Barret Jackman fights Chicago's Andrew Shaw (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Predators players open their hearts and homes to shelter and rescue dogs

By Jim Diamond

On the ice, Barret Jackman is known as a tough stay at home defenseman who plays with an edge. Similarly, forward Austin Watson usually plays on Nashville’s fourth line, which is thrown out there when the team may be in need of some energy through physical play or to kill off a penalty.

Away from the rink, Jackman and Watson have a softer side in their shared passion for shelter and rescue dogs. Between the two, they share their homes with five former shelter dogs.

Dogs end up in shelters or with rescues for many different reasons, and quite often those reasons are not pleasant ones, and not usually the fault of the dogs either. But many who have gone through the process of adopting a pet from a shelter can attest to the fact that those animals just need to be given a chance. When given that chance, they can be an amazing addition to a family.

“Everybody loves pets and animals, and I think when you go to the Humane Society or the rescue facilities, it’s really disheartening and you almost feel badly if you leave there empty-handed,” Watson said.

While playing in the American Hockey League for the Milwaukee Admirals, Watson and his wife Karly became involved with the Humane Society of Milwaukee. And they didn’t often leave empty-handed when they visited.

“My first year in Milwaukee, I had my wife with me at the time,” Watson said. “She wasn’t working, she’s Canadian, so we got a dog. And we ended up having two more by year end.”

Shelter dogs have been known to be of mixed breed varieties, and the Watsons’ brood is no different. Bubba is a basset hound mix, Bongo is a black lab and chow or maybe a little pit bull, and they also have a Husky named Brianna.

Playing his first season with the Predators, Jackman spent his first 12 NHL seasons with the St. Louis Blues. In the Gateway City, along with his wife Jenny, Jackman and several of his teammates with the Blues became involved with Stray Rescue of St. Louis.

“When my wife and I got married, we were combining two houses, so we didn’t need anything for wedding gifts, so we tried to find a cause that was close to both of us and we ended up working with Stray Rescue trying to build awareness for stray dogs in St. Louis,” Jackman said.

For the Jackmans, their love of animals is something that they have passed down to their children.

“We have two (dogs) right now,” Jackman said. “We fostered probably about a dozen different dogs until they were adopted. We had one that passed away about a year ago. We’ve always had them in our home. Our kids know the feeling of going down to the shelter and helping out a little and picking out their new best friend.”

Finding a new friend and giving that friend a chance at a forever home can be as easy as a trip down to the local shelter.

“They are a real blessing to us,” Watson said. “They are part of the family. We have a great time with them.”

Jimmy Vesey skates at prospect camp. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Veni, Vidi, Vesey; Prized prospect deals Poile another disappointing blow

By Jim Diamond

David Poile July 4, 2012:

“It would be an understatement to say that the Nashville Predators are disappointed at this time. Actually, not only disappointed, but very surprised.”

David Poile March 28, 2016:

“Very disappointing news obviously for the Nashville Predators, our fans, and our team.”

He later added: “This is a shock.”

Eerily similar, right?

The situation in 2012 was after Ryan Suter signed a deal with the Minnesota Wild as an unrestricted free agent. That day, Poile felt as though he was deceived by the star defenseman who he had assumed would re-sign with the team that drafted him with their first pick in 2003.

While the Predators were on the ice playing the Colorado Avalanche Monday night, word dropped that Jimmy Vesey, Nashville’s 3rd round pick in 2012, had told the organization that he would not be signing with the Predators and exercising his right to become a free agent on August 15th.

Uncle Bob had it first:

McKenzie’s tweet was sent during the first period of Monday night’s game.

The writing appeared to be on the wall Saturday night when, just minutes before faceoff of that night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team put out the curious statement (at a curious time to boot) that they would be speaking with the Harvard senior “at some point over the next several days.”

This statement was a drastic departure from the tone team General Manager David Poile took at the trade deadline, telling the team’s website:

“We’ve kept a spot open for him, and we’ve talked about when his season ends to bring him right onto our team put him right into our lineup,” Poile said of Vesey at the time. “When you make a promise like that, you have to keep that promise. I didn’t want to trade away his spot. Acquiring a forward, a top-two line forward, for example, I think that would’ve probably not been fair to Jimmy Vesey, and I really feel with his potential, what he can do, that he was probably as good as any player I could’ve acquired at the trading deadline.

