Rather than the standard previews of Central Division foes from an outsider’s point of view, I decided to take a different approach. This week, Behind Enemy Lines will take a look at our divisional rivals through the eyes of those invested in the team in one way or another. Today, it’s the Nashville Predators and Dirk Hoag, who runs the fantastic blog, On the Forecheck

Credit: Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Bartl: The major development surrounding the Predators quite obviously was the Shea Weber arbitration award, which set a new record. However, the situation dragged on for a good amount of time, with each side very far off on their requested salary. With no long-term contract, does this situation become a distraction for Weber or the team during the season?

Dirk: Absolutely, this will be a distraction hanging over the team until some long-term resolution is found. You can bet that media will ask about this situation in every NHL city the Preds visit, and the Canadian media in particular will speculate often about how their Olympic hero would look great playing north of the border. When the going gets tough during the season, Weber’s captaincy will naturally come into question – how does it look when your team leader couldn’t even agree on a one-year contract with the team? All those questions and more will be fair game.

Bartl: Other than the Weber drama, it seemed to be a quiet offseason in terms of player movement in Nashville. In your opinion, does this mean the Predators feel they’re in a good enough position with what they already have rather than feeling the need to make a big splash in free agency or via trade? Was there anything you wanted to see happen that didn’t?

Dirk: The Predators are only rarely players in the free agent market, and most of the moves were made with the goal of freeing up salary for Weber, Suter & Rinne’s next contracts. The big question in Nashville is whether the group of young players being asked to step into larger roles can continue to play responsible defensive hockey while addressing the most glaring weakness of the team over the last several years, the power play and offensive output overall. I would have liked to see the team bring in a proven offensive force up front, but the market was just too pricey.

Bartl: You wrote recently you’re excited to watch Colin Wilson continue to develop this coming season. What other Preds who may fall under the radar can you see getting more attention with their play on the ice this season?

Dirk: By all accounts Cal O’Reilly could get an opportunity to contribute offensively for the Preds, and Niclas Bergfors could prove to be a fruitful reclamation project just as Sergei Kostitsyn was last season. On the blueline, look for Jonathon Blum to step into a major role, as made a great impression in his 23-game debut.

Bartl: Obviously, Pekka Rinne is arguably the best goaltender in the division. If he slumps or goes down with an injury again, is Anders Lindback solid enough to carry the load for an extended period of time?

Dirk: Anders Lindback was thrown into just that situation on a couple occasions last season, and gave no reason to believe he can’t handle the load. The entire team was impressed with how he basically ignored all the conventional pressure, winning an early start in Chicago over the defending Stanley Cup champs after Rinne got hurt on Opening Night. He also had another stint that lasted about three weeks in December, going 6-3 with back-to-back shutouts along the way.

Bartl: Finally, what’s your prediction for the Predators this season in terms of the division race and their chances come playoff time?

Dirk: Right now, I think the Predators have taken a step back from where they stood last season, but they do have the financial flexibility to add a difference-maker somewhere along the way. Based on the roster that exists today, I’d peg them for 3rd place in the Central behind Detroit & Chicago, and right along the brink of qualifying for the playoffs. Once in the post-season, a great goalie gives any team a puncher’s chance, but until the Preds show some improvement on the offensive side of the puck, it’s hard to see how they’ll take a step forward.

Follow Cheer The Anthem on Twitter @CheerTheAnthem and on Facebook
Download Cheer The Anthem’s Android app for immediate alerts to new posts