By DAVID HUNTER
Fall is here, and the weather is now turning cooler, which means the NHL season is almost here. The Nashville Predators have higher expectations this season after a surprising playoff berth in 2014-15 under first year head coach Peter Laviolette.
Usually, I do not discuss hockey except before the season, and the start of the best postseason in all of sports, the NHL Playoffs. The Preds only made small changes to the lineup during the offseason hoping to take the next step competing in a very tough Western Conference Central Division.
Each of the seven teams in the Central, including Nashville, has the talent to compete for a Stanley Cup, or finish dead last and miss the playoffs all together. For example, the Chicago Blackhawks finished third in the division last season, but they used their playoff experience to win their third Cup since 2010.
The Predators proved under Laviolette in 2014-15, they finally have the offensive firepower with Mike Ribeiro, James Neal, rookie sensation Fillp Forsberg and veteran leader Mike Fisher to go along with the traditional rock solid defense of superstars Shea Weber and Roman Josi and up and comer Seth Jones. By the way, Nashville also has one of the best goaltenders in the league in Pekka Rinne.
After a hot start, injuries to Weber, Fisher and Rinne caused the Predators to falter toward the end of the season, and they fell in the opening round of the NHL Playoffs to the Blackhawks.
During the offseason, Nashville was able to keep most of their key contributors, and they even added long time St. Louis Blues defenseman Barret Jackman hoping to make a great defense even better and increase the depth back there.
Besides Chicago and Nashville, three other teams from the Central qualified for the eight-team Western Conference bracket, St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild. The two other teams from the division, the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche, who sat home during the postseason last year each improved during the break.
The Blackhawks lost some key pieces from their dynasty during the offseason, and they are also dealing the off the ice issues of superstar and Team USA leader Patrick Kane. The Blues want to break the status of being the best team in the league, which cannot get it done in the playoffs. The Jets and Wild keep getting better, while the Stars added former Blackhawks Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, who were two of the main reasons for the championship run. Colorado wants to bounce back with legendary goalie and now head coach Patrick Roy.