“Whenever Harvard’s season is over, we look forward to signing Jimmy and bringing him on our team, and I think that’s going to be a great boost for our team at the perfect time of the season.”

Poile had to be feeling pretty confident in making the statements about Vesey just a few short weeks ago. College players with eligibility are not allowed to have agents but can have family advisors, basically ersatz agents.

Addressing the media during the second intermission Monday night, Poile revealed that Vesey’s representatives gave the Predators an indication Wednesday night that for the first time, they were thinking about free agency despite the offer of a roster spot right away and the fact that he would play on one of the team’s top lines as well.

Then Poile spewed some hot fire in the direction of those representatives.

“This is the first time I am going to say this in my career as a general manager. I clearly believe that Jimmy has received bad advice and bad counsel.”

By signing with the Predators, Vesey would be able to tick off one year of his entry-level contract, getting a year closer to free agency. The money would be the same in Nashville as it would in any other city. Poile mentioned Monday that Suter had a financial benefit to leave Nashville, but in 2012, he said that the Predators made an identical offer to Suter.

Poile also referenced that as late as Thursday that Vesey’s dad Jim, a scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs, had thought that signing with the Predators was the best course of action for his son.

Further, Poile said that the team was continually rebuffed in their attempt to bring all parties (Vesey, his family, and his agents) together to discuss signing Vesey.

In addition to hiring the senior Vesey as a scout, the Maple Leafs drafted Vesey’s brother Nolan in 2014. Poile said that in all conversations with Jim Vesey that he was speaking to the dad and not the employee of another NHL team.

It will be interesting to see where Vesey lands August 15th. Poile did state that he would continue to pursue signing him up until that date.

Not happening folks. He’s gone, leaving a general manager bewildered once again at a player not wanting to play for his team.

Carter Hutton (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

Carter Hutton named Nashville’s Masterton nominee

By Jim Diamond

Carter Hutton has been selected as the Nashville Predators 2015-16 nominee for the Masterton Trophy, as voted on by the Nashville chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

The Masterton is given annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. The award is presented on behalf of, and voted upon by the membership of the PHWA. The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards ceremony in June.

Life as a backup goaltender in the NHL isn’t always glamorous, especially when you are backing up Pekka Rinne, who gets very few nights off over the course of an 82-game regular season. Save for injury or illness, Hutton’s name doesn’t often appear on the lineup card.

But a big part of Hutton’s job description is to do all he can to make sure his teammates have a goaltender to work with whenever they need one. This means staying on the practice rink until all of the skaters are finished as well as working with the scratched and injured players after morning skates.

During games in which he doesn’t play, fans watching on TV look forward to Hutton’s in-game hits, where he provides some perspective on the game and punctuates each visit with his should-be trademarked, “Hey, thanks for having me guys,” phrase.

In the offseason, Hutton runs a hockey school for charity in his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Hutton’s charity of choice is the Boys and Girls Club of Thunder Bay.

Last summer, Hutton and the NHL Players Association donated goaltender equipment to every minor hockey association in the Thunder Bay area.

A-Game Closes (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

A-Game Sportsplex closes

By Jim Diamond

Forgive me in advance if the lines get blurred between me being a journalist and someone who is pissed off about a misjustice that is occurring right now in Franklin, but this is a difficult one.

The owners of A-Game Sportsplex closed and locked the doors to their facility this morning. The police are in the parking lot blocking the entrance.

The sale and eventual closing of A-Game has been well publicized the last few months. But now the owners have decided to do the worst thing possible and that is use children as a pawn in their business dealings. The thousands, that’s right thousands, of children who play volleyball and hockey at A-Game now have nowhere to go. There is a month or so left in the seasons. The volleyball and hockey clubs who operate out of A-Game have valid leases that extend beyond this season. The owners are attempting to force them out of those leases by locking the doors.

Oh, and there is a school that operates in A-Game. Sorry again kids.

A statement today submitted by the ownership group said that they will work with the lease holders to reopen the facility for the remainder of the season, but only if the volleyball and hockey groups agree to terminate their leases early, thereby enabling the owners to sell the building.

I just put two kids on the school bus this morning. One of them is expecting to return from school and have a practice at A-Game tonight. The other, whose team I serve as head coach, is supposed to practice tomorrow night.

How do you explain this one to them? They don’t cover this one in parenting school.

