Over the last couple of the last couple months, we have been providing a team-by-team breakdown of each squad that failed to make the playoffs to determine what went wrong. We’re done with the Eastern Conference, so we’re shifting our attention to the Central Division, where only two squads failed to make the cut.
The Nashville Predators are one of the easier teams to analyze for an article like this. They signed goaltender Pekka Rinne to a seven-year, $49 million contract because he was the backbone of the team and he ended up missing the vast majority of the season.
A great team is able to overcome the loss of a single player, but the Predators are a team that had been constructed around the idea that they would win on the strength of an all-star netminder backed by a great defense. They were only able to make a token effort to address their anemic offense over the summer, which we’ll talk about more in the player breakdown, and in anticipation of Rinne starting in as many as 70 games, they didn’t get a reliable backup.
When Rinne went down, Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec were asked to fill the void even though they only had one game worth of NHL experience between the two of them going into this season. Hutton still managed to be decent even if he was inconsistent, but because of their near complete lack of skilled forwards, Nashville wasn’t going to win many games with anything short of consistently great goaltending.
After the season ended, coach Barry Trotz was replaced by Peter Laviolette in the hopes that the latter will be able to turn around the Predators’ offense. It’s hard to see that happening unless they give Laviolette more to work with, but they’ll likely be competitive anyways now that Rinne’s healthy.
Let’s take a look at some of the players that, either through misfortunate, struggles, or skewed expectations, came up short in 2013-14:
Pekka Rinne – We’ve already touched on Rinne, but it’s worth adding that the Predators were further hurt by Rinne’s struggles when he finally returned from a major hip injury on March 4. He ended up with a 2.77 GAA and .902 save percentage in 24 contests in 2013-14. The good news is that he was able to bounce back during the 2014 World Championship, so at least he’ll have some confidence going into the summer. Now that he’s finally healthy and after getting an opportunity to shake off the rust, he’s a good bet to bounce back in 2014-15.
Viktor Stalberg – Need to bolster your top-six on a budget? Go after a player in his late 20s that’s spent the last few years serving as a bottom-six forward for a deep team and hope that a guy who wasn’t good enough to play a major role with them will be good enough to do so for you. That’s essentially the philosophy that led Nashville to bring in Stalberg from Chicago. He had only surpassed the 40-point mark once going into 2013-14, but he did have some offensive upside and the hope was that he would take advantage of the new opportunity. Instead, the Predators ended up using him even less than Chicago did and he had arguably the worst season of his career with 18 points in 70 contests. With Nashville looking to shift to a more offensive style, Stalberg is someone that might bounce back, but we wouldn’t count on him getting more than 50 points even in a best-case scenario.
Michael Del Zotto – There have been times when Del Zotto has appeared to be on the brink of establishing himself as a top-tier offensive defenseman, but at the age of 23 his future is still very much up in the air. The 2013-14 campaign was a major setback for him as he struggled to get on new Rangers coach Alain Vigneault’s good side until the team finally dealt him to Nashville. He ended up spending some time in the Predators’ press box as well and finished the campaign with just 16 points in 67 games. If he sticks with Nashville, then we can’t recommend grabbing him in fantasy leagues as the Predators have too many other appealing options to go with on the power play.
Filip Forsberg – It’s unfair to call him a problem, but the Predators were certainly hoping to get more out of him this season. Forsberg has a lot of offensive upside, but struggled to secure his roster spot with the Predators and consequently spent most of the season in the AHL. Which is frankly fine given that he’s only 19 years old and the fact that the Predators really needed Forsberg to break out this year speaks to just how bad their offensive situation looked even before the season began.
The Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets have been around for 14 seasons now and have only made the playoffs once.
They didn’t come particularly close to reversing that trend this year and that’s not terribly surprising given what they had to work with going into the season. While they’re not devoid of talent, they don’t have anyone that could be described as a reliable star forward – more on that later – their defense is questionable, and their five-year, $19.5 million bet on Ondrej Pavelec hasn’t paid off yet.
Pavelec posted a 3.01 GAA and .901 save percentage in 57 games in 2013-14, which is only mildly worse than what he had accomplished over the previous two campaigns. Until the defense is able to help him out more and Pavelec steps up his game, it’s hard to see the Jets being anything more than mediocre.
At the same time, forward Mark Scheifele and defenseman Jacob Trouba have shown a lot of promise and should play bigger roles with the Jets next season. Having a full season under coach Paul Maurice, who replaced Claude Noel after 47 games, should also help the team as Maurice has looked like a better fit for the young squad so far.
So while they failed in their goal of making the playoffs, the 2013-14 campaign wasn’t a complete loss for the Jets. They still have some major issues to overcome if they want to be serious contenders, but at least they seem to be slowly moving in the right direction.
Evander Kane – When I talked about the Jets lack of star forwards, it was important to add the qualifier reliable because while Kane is certainly talented, his tenure with the Jets has bordered on disastrous. He scored just 19 goals and 41 points in 63 games, which by itself is problematic for a skilled forward earning $31.5 million over six years, but that’s not the full extent of the issue. There’s been persistent reports of tension between him and Jets, he’s spent time in the press box, and recently refused to confirm that he wants to stay with the team. Going forward, he’s a big gamble. Kane is young enough to put this all behind him and turn into a player that consistently scores 30-plus goals per season, but he might need a fresh start with another team in order to reach that level.
Dustin Byfuglien – From a fantasy perspective, Byfuglien has been a great guy to own ever since the then Atlanta Thrashers acquired him and allowed him to shift to defense. With the exception of the shortened season, he has recorded at least 50 points in each of his past three campaigns. However, he’s been erratic defensively and one of Maurice’s major changes was to move him back to forward. The Jets plan to keep him up front for the 2014-15 campaign, but Byfuglien’s preference is to play defense, so there’s some uncertainty regarding him.
Devin Setoguchi – After Setoguchi struggled to find a top-six role with the Minnesota Wild in 2013, the hope was that the move to Winnipeg would do him some good. Instead Setoguchi regressed even further by scoring 11 goals and 27 points in 75 contests. Those were new career-lows for him in seasons where he played in at least 50 contests. The Jets aren’t likely to re-sign him before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Where he ends up will have some impact on his fantasy value, but right now we can’t recommend taking him in standard leagues.
Zach Bogosian – The Winnipeg Jets put their faith in Bogosian by signing him to a seven-year, $36 million contract. Now they just need to hope he’s healthy often enough to make a difference. He was limited to just 55 games in 2013-14 due to groin and back problems and has now missed at least 10 contests in each of his last three campaigns. Fantasy owners will also note his decline in production from 30 points in 65 contests in 2011-12 to just 11 points in 2013-14. At this point, he’s not worth taking a chance on in standard leagues from a fantasy perspective.