Nashville Predators season preview

Updated: October 3, 2005, 12:11 PM ET
ESPN.com

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Predators made the playoffs for the first time in 2004, and they gave the Detroit Red Wings a scare when they got there. They are not yet an elite team, but there is no indication they can't continue to go forward.

Offense: The Preds were close to cracking the top 10 in offense last season (they were No. 12). So, they added one of the NHL's great players, Paul Kariya, to complement Steve Sullivan, Scott Walker and Martin Erat, and to perhaps bring out the full potential of David Legwand, a former No.1 pick who is showing signs of coming into his own. The team also has grit, led by right winger Jordin Tootoo, and that helps open up the ice.

Defense: Better than given credit for, the defense has quality playmakers in Marek Zidlicky and Kimmo Timonen. The unit also plays smart, but is a little thin in the size department, allowing teams to take advantage of them down low. Danny Markov, acquired in a trade, could help in that regard.

Goaltending: Tomas Vokoun had a breakthrough season last time out, making game-saving saves night after night in leading the team to the playoffs. He also led the Czech Republic to gold in the World Championships last spring.


WHERE THEY'LL FINISH
7th YES … Eight of the top 10 forwards are back, so are the top four defensemen, two goalies and coaching staff; plus, a great many of the players played somewhere during the lockout.
BUT … Even though teams will take this club a lot more seriously now that they've started to shed the expansion-patsy label, if the kids don't continue to improve or if Vokoun falters, there is not enough veteran presence to steady the ship.

PLAYER TO WATCH
Paul Kariya needs a comeback season, but also keep an eye on young defenseman Ryan Suter, who looked sharp at the U.S. Olympic orientation camp and appears ready to make a contribution. His father is Bob Suter, member of the Miracle on Ice team.

HEY, COACH!
Barry Trotz has been at the helm since Day One in Nashville, a record for expansion-team coaches. He's smart, plays an up-tempo style players like and has a quality set of assistant coaches who teach as well as demand. He is also tied for the second-longest tenure among NHL coaches behind Buffalo's Lindy Ruff.



FACEOFFS
BEST OFFSEASON MOVE --> LANDING A STAR
Kariya is both a scorer and a playmaker and thus upgrades the offense, the power play and the still-young team's overall confidence. A plus is he also has something to prove after a tough season in Colorado, and he wants to make the Canadian Olympic team, so he'll want to get off to a great start.

WORST OFFSEASON MOVE --> WHAT ELSE?
No particular moves stand out outside of Kariya, which means improving on their last season will be difficult for the Predators.

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Comings & Goings
Key Acquisitions:
LW Paul Kariya; LW Darcy Hordichuk; D Danny Markov; D Sheldon Brookbank; C Scott Nichol; C Randy Robitaille; C Kris Beech.

Key Departures:
D Shane Hnidy; LW Cam Severson; D Andrew Hutchinson; D Andreas Lilja; C Wyatt Smith.

When we last saw them …
Steve Sullivan
Sullivan had a strong 2003-04 season, leading the team with 49 assists and 73 points in 80 games.
Tomas Vokoun, G
Vokoun carried most of the responsibility on his back in 2003-04, finishing with a 34-29-10 record and 2.53 goals-against average.
Quoteables
The hockey culture is one where you're almost frowned upon if you're seen in the paper everyday, it's almost like you're trying to be better than the team. I certainly don't have anyone from ESPN on speed dial.
Paul Kariya on being the main man in Nashville.