On the job training, one period as an NHL photographer

By Jim Diamond

Photographers who ply their trade shooting NHL games have incredibly difficult jobs. Just how difficult of a job it is was really impressed upon me Monday night.

For the first period of Monday’s preseason game against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, Predators team photographer John Russell and the team’s PR staff allowed me the opportunity of trying to shoot the action from one of the photo holes in the glass rinkside in Bridgestone Arena.

Russell is a genius and he’s been to the mountain, as one of his pictures has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Before the game, Russell gave me my assigned location, on the glass at the bottom of Section 118, next to the new Lexus Lounge where the players enter the ice prior to the start of each period. The hole is close to the faceoff dot. I was able to sit on the last step of the stairwell, a perfect height to reach the photo hole.

More after the jump…

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Predators sign Beck, interesting decisions at forward coming

By Jim Diamond

Tuesday afternoon brought news from 501 Broadway that the Nashville Predators signed forward Taylor Beck to a one-year, $550,000 contract. The deal is one-way, meaning Beck gets the same salary whether he is on Nashville’s roster or if he is sent to the American Hockey League.

Although not huge money, the one-way aspect of the contract likely signifies that Beck has solidified a spot on the opening night roster.

As the roster stands now, the Predators have 17 forwards, nine defensemen, and two goaltenders still in camp. They will need to get down to 23 players or fewer before the opening night roster can be finalized.

With Pekka Rinne and Carter Hutton, they are set at the goaltender position. It would be hard to imagine Nashville keeping more than seven blueliners heading into the season. So with those being nine of the 23 spots, that leaves space for 14 forwards.

One name that can be subtracted from the group of 17 current forwards is Mike Fisher, since he will start the year on Injured Reserve as his Achilles continues to heal.

That math indicates 16 players fighting for 14 spots.

First round draft pick Kevin Fiala has been impressive in camp, but it would be hard to believe that he would stick with the team and is likely headed back to Europe for at least another year.

And then there was one.

If Fiala does not stick and barring a trade, one of Beck, Gabriel Bourque, Rich Clune, Matt Cullen, Filip Forsberg, Paul Gaustad, Calle Jarnkrok, Olli Jokinen, James Neal, Eric Nystrom, Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy, Craig Smith, Viktor Stalberg or Colin Wilson will not be on the final 23.

There are some obvious ones will will stick, but the same can’t be said for many others.

Forsberg has skated in three preseason games on a line with Neal and Ribeiro, so odds are that he has a spot pretty well secured.

Cullen, Stalberg, and Wilson are all battling injuries right now, so they too could conceivably start the season on IR if their maladies will last beyond next Thursday’s start of the regular season, but their current injuries are not thought to be long-term.

Someone is not going to be here, so let the speculation begin as to which one(s) aren’t in the final 23.

Ryan Ellis sees first preseason game action in Predators loss

By Jim Diamond

After missing the start of training camp while waiting for his contract situation to settle, Predators defenseman Ryan saw his first game action Monday night when the Columbus Blue Jackets visited Nashville.

Ellis inked a five-year, $12.5 million contract with the Predators late Thursday and arrived in Nashville early Friday after a long drive south from Windsor, Ontario.

The Predators came out on the losing end of a 3-0 decision Monday night, but Ellis was encouraged by how he felt physically.

“I was actually really surprised,” Ellis said. “I didn’t know what to expect. The first shift we got extended a bit and I was kind of winded there, but after that I felt really good.”

Ellis posted four shots on goal along with two attempts blocked and one missed shot in 19:51 of ice time in the game. He played 4:12 on the power play.

Nashville came up empty in six opportunities with the man advantage, even surrendering a shorthanded goal against early in the second period.

Ellis played with Mattias Ekholm Monday. The team’s top defensive pairing of Shea Weber and Roman Josi appears set, but who will play in the other two pairings is still a work in progress. Along with Ellis and Ekholm, Seth Jones, Anton Volchenkov, and Victor Bartley appear to be in the mix for defensemen positions four through seven, but Joe Piskula and Johan Alm are still in camp looking to make the roster.

Peter Laviolette seemed encouraged by Ellis’ performance in his first preseason game.

“He was noticeable for me offensively,” Laviolette said. “I thought for jumping in, really just arriving a couple of days ago, I thought he did a nice job. He had a couple of looks where he could have scored a goal. He made some nice plays. He was active on the back end. I thought his game was okay.”