Including A-Game, there are only six sheets of ice in Nashville that can be used for youth and adult hockey. There isn’t a lot of available ice time at any of these six as it is. Closing A-Game and taking two sheets of ice away in Nashville will be devastating to a market that was on such a high after this past weekend’s All-Star game festivities.

Just building a new rink is not something that can’t occur quickly.

Business is difficult, but when you involve children and use them like the owners of A-Game are attempting to use them, it crosses a line. The volleyball and hockey players of this community do not deserve this. It is in no way their fault yet they are be the ones who will suffer the most.

The local economy will suffer as well. A-Game hosts volleyball, basketball, and hockey tournaments every weekend.

That means hundreds of hotel nights and restaurant meals that could disappear.

A significant number of Nashville Predators season ticket holders live in Williamson County. Fewer people playing hockey there, children and adults alike, will not be good for the Predators either.

Stay tuned for further developments in this ugly situation.

Hilary Knight signs an autograph for a fan. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Hilary Knight helps sustain growth of women’s hockey in the U.S.

By Jim Diamond

One of the players in Nashville this past weekend as part of the All-Star Game festivities possesses an impressive amateur and international hockey resume that includes two Olympic silver medals, five IIHF World Championship gold and two silver medals, a decorated collegiate career including one NCAA Championship and another national runner-up as a University of Wisconsin Badger. As a four-year professional, that player has already won a league most valuable player award.

But the player did not take to the Bridgestone Arena ice as part of the All-Star weekend however. Instead, Hilary Knight was in Nashville as a guest of Discover, meeting and greeting fans at the Music City Center.

After three years in the CWHL, Knight now plies her trade with the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League. Women’s hockey received tremendous exposure at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The gold medal game drew nearly five million television viewers in the United States, a huge number for a sport that has traditionally struggled to attract American viewers regardless of gender or level or competition.

There was just something about that American team that drew the fans to them.

“We went to Russia as hockey players and we came back as America’s sweethearts,” Knight said. “And now everybody wants a piece of us, which is great because we just launched a new league and there’s another league that’s continuing to sustain itself. I can’t think of a more exciting time to be in women’s hockey.”

In that gold medal game, the Americans lost to their archrival Team Canada in overtime. Despite the loss, the foundation for major expansion of women’s hockey, especially in the United States, was set.

“We’ve really sustained that attention because of the storylines and the way the fans attached to that game,” Knight said. “It was obviously a heartbreaker for us, but I still get people approaching me randomly when I’m in the grocery store and they are like, ‘Oh my God, you were in that game. I’m so sorry, but man, can I tell you about that game?’ Taking a step away from the actual losing part, you just realize that you touched on something with the fans, and it resonated with them and they feel attached to it, and also attached with our successes and also our failures. Now they want to focus on us.”

Many of those fans lined up in Nashville Saturday at her appearance on the autograph stage at Fan Fair. A sign at the entry to the corral for autographs stated, “Please no photographs,” but Knight was happy to ignore that suggestion and obliged all who asked for a photo, even jumping down from the stage for some, flashing her signature smile for each and every picture.

“Coming to Fan Fair and just interacting with people and seeing how many fans are here supporting and also the player’s perspective, it’s a fun city to be in,” she said.

It’s all part of growing the game. Another part of that growth is having major companies align with players. Those companies investing in women’s hockey is vital to keeping expand the game.

“I get to participate and interact with fans, which is the best job ever, so it is kind of a dream job,” Knight said. “It’s awesome to be able to work with bigger companies because I’m here on behalf of them and interacting with fans, but at the same time, fans then get to interact with us and showcase the women’s hockey platform.”

Knight’s busy weekend didn’t end with her time at Fan Fair. After Saturday’s appearance, Knight had to get back to her day job. She caught an early Sunday morning flight from Nashville to Connecticut for the Pride’s game against the Whale that night. Knight collected a goal in Boston’s 5-2 victory.

John Scott and Jagger Burns (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Brent Burns calls upon his son for assistance in Breakaway Challenge

By Jim Diamond

There’s no question that the darling of the 2016 All-Star weekend has been Arizona Coyotes Montreal Canadiens St. John’s IceCaps Pacific Division captain John Scott. But San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns has made a strong charge for taking over second place in that category.

