playoff team for the seventh time in eight seasons in 2011-12
and some trade deadline moves had the club considered as a serious contender.
The Predators lived up to the hype with a first-round victory over the Detroit
Red Wings, but dropped a five-game series to the Phoenix Coyotes in the
Western Conference semifinals.
Prior to the lockout, the Predators re-signed a number of their own players,
including forward Paul Gaustad and defenseman Hal Gill, both acquired during
the campaign last season. They also inked a number of their other players to
extensions, including Sergei Kostitsyn, Kevin Klein, Mike Fisher and Colin
They did get a scare when Weber, a restricted free agent, signed a 14-year
$110 million offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers, but Nashville opted to
match the deal for one of the game's top all-around defenseman.
However, Nashville was unable to keep blueliner Ryan Suter, who signed a 13-
year deal with the Minnesota Wild in early July.
Weber and Suter had formed one of the top defensive duos in the NHL, but Weber
will have a new partner this season in Roman Josi, who had five goals and 16
points in 52 games as a rookie last season.
Weber, meanwhile, had 19 goals and 30 assists a season ago, ranking fourth on
the club with 49 points, three more than Suter had.
Of course, Nashville may be able to survive the loss of Suter because of
Rinne, a former Vezina Trophy finalist who lead the NHL with 43 wins a season
The 30-year-old signed a seven-year contract extension in November of 2011 and
is part of Nashville's veteran core. The Preds began last season as the
league's third-youngest team with an average age of 26 years, five months, but
the current roster has an average age of 28 years, seven months.
"It's officially a new year," Preds head coach Barry Trotz told his team's
website. "That is the way we are looking at it and we are excited about it.
We have a good balance of experience -- I think we have nine guys who are 30
years or older -- and we have a good mix of guys who are a little younger. I
think everyone's roles are pretty defined right now, and that's a luxury of
having a team that is intact."
That isn't the case for the Blue Jackets, who once again are in a rebuilding
phase after trading Nash to the Rangers this offseason for a package that
included Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a draft pick.
Nash was the top pick of the 2002 draft by Columbus and owns franchise records
with 289 goals, 258 assists and 674 games played.
The Blue Jackets, though, have finished last in the Central Division in three
straight seasons since making their lone playoff appearance in 2009, and that
was with Nash.
Now they'll try to improve despite a roster that has just three former 20-goal
scorers in Dubinsky, Vinny Prospal and R.J. Umberger. Columbus does have a
solid defender to build around in Jack Johnson, who was acquired last season
from the Los Angeles Kings for forward Jeff Carter, but promising rookie Ryan
Murray, the second pick of the 2012 draft, is out six months after suffering a
shoulder injury in November.
Despite the changeover, which also included trading Marc Methot to the Ottawa
Senators for forward Nick Foligno, head coach Todd Richards does have his
team's identity in mind.
"The big thing I've been saying since Day 1 is our commitment to checking. We
have to be a better checking team, a harder checking team. There's going to be
mistakes come Saturday, but our effort can't be a question on any given
night," he said.
Richards hopes the mistakes don't come in net, where it is unknown if Steve
Mason or offseason acquisition Sergei Bobrovsky will start.
Mason has struggled finding the form that won him the Calder Trophy in
2008-09, so the Blue Jackets traded for the 24-year-old Bobrovsky, who had a
strong rookie season in 2010-11 with the Flyers before posting a 3.02 goals
against average last season in 29 games.
Starting the season in Nashville isn't ideal for Columbus either as it has
lost 19 of its past 22 there and has just three victories in the last 32 as
the road team in this series.
The Predators went 5-0-1 versus the Blue Jackets last season.
The Sports Network