Nashville Predators set to start defense of NHL’s Western Conference championship
The Nashville Predators are proof anything is possible in the NHL playoffs. History suggests they are up against quite a challenge.
Nashville made it into the last postseason as the eighth-seeded team in the Western Conference and ended up becoming just the third team seeded last to reach the Stanley Cup Final since 1994.
The Predators couldn’t stop Pittsburgh from repeating, and they’re about to find out how hard it is to defend a championship in their stacked conference. The Western Conference has not had a repeat champion since the Detroit Red Wings pulled off the feat in 2008 and 2009, hosting a Stanley Cup and then losing a Game 7 against the Penguins.
Nashville’s appearance in the playoffs, though, was not fluke. The franchise was in the postseason for the third straight year and the 10th time in 13 seasons. And, the city should be prepared to have a good time again next spring, catfish and all.
“This year, our expectation is to be in the playoffs, but our expectation is also to give ourselves the best opportunity to win hockey games and to play in our building as much as we can because our fans were so great, especially through the run,” defenseman P. K. Subban said. “It was a huge edge for us in the playoffs being at home. We went most of the playoffs without losing at home. That’s what we’re going to need. We’re going to need our team to realize how important it is for us to win at home.”
The Predators seem set up for more success.
Mike Fisher retired and was effectively replaced on the ice by Penguins center Nick Bonino. General manager David Poile has goaltender Pekka Rinne under contract for two more seasons to go with top-line forwards Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg, along with defenseman Subban for at least five years.
“We all know it was a lot of fun, and it was a tremendous experience going through all that,” Johansen said. “At the end of the day like 29 other teams, we didn’t reach our goal.”
Here’s a look at some other things to watch in the West:
The Colorado Avalanche, easily the NHL’s worst team last season, may be the only team in the Central Division without a legitimate shot to make the playoffs. The division was so tough last year that Nashville finished a relatively distant fourth behind Chicago, Minnesota and St. Louis. Each of those teams figures to be just as good this season and will have to compete with Dallas, which seemed to lead the league in major moves .
Don’t sleep on Winnipeg, either. The Jets have made the playoffs only once in the last decade, but they could break through this season. Mark Scheifele, a 24-year-old center, quietly ranked among league leaders with 82 points last season. He leads a team with rising stars Patrik Laine, a 19-year-old winger who was taken No. 2 behind Auston Matthews, and 21-year-old Nikolaj Ehlers.