Burns showed up in Nashville a day early to tour the city with his family and soak up the atmosphere of the weekend. But in Saturday night’s Skills Competition, Burns put one of those family members to work during the Breakaway Challenge.

Four and a half year-old Jagger Burns came out of the tunnel leading from the locker room to the ice wearing a white Sharks jersey with number 88 and a Lil Burns nameplate on the back. Joe Pavelski’s son Nate accompanied young Burns onto the ice.

Burns gave the puck to Nate and the lads headed toward the net, which was briefly occupied by goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider. The former Vancouver teammates fake fought over who was going to face the shot before stepping aside and letting the young Burns put away his attempt following a drop pass from the young Pavelski.

“We practiced a little bit this morning,” Burns said. “We came out for the pregame skate. He and Nate worked on the drop pass. You get two kids under five, you never really know what’s going to happen, so it’s good to see it go off.”

The plan for the goal’s aftermath was for the two Burns men to pose for a picture together, but Jagger had a different idea and dropped his gloves and began dancing in the corner in front of a television camera.

Moves like Jagger? Indeed.

“That wasn’t part of the routine,” Burns said with a laugh.

Jagger stayed around after his goal, mostly skating around and hanging out with Scott. Burns and Scott have been teammates with both Minnesota and San Jose and remain great friends.

“I was teammates with him back in Minny before we all had monsters running around,” Burns said. “They are getting to know each other really well in the hotel room and we’ve been together a lot.”

Burns finished a close second to Montreal’s P.K. Subban in the Breakout Challenge voting, which was done via Twitter by the fans.

Subban won the fans over with a tribute to Florida’s Jaromir Jagr. Subban donned a mullet wig underneath a white throwback Jofa helmet along with a Jagr Panthers jersey and black referee pants.

Dustin Byfuglien (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

2016 All-Star Weekend a reunion of sorts for 2003 draftees

By Jim Diamond

In the lead up to the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, held at what is now known at Bridgestone Arena, that year’s crop of potential draftees had pundits proclaiming that draft as potentially the best ever. In the 12-plus years since, those prognostications have proven to be correct. All 30 players drafted in the first round have appeared in the league, as have a large number of the 292 whose names were called that weekend in Nashville.

Six members of that draft class are back in Nashville this weekend for the league’s annual All-Star festivities. And the players who will compete at Bridgestone Arena in both the All-Star Game and the Skills Competition were not all high picks way back in 2003.

Depending on their date of birth, players are draft eligible starting as young as 17-years-old, so picking players that young is always a bit of an educated guessing game. Projecting how players will mature is at best an inexact science, but teams need to be correct more times than not when picking these players if those scouts and executives wish to keep their jobs for very long.

The Minnesota Wild selected defenseman Brent Burns with the 20th overall pick in 2003. Now plying his trade for the San Jose Sharks, Burns said that Nashville has a special place in his heart.

“It’s kind of full circle for us,” Burns said at Friday’s player media availability. “For my family, the first time we were here for the Draft, my dad talks about it being a pretty big blur. I don’t know if it was the beers or just the shock, but it’s really cool to be back here and get to enjoy it for a week. We came in a day early. My wife has never been here. It’s fun for the kids. Yeah, it’s definitely special to be back in Nashville.”

Corey Perry is the other 2003 first rounder named to the 2016 All-Star Game. He was taken with the 28th pick by the Anaheim Ducks, who traded up to get a second, first round selection. They took Ryan Getzlaf 19th overall.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Perry said. “You look back at how many years it’s been now since that has happened. It did start here. It was a crazy day. Anaheim trading up for the pick and all that the way it happened. It’s exciting to come back here, that’s for sure.”

Regarded as one of, if not the league’s best two-way forward, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron was a second round pick, going 45th. Back then, he couldn’t envision being an All-Star so many years later.

“It brought back some memories coming back here 13 years later now,” Bergeron said. “It’s definitely special. Looking back, I never thought I’d be here that many years later at an All-Star Game, so it’s definitely a lot of fun.”

Taken four picks after Bergeron, Shea Weber turned out to be a decent value pick for the Predators. Weber was the third defenseman taken by the Predators that draft, following the picks of Ryan Suter and Kevin Klein.

For a couple of players who weren’t even sure they would be drafted in 2003, their late selections seem like a distant memory as they both have developed into two of the NHL’s elite. Neither Joe Pavelski nor Dustin Byfuglien made the trip to Nashville that draft weekend.