With just a couple of practices and Monday’s game under his belt, Ellis thinks the new system put in place for this season suits his playing style well.

“The system has changed and it is a little more high-risk, which I like, and going forward hopefully it can be successful for our team,” Ellis said.

After playing four games in the span of five days, the Predators do not have any more games until the team plays their preseason finale Saturday in Columbus. While more of the expected opening night roster played Monday than in previous games, it is likely that Saturday’s game will feature more of the regulars in the last preseason tune-up.

Predators power play still evolving

By Jim Diamond

Two games into their six-game preseason schedule, the Nashville Predators have a 1-1-0 record after splitting a home-and-home series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Through those two games, the Predators are a combined 0-10 on the power play after going 0-5 in both games.

With a new coach, new system, and some new players on the power play units, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the power play is still a work in progress. In Thursday’s 1-0 win over the Lightning, the Predators were credited with 11 shots on their five power plays. They had seven power play shots in Tuesday’s loss in Tampa.

“In the first game, I thought the power play seemed to move a little bit better but didn’t have the possession time,” Peter Laviolette said after Thursday’s game. “We had the possession time here but didn’t get the chances that we were looking for.”

In both preseason games, the Predators used a mix of veteran and younger players on their game roster, with more veterans in the lineup Thursday.

“All of that will come,” Laviolette continued. “We’ve got new pieces that we are trying to fit in. You talk about the first unit and James (Neal) is new to that unit, and Olli (Jokinen) is new to that unit, and I think those are the things that you have to work through in training camp. We can now go back and see maybe it was a little bit stale doing something this way here and look to maybe go in a different direction, not necessarily with players, but just the different mindset or a different approach on the power play to try and open up more shots, open up Shea’s (Weber) shot and James’ shot.”

During one third period power play, some of the fans in Bridgestone Arena became restless as the Predators worked the puck around the perimeter looking for that perfect shot that did not materialize.It was fun to hear the fans yell “Shoot” at the power play again. It feels more like hockey season now.

“On the power play, trying to find a goal there, I think we are thinking a little bit too much of where to be and what to do,” newcomer Mike Ribeiro said. “It’s a matter of keep practicing that.”

Weber led the team in shots on goal Thursday night with seven, four of which came on the power play. He was also credited with one missed shot on the man advantage.

The captain led the team with 12 power-play goals last season, five better than Patric Hornqvist and Craig Smith who were tied for second with seven each. Nashville’s power play was 12th best in the NHL last season, clicking at a 19.2% success rate. The Predators also made history last season by not allowing a shorthanded goal against, which was the first time that happened in an 82-game regular season.

It remains to be seen, but losing Hornqvist in the trade that brought Neal to Nashville could have a significant impact on the team’s power play success, especially when it comes to the team’s biggest threat on the man advantage.

Of Weber’s 12 power-play goals last season, Hornqvist was on the ice for every single one of them – all of them. He isn’t the most skilled player in the league by any stretch, but the guy is absolutely fearless as evidenced by him placing himself squarely in harm’s way in front of the opponent’s net when Weber lines up his powerful shot.

Weber is known for shooting pucks through the net, breaking end boards, and breaking bones of those who happen to get in the way of his shot, which exceeds 100 mph.

Hornqvist plays the pest role well on the power play by hanging just outside the blue paint while the puck is in the offensive zone. He can irritate opposing defensemen and goaltenders with the best of them, taking away some of their focus and obscuring the goaltender’s eyes as well.

And in a striking bit of timing, this just in from a Pittsburgh practice.

Finding another Hornqvist-like player could certainly help Nashville’s power play come together more quickly this season.

Quick analysis: Ellis re-signing continues trend of locking up defensemen

By Jim Diamond

After missing the first few days of this season’s training camp as a restricted free agent, Ryan Ellis agreed to terms on a new deal with the Nashville Predators Thursday. According to Ellis’ agent Paul Krepelka, the deal will keep Ellis in Predators gold for five seasons and pay the blueliner a total of $12.5 million.

In a release, the team said that Ellis would be in Nashville Friday.

In locking up Ellis for five years, the Predators continued their recent trend of locking up their young group of defensemen. Long known for their prowess of drafting and developing young blueliners, Ellis’ contract signifies the organization’s belief that the 23-year-old will be a mainstay with the team for many years.

