The Milwaukee Admirals faced the Chicago Wolves on Tuesday night. Later tonight it’ll be time for the parent clubs to duke it out. The Nashville Predators are playing on the road against the St. Louis Blues. To get some insight on how things have been lately for the Predators I reached out to the great Jeremy Gover of 102.5 The Game (ESPN Nashville).
Admirals Roundtable: The Nashville Predators 2015-16 campaign hasn’t quite lived up to all that happened last season. What do you see that is different or causing some of these struggles this season?
Jeremy Gover: The struggles of this 2015-16 team are not due to lack of effort or lack of talent. Do they need a true number one center in order to compete for the Cup? Absolutely. But the current struggles that has them 4-7-3 in their last 14 and without back-to-back wins since November 17 has to do with one thing: bad bounces. Rinne has played well, they have outshot their opponent in nearly every one of those 13 games and some teams they’ve just thoroughly outplayed but didn’t get the win. The bottom line is there are ebb’s and flow’s during each NHL season. Heck, it’s 82 games long for crying out loud. Last year, they went on a tear in the first 60 games never having lost back-to-back games in regulation. Then, in March and April, they struggled. This season, it appears as if they’re going through that slump in November and December. And, if you’re a Preds fan, you’d much rather struggle now as opposed to down the stretch.
AR: It was a lot of fun not only seeing Austin Watson get his contract in the off-season but earning an NHL spot with the Predators on what is the two-way portion of his two-year contract. What have you made of Watson’s performances at the NHL level this season?
JG: He has proven that he belongs. Probably not as a first or second line center as they thought he might turn out to be when they drafted him in the first round of the 2010 draft but certainly as a third or fourth line player, absolutely. He’s aggressive on the puck, He shows enough offensive flare to give the coaching staff confidence that he can chip in when given the chance and he’s been key on the penalty kill as both Paul Gaustad, Eric Nystrom, and Gabriel Bourque have all missed time.
AR: Additionally, several players associated with the Milwaukee Admirals have seen NHL time this season: Anthony Bitetto, Viktor Arvidsson, Miikka Salomäki, Colton Sissons, Marek Mazanec, Cody Bass, and Juuse Saros. Many of those names are still with the Predators and are performing well enough to make a claim to stay. Who has impressed you the most out of the recalled Admirals?
JG: Sissons made an impression right off the bat and has been a solid bottom six center since and Saros made the most of his opportunity despite the loss in his NHL debut but Arvidsson has been the biggest surprise to me. I knew he could play and I know the Preds scouts love them some Swedes (and have an excellent track record drafting them) but he looks like he belongs. He rarely has a shift — let alone a game — where I think “he looks out of place.” His speed and work ethic are excellent and he could become a key cog to the second or third line over time. Great to see, especially for a player who was passed over in two NHL Drafts before Nashville took him in the fourth round of 2014.
AR: Speaking of Saros, he’s one of a few bigger name talents playing in Milwaukee this season. Where do you see his career path going with the likes of Pekka Rinne still being such a workhorse for the Predators?
JG: This is a tough one for the Preds organization. Certainly, Rinne is the goaltender until he retires. That may not be for another six, seven or perhaps even eight years. If that’s the case, Nashville can’t hold onto Saros until then. So they either need to plan for him to be the back-up to Rinne by 2016-17 or trade him. Carter Hutton‘s contract expires this coming summer so, in a perfect world, Marek Mazanec is promoted to Rinne’s back-up next season and serves in that role for two full years before Saros steps in. He’ll then get a full season or two as an NHL back-up, getting regular work with the big club and then, when Rinne moves on, Saros takes his rightful place as the future of the Nashville crease. But, then again, this isn’t a perfect world.
AR: There’s all kinds of buzz already on the trade front when it comes to the likes of a Matt Duchene or Steven Stamkos. You wrote a fantastic article on the difficulties the Predators face in making high-end moves such as those not too long ago. Where do you sit on the Predators possibly adding a top center and is the potential risk worth the potential reward?
JG: I think they will add a top line player to the roster but I think it’ll be closer to the deadline. There are two problems with that, however. First, if they wait too long — and keep losing — they’ll be out of the playoff race in an ultra-competitive Central Division and Western Conference. Secondly, Nashville hasn’t had the best track record with deadline deals. In 2012, they went out and acquired Hal Gill because they needed size on the backend, they acquired Paul Gaustad because they needed a reliable faceoff man and penalty killer and, if that wasn’t enough, they traded for Andrei Kostitsyn because they needed help at forward. They fell short of their goal by losing to the Phoenix Coyotes in Western Conference Semifinal scoring just nine goals in five games. As recently as last season, they acquired Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli around the deadline. Franson played so poorly he was benched on more than one occasion and Santorelli scored just a single goal in 22 games. The addition of those two players didn’t help Nashville’s fortunes as, once again, they were bounced in the first round, arguably in a series they outplayed their opponent in all but two or three periods but lost nevertheless. If Poile makes a deal close to the deadline, is history going to repeat yet again? An argument could be made that they should make a deal sooner rather than later, giving the team a chance to gel at a time of the year where they can develop some chemistry.
JG: Shea Weber and Roman Josi are two completely different types of players. It would be like asking “Who was better? Wayne Gretzky or Peter Forsberg?” Gretzky certainly had the numbers but he would shy away from contact almost as if he were allergic to it. Forsberg put up the numbers and didn’t shy away from anyone. Ever. Weber is the best all-around defenseman but Josi is the most offensively talented and has one of the best first passes in the League. In other words, when you enter the zone on a rush, Weber will crush you while Josi will put the puck through your legs and then start a rush the other way.
AR: We’re nearing Christmas. The Predators are in the middle of the pack as far as that tough Central Division goes. How do you see this season unfolding?
JG: Once they start being rewarded for their hard work, they’ll be fine. The question becomes, how much longer will they continue to be stifled? Because of that Central series of games on the horizon, it better be soon.
Thank you very much Mr. Gover for taking the time to chat with the Roundtable. For those that don’t already you should follow him on Twitter, check out his work with 102.5 The Game (ESPN Nashville), and he also happens to be a guest of Milwaukee Admirals Center Ice every now and then so keep an eye out for Aaron Sims‘ Twitter feed on Monday’s to see if he’ll be on the show.