“I was not here for that Draft,” Pavelski said. “I wasn’t really exactly planning on getting drafted. I knew if I did go, it was going to be late. It was the seventh round, so I was home doing whatever I was doing that day and having fun. Obviously it was nice to see.”

San Jose took Pavelski 205th overall, and the forward is now approaching 700 NHL games played.

Byfuglien was taken in a round that does not exist any longer. Chicago took the hulking defenseman in the eighth round, 245th overall.

“I got a phone call,” he said. “I was in the (eighth) round, they had nine rounds back then. I was at home and got the phone call. I had no idea. I knew my name was out there, but if I did, I was happy. If not, I guess I would still have been happy.”

Keeping it all in perspective, Byfuglien, now with the Winnipeg Jets, reflected back on the long road he took to becoming an NHL All-Star.

“It’s been a long journey and I’m sitting here now,” he said with a smile. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what round you go, it’s what you do when you put on the gear and go on the ice. “

Rinne takes the loss, but teammates share blame in his slide

Pekka Rinne (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Pekka Rinne (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

By Jim Diamond

It didn’t end the way he intended, but Peter Laviolette’s decision to start Pekka Rinne in goal Tuesday night against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks was the right move to make.

Yes, Rinne has struggled for most of this season, and he’s been mediocre at best for the last month or so, but if this Predators team has any hope of going anywhere, like say the playoffs, they are going to need Rinne to be the one who gets them there.

At 33, Rinne still has some time left to regain his standing as one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders, but that window won’t be open forever. And if the Predators hope to contend for a Cup anytime soon, they will need the 6’5” Finn to get back to the form that has seen him be a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist.

With Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Blackhawks, the Predators have dropped six of their last seven, and Rinne was between the pipes for all but one of those losses, and he wasn’t the one who earned the lone victory either, that was a Carter Hutton shutout of the Minnesota Wild Saturday night.

In stopping just 23 of the 26 Chicago shots he faced Tuesday, Rinne’s save percentage for 2015-16 fell to .901, which would be the lowest of his eight NHL seasons.

“Obviously my play hasn’t been anywhere near where it should be or I want it to be,” Rinne said. “Obviously working trying to do everything I can, trying to work through it, trying to get back up there and gain some confidence going forward. It’s been hard.”

There is plenty of blame to be shared among the team though, as the team in front of Rinne was poor at times Tuesday, symbolic of many of the previous games in which the end result was a Nashville loss. And against a team as dangerous as the Blackhawks, who won their 12th in a row Tuesday, any mistakes usually end up in the back of your net.

On Chicago’s first goal, Filip Forsberg turned over a puck inside the Nashville zone moments before Artem Anisimov made a nice move around a sliding Rinne in the first period’s final seconds.

In the second, Richard Panik doubled the Blackhawks lead on a shot that Rinne probably should have stopped, but the play probably shouldn’t have been allowed to develop as it did. In the neutral zone, Anthony Bitetto tried to hit Paul Gaustad with a pass at the blue line. It missed and Chicago turned the play back toward the Nashville zone.

Chicago’s third goal came on a Patrick Kane breakaway after Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm lost track of the league’s leading scorer. That goal came just a minute after Ellis made it a 2-1 game early in the second, a momentum changing swing for sure.

Following the game, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette was not pleased with some of the errors his team made in the loss.

“Defensively we didn’t let up a lot,” he said. “There weren’t a lot quality chances. There weren’t a lot of shots, but the ones that we let up, there’s three or four (or) five of them that I’d like back because they were too big. The chances were too big.”

Nashville begins a pre-All-Star break four-game road swing through Western Canada Thursday in Winnipeg.

Viktor Arvidsson makes a pass to Craig Smith. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Fast start paces Predators past Blackhawks

By Jim Diamond

Goals, fights, a penalty kill, and saves, and that was just in the first period. From the opening faceoff, the Predators looked like a different team Thursday night, dominating the visiting Chicago Blackhawks for nearly the entirety of the first 20 minutes.

The game’s first 11 shots on goal all came off of Nashville sticks with the Blackhawks not testing Pekka Rinne until Jonathan Toews recorded Chicago’s first shot at 5:30.