Last season, his first as a regular in the Nashville lineup, Ellis scored six goals and added 21 assists in 80 games played. He averaged 16:04 of ice time per game, with 1:45 of that on the power play. Ellis’ 123 shots on goal were good for seventh-best on the team.

Ellis joins team captain Shea Weber and Roman Josi as members of Nashville’s blue line who are signed to long-term deals.

As a result of the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet that he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers and later matched by the Predators in the summer of 2012, Weber looks to be a Predator for the remainder of his career.

Last summer, the Swiss-born Josi inked his name on a seven-year, $28 million contract that will keep the Bern native in Nashville through the 2019-2020 season. The emerging star plays on Weber’s left side. The Predators took a slight gamble inking a young defenseman to a deal of that length, but right now, it looks like a steal.

In investing five more years into Ellis, Nashville hopes to capture the same kind of contract magic with the young Canadian.

Mattias Ekholm and Seth Jones, two of Nashville’s other young defensemen, are signed for this season plus one more before they become restricted free agents as well.

Predators re-sign Ryan Ellis

Ryan Ellis and the Nashville Predators agreed to terms on a new contract Thursday. According to Ellis’ agent Paul Krepelka, the deal will keep Ellis in Predators gold for five seasons and pay the blueliner a total of $12.5 million.

Without a contract, Ellis has not been a participant in Nashville’s training camp. The team plays its second of six preseason games Thursday night.

A release from the Predators stated that Ellis is expected to arrive in Nashville Friday.

 

Bridgestone Arena is now a Gary Glitter-free building

By Jim Diamond

Peter Laviolette was brought to Nashville in part because of his ability to coach offense. If that bears fruit when the puck drops on the 2014-15 NHL season in early October, the ears of fans at Bridgestone Arena will be filled with the sounds of the team’s goal song more times than in previous seasons.

As in year’s past, that goal song will start out with a customized version of Tim McGraw’s “I Like it, I Love it,” before transitioning into the Black Keys’ “Gold on the Ceiling.” The latter replaces the part that contained Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2.”

For years, media – this reporter included – and fans have been calling for the team to cut ties with anything and everything related to Glitter, who has twice been convicted of horrific acts against children; once for possession of child pornography and another for child sexual abuse.

The decision has been made, and it was the correct one.

“We try to take as much input from our fans as we can get, whether it be new food items, clubs, goal celebrations, merchandise items, and a lot of our fans gave us some input in this area, so of course we wanted to look at it,” Predators president and chief operating officer Sean Henry said. “But even if we had zero input from our fans, a lot of people have a tough time just stepping up and saying, ‘This is wrong.’ Being associated with someone like that was just wrong. It was wrong for us so we wanted to make a change. It’s great that I think our fans are going to embrace it for all the right reasons.”

The NFL banned the use of the song at its stadiums many years ago, and it is kind of a head-scratcher to think that the NFL leads the way in anything related to a moral compass, but bravo Predators for making the right call.

“You don’t want to be associated with someone who is guilty of the worst thing, and I think he is,” Henry said.

Perfectly put, Mr. President.  

Predators players who qualify as veterans for purposes of preseason games

By Jim Diamond

Tuesday night marks the first of six preseason games for the Nashville Predators. Six is the minimum number of games a team is allowed to play, and the Predators are in the somewhat unique situation of playing two games on the same day when they face the Florida Panthers at Bridgestone Arena this Saturday in hockey’s version of a day/night doubleheader.

“We’re going to use a lot of players to get through the exhibition games and continue to evaluate here,” Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said Sunday. “A lot of young players are going to get opportunities in the first couple of games. We’ve got not the whole organization, but practically the whole organization playing on the 27th. We’ll be evaluating for quite a while here.”

Many veteran players like to play in as many preseason games as they can since there is a difference between being in shape and being in game shape. Laviolette said that he has had some conversations with his players on this subject.

“They are going to get in three or four of those games,” he said. “There may be the odd player that gets all five games. As camp moves on and we continue to look at what we need to look at from a personnel standpoint, that might ultimately determine an extra game or an extra look.”

