NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Being swept for the first time in franchise history may be exactly what the Nashville Predators needed.
The Predators saw first-hand the bar set by Colorado on its way to winning the Stanley Cup and took a hard look in the mirror. General manager David Poile traded for defenseman Ryan McDonagh, signed forward Filip Forsberg to an extension and then persuaded Nino Niederreiter to sign with Nashville.
“I think we can take another step,” captain Roman Josi said.
The Predators' eight straight playoff berths is tied with Washington for the second-longest active streak in the NHL. Nashville also ranks second with 15 postseason appearances since 2004.
The Predators were among the NHL's better teams much of last season until the calendar flipped to April, when they went just 6-6-3. They won once over their final nine games, counting the playoff sweep that goaltender Juuse Saros missed because of an injury.
Thanks to all of Poile's changes, Forsberg is more confident. He also noted a lot of players had career years last season and the Predators have to earn it again.
“Our strength has always been working, and I think that’s kind of where we have to start,” Forsberg said.
The Predators already had confidence in Saros as a worthy replacement for Pekka Rinne, the franchise's winningest goalie who retired. Saros wound up a Vezina Trophy finalist in his first full season taking over from his fellow Finn.
Saros played 67 games, more than any other goalie. He ranked third in wins with a 38-25-3 record. Now he has Rinne back in an ambassador role for the Predators and also doing some work with the goaltending coaches.
Josi not only led the Predators and set the single-season scoring record for the franchise, he led all defenseman with 96 points — the highest-scoring season by an NHL defenseman since Phil Housley had 97 in 1992-93. Josi also led all defensemen with 73 assists and 11 power-play goals.
DO IT AGAIN?
With Josi's amazing season, Forsberg and Matt Duchene each tied the franchise record with 38 goals. Tanner Jeannot led all rookies with 24 goals. It was the first season Nashville ever had three players with at least 70 points, something Colorado, Calgary and Florida also managed.
Duchene finished with 86 points with Forsberg just behind scoring 84 in 69 games. Mikael Granlund had 64. The Predators ranked sixth in the NHL on the power play, scoring on 24.4% of their chances.
McDonagh has helped win two Stanley Cups in the past three seasons, but the veteran also brings some much-needed playoff experience with 185 games in his career. He played 71 games with 26 points last season with Tampa Bay.
Niederreiter is very familiar with Josi, who is also from Switzerland. The Predators got more familiar with Niederreiter than they wanted during the 2020-21 season playing the Carolina Hurricanes as revamped division rivals during the pandemic.
“He’s just one of those guys that gets under people’s skin, great goal scorer," Forsberg said.
The Predators are scheduled to open the regular season Oct. 7 and 8 in the Czech Republic against the San Jose Sharks at Prague's 02 Arena as part of the league's return to Europe for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Players for both teams already have visas for the trip.
The Czech government has made it clear it doesn't want any Russian players because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Nashville has only Yakov Trenin on its expected roster with left wing Egor Afanasyev spending last season in the AHL where goalie Yaroslav Askarov is expected to start the season in Milwaukee. Nashville's home opener is Oct. 13 against hosting Dallas.
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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press