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MHH Previews the Lesser 29: Nashville

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Welcome to a new installment where we will preview each of the other NHL teams who simply make up the bulk of the league the Avalanche play in. Today, we preview the Nashville Predators.

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Their head coach: Peter Laviolette. Peter the Great coached the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006, and got the Flyers to the Cup Final in 2010, so the man is capable of getting the job done. For someone who's only 51, he has a lot of coaching experience. He got his first taste of the job in the 03-04 season after the Canes fired Paul Maurice who held that job before him. In his three full seasons with the Hurricanes (excluding 03-04 since he didn't coach the full year) he missed the playoffs twice and won Lord Stanley the other time. That's hard to do. He wound up in the Music City following the Flyers dismissing him in the 13-14 season, proving with this trend he'll be fired from the Predators halfway into the 23-24 season.

Their captain: A vacant job that was once held by Shea Weber since the dawn of time, but that won't be the case now since the Predators traded him for P.K Subban. Subban is one of my favorite players in hockey, and I love watching him play more than any other non-Av not named Alex Ovechkin. I don't like the fact he's now a division rival of the Avalanche, but so be it. We'll get to see him more in Denver which oughta be fun. Expect the captain's position to go to either Mike Fisher (famously married to Carrie Underwood), James Neal, or Roman Josi. All equally deserving of the spot.

Their 15-16 season: The highlight for the Preds would have to be them winning a Game 7 for the first time in franchise history. They beat the Ducks in Anaheim, which was no small feat, to accomplish that, especially considering they trailed that series at one point by a count of 3-2. Their season would still end with a Game 7 loss in California, however, when the Sharks trampled them in the Tank to advance to the Western Conference Final, leaving the Predators behind. It was a nice stepping stone for Nashville despite that, and their future is looking very bright.

How did they do against the Avs? I was fortunate enough to attend the teams' first meeting in Nashville, which was a 3-2 Colorado win. On that note, I recommend a visit to Bridgestone Arena if the opportunity arises for you. Read about that experience here. Beyond that, Colorado won two of the other four games, and won the season series consequently.

When do they play the Avs this season? In Denver on November 1st and November 29th, at Nashville on December 6th, in Denver on January 14th, and once more in Nashville on February 23rd.

Will they be good? Bold prediction: The Predators are going to win the Central, and the Western Conference, and be in the Stanley Cup Final where they will face a team yet to be previewed. They will not win the Stanley Cup, but they will play in the final game of the 16-17 season. I just like this group. They've gone from a team not many people think about to the best defensive team in hockey, with some quality forwards as well. Filip Forsberg is insane. Not as good as Peter Forsberg, but worthy of carrying that last name. If goaltender Pekka Rinne can perform the way he has in the past, and stay healthy, the sky is the limit for this club.

3 Questions with their SB Nation blog, On The Forecheck: (Special thanks to TWO people of OTF for answering, Alex Daugherty and Mark Harris. They're my favorite SB Nation NHL blog besides us for a reason.)

You got P.K Subban, but lose the face of the franchise, Shea Weber in the process. How emotional, both for the good and bad, does this trade make you? Alex: Shea Weber was the most important and recognizable player the Predators have ever had. He helped shape the reputation of Nashville as an assembly mill for quality NHL defensemen. He led the Predators as Captain with skill, class, and an undeniable mutual respect among his teammates and coaches. With all of that said, the addition of P.K. Subban has me absolutely giddy.

Mark:  It's tough to be upset or angry that the Preds swapped Subban for Weber. Subban is on that short-list of players that I think 99% of fans of any team around the league would love to see in their favorite team's sweater. Nevertheless, Weber was the face of the Predators and a face for Nashville as a city. It will take quite a few power plays without Weber teeing up on Nashville's blue line for the changes to really settle in.

I wrote an article in December about how cool Bridgestone Arena is and how amped up the crowd gets. Is hockey growing outside of Nashville to other parts of Tennessee, like Memphis or Knoxville? Alex: I travel throughout Tennessee frequently for work and, from what I can tell, the Smiladon bumper stickers dissipate once you leave the greater Nashville area. I'll put it this way: I was in Gatlinburg for the Game 7 win over Anaheim this season. I had to watch the game in my hotel room, alone, clinging tightly to my wireless feed, because no one was broadcasting NBC Sports. Gatlinburg is only about 3 hours away.

Mark:  I just got done with my masters at The University of Tennessee in Knoxville and the short answer is no, not really. There are the Knoxville Ice Bears, a Southern Professional Hockey team that actually draws a pretty good number of fans, but it's not really hockey rather really fast skating and more fights in one game than you'll see in a month's action in the NHL. I will say I watched Game 7 against the Sharks at a local bar and the place was a sea of gold; but hey, that's playoff hockey. I grew up in Jackson, Tenn. which is an hour from Memphis and hockey isn't a thing there, like, at all. If it's not football or basketball, maybe a sprinkle of baseball, then a good chunk of Tennessee isn't paying attention.

This group seems really close to contending for a Cup. Is this the year you legitimately threaten for the first time, or do they need another year? Alex: Well, they have a major obstacle in the way of truly competing: Pekka Rinne. Though he was at one point the cornerstone of the franchise, carrying a team of young, unproven skill players against their will into the playoffs, Rinne is now the unreliable aging veteran hoping that the now proven skill players can lead him to a Cup. I think--I hope-- they can win despite him, I really do. But realistically he needs to return to somewhere around league average for them to really compete. That means adding about 10 points to his season save percentage from last year. A tall order for a 33 year old.

Mark: What Alex said. It is going to come down to the play of Pekka Rinne along with the team staying as healthy as possible (duh). Rinne was bad last season; the media knows it, the coaching staff hopefully knows it and I think he knows it. I expect an above average year from him. I think they have the personnel to be dangerous, really dangerous if he hovers just slightly above league average this season between the pipes.