It will be a balancing act for Laviolette and the management staff of the Predators as they prepare the rosters for the preseason games. To a large degree, they are familiar with what a lot of the veterans can do, but they will want to see some of the younger players in game situations as well. Additionally, as they experiment with line combinations and defensive pairings, seeing them in games gives them a much better idea of how they will function together as opposed to just seeing them in practice.

As the team makes its way to Tampa to face the Lightning Tuesday night, here is a primer on the roster regulations that are in place for teams during the preseason.

Article 15.4 of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHL Players’ Association dictates the minimum number of veterans who will dress for each preseason game.

(c) A Club shall be permitted to dress a minimum of eight (8) veterans for any Exhibition Game. For purposes of this Section 15.4(c), a veteran shall constitute either:

(1) a forward or defenseman who played in thirty (30) NHL Games during the previous season,

(2) a goaltender who either dressed in fifty (50) or more NHL Games or played in thirty (30) or more NHL Games in the previous season,

(3) a first round draft choice from the most recent year’s Entry Draft, or

(4) any Player who has played one-hundred (100) or more career NHL Games.

There are 55 players currently on the training camp roster. Here is the breakdown of which players fit into the definition of veteran for the purposes of the preseason games. Some fit into multiple categories, but they are listed just once.

Category 1 – A forward or defenseman who played in 30 NHL Games during the previous season

Forwards (13)

Gabriel Bourque

Rich Clune

Matt Cullen

Mike Fisher – Injured

Paul Gaustad

Olli Jokinen

James Neal

Eric Nystrom

Mike Ribeiro

Derek Roy

Craig Smith

Viktor Stalberg

Colin Wilson

Defensemen (7)

Victor Bartley

Mattias Ekholm

Ryan Ellis – Not in camp due to lack of a contract

Seth Jones

Roman Josi

Anton Volchenkov

Shea Weber

Category 2 – A goaltender who either dressed in 50 or more NHL Games or played in 30 or more NHL Games in the previous season

Carter Hutton

Category 3 – A first round draft choice from the most recent year’s Entry Draft

Kevin Fiala

Category 4 – Any Player who has played 100 or more career NHL Games

Brian Lee

Pekka Rinne

Laviolette happy with Predators first scrimmage

By Jim Diamond

After two long days of on-ice sessions to start training camp, the Nashville Predators held a scrimmage at Centennial Sportsplex Sunday afternoon.

With a new coaching staff in place, some new offensive systems were introduced during the team’s Friday and Saturday practices. A majority of the players who took part in Sunday’s scrimmage were the younger ones in camp, but a few veterans participated as well.

Watching from the sidelines, new head coach Peter Laviolette liked that he saw some of the things they have been working on the last couple of days.

“I did see some of it out on the ice, which was good,” he said. “I thought there were some good things in the neutral zone, some good things in the offensive zone. Guys played hard. They were competitive, they were physical, so it was a good way to evaluate the group.”

When he hired Laviolette, Predators general manager David Poile cited his penchant for coaching offense. Laviolette’s practices have been high-tempo, and Sunday’s scrimmage was no different. The game was wide open, featuring speed at both ends of the ice and some aggressive hitting as well.

“I think we had a few shifts where we had good cycle rotations going which is something that I think is going to be a trademark of our team,” Eric Nystrom said. “There is still a little timing that is off, but I think we executed a lot of the things that we have been working on. It is still new though, so there are going to be a lot of mistakes, but when we executed, it was pretty successful.”

During Friday’s practice sessions, a lot of time was focused on cycling the puck down low.

“It’s kind of new, everything,” Filip Forsberg said. “We just started Friday, but obviously there are a couple of things that we tried to get going here in this game and especially in the exhibition games coming up.”

Named the most valuable player of the recently completed rookie tournament held at the Ford Ice Center, Forsberg will get a long look from the coaching and management staffs as training camp progresses. A highly skilled forward, Forsberg’s skill set would seem to fit well into Laviolette’s system.

One of the messages from the coaching staff to the players has been to look for open spaces in order to give them some room to use their creativity.

“When we are in the offensive zone, there is so much pressure congested on one side where the battle is, (we are) trying to use the other side of the ice as much as possible,” Rich Clune said. “Our line did that well today and a lot of lines did that well today, using the back of the net and bringing it out the weak side.”

The team’s six-game preseason schedule begins Tuesday night in Tampa. The Predators play their first of four home preseason games Thursday night against the Lightning.