All the talk of late has been about whether or not the Predators are a frustrated team. Despite not solving Darling during that early barrage, they kept shooting. It paid off at 6:54 when James Neal did, well, what James Neal does.

Neal accepted a long stretch pass from Shea Weber at the Chicago blue line. He got the puck to settle in the slot, danced around Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to get into open space on the left, and then slipped a quick wrist shot between Scott Darling’s pads.

Neal, who had just one goal in his last 11 games, pumped his fist before celebrating with his teammates on the left half boards.

“Yeah, I think it was one of our best periods of the year,” Neal said. “I think every guy wanted to respond from our game in Chicago. It was a tough one for us, so coming back home having Chicago again was great for our team. I think we did a great job, every line, and the first shift was big and got us rolling.”

Neal added another goal late in the third. It was his third two-goal game of the season, but first since Oct. 20.

Craig Smith and Filip Forsberg scored goals 37 seconds apart later in the first. Smith’s goal snapped a seven-game goalless stretch.

Viktor Arvidsson carried the puck into the Chicago zone on the left side and lifted a backhand pass over the stick of Trevor van Riemsdyk to Smith in the slot. Smith corralled the bouncing puck and got enough of it to get it by Darling for his sixth of the season.

“We were ready to play fast,” Smith said. “We just wanted to hit holes and just regardless of what happened, just to move our feet and play fast.”

Forsberg’s goal came just 19 seconds into the only power play the Predators would have on the night.

As efficient as their power play was, Nashville’s penalty kill was equally effective in the game. The highly talented Blackhawks had three opportunities on the power plays in the game. In the six minutes of time with the man advantage, they managed just three shots on Rinne, none of which beat him.

Nashville had allowed nine power-play goals against in their last seven games.

“It’s great to see,” Rinne said. “It’s a confidence booster too when you kill a few penalties against a good team like that. We did a really good job. Guys sacrificed and we made good clears, all the right things.”

Chicago pushed back over the course of the final two periods, putting 29 shots on Rinne in the second and third. Only one got by him, a controversial Patrick Kane goal that Rinne thought should have been blown dead since he thought he had the puck covered. Peter Laviolette used his challenge, but the call on the ice stood after the review.

Pekka Rinne (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Predicting the Central Division’s All-Star Team

By Jim Diamond

When the NHL and NHLPA announced the new format for the upcoming All-Star game to be held in Nashville in late January, it was announced that the rosters for the teams that represent each division would be made up of six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies for the 3-on-3 division vs. division tournament.

Another big wrinkle for the roster is that each team has to be represented at least once. For the Western Conference, that means the 11 roster spots are to be spread among the seven teams in each division. It is a little tougher in the Eastern Conference, where each division has eight teams.

The NHL will host a fan vote, which will select one player from each division to be named to the All-Star Game. The player who wins the fan vote in each division will be named that team’s captain. A conspiracy theorist might suggest that there is a great chance that Shea Weber may be the Central’s leading vote-getter.

Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Using the league’s rules, here is my guess at the Central Division’s lineup. With the division being as strong as it is, picking 11 players is a difficult task. Many things can change between now and January.

Forwards:

  1. Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado)
  2. Patrick Kane (Chicago)
  3. Tyler Seguin (Dallas)
  4. Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis)
  5. Jamie Benn (Dallas)
  6. Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg)

Current omissions: James Neal (Nashville), Jonathan Toews (Chicago), Miikko Koivu (Minnesota), Artemi Panarin (Chicago)

They are all good, even the ones currently listed on the outside looking in.

Defensemen:

  1. Shea Weber (Nashville)
  2. Ryan Suter (Minnesota)
  3. Roman Josi (Nashville)

Current omissions: John Klingberg (Dallas), Colton Parayko (St. Louis), Tyson Barrie (Colorado), Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis)

Let’s call those listed as on the team as the David Poile/Paul Fenton blue line. Klingberg really deserves a place on the team, but when you only have three spots, tough calls are made. There is no chance of Weber not being there, and with the game in Nashville, Josi will get the benefit of any doubt, but he deserves to be there too.

Goaltenders:

  1. Pekka Rinne (Nashville)
  2. Jake Allen (St. Louis)

Current omission: Devan Dubnyk (Minnesota)

Rinne is a virtual lock. Right now, it is basically a coin flip between Allen and Dubnyk for the other spot.

Again, a lot can happen before the rosters are announced. Who do you have?