Do the Nashville Predators actually have a Stanley Cup blueprint?

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This season, everyone (including yours truly) seems to think that the Nashville Predators are one piece away from a Stanley Cup puzzle. That one piece being a bonafide goal scorer.

But is that really the case?

There has always seemed to be one common thread among Stanley Cup winning teams: a superstar. A guy that everyone recognizes by name, a guy who’s a sho-in for the NHL All-Star game every single year and even a guy who’s a lock as a Hall of Famer.

In most cases, a bonafide goal scorer.

The grid below spans the last 20 years of Stanley Cup Champions. While each of these teams had very good players on them, they also had one or two bonafide superstars each (sans the 2002 Detroit Red Wings roster who practically boasted a Hall of Fame lineup).

YEAR TEAM SUPERSTAR
2011 Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara, Tim Thomas
2010 Chicago Blackhawks Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews
2009 Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin
2008 Detroit Red Wings Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom
2007 Anaheim Ducks Teemu Selanne
2006 Carolina Hurricanes Eric Staal
2005 no season
2004 Tampa Bay Lightning Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis
2003 New Jersey Devils Martin Brodeur, Joe Nieuwendyk
2002 Detroit Red Wings too many to name
2001 Colorado Avalanche Ray Bourque, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy
2000 New Jersey Devils Martin Brodeur
1999 Dallas Stars* Mike Modano, Ed Belfour, Brett Hull
1998 Detroit Red Wings Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Brendan Shanahan
1997 Detroit Red Wings Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Brendan Shanahan
1996 Colorado Avalanche Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg
1995 New Jersey Devils Martin Brodeur
1994 New York Rangers Mark Messier, Brian Leetch
1993 Montreal Canadiens Patrick Roy
1992 Pittsburgh Penguins Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr

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It’s no secret that (short of the 2006-07 squad) the Predators have never really had a “superstar” laden lineup. Sure, Paul Kariya was the first superstar who chose to come to Music City but his stint here only lasted two years, not to mention all seven of his All-Star appearances came pre-Nashville. And we all like to think of Steve Sullivan as a superstar but, let’s face it, is he a Hockey Hall of Famer? Absolutely not. And how many All-Star Game’s has he played in? None. Thus, he doesn’t qualify.

So, short of Peter Forsberg for that all-too-brief two-month stint in 2007, the Nashville organization has been void of the one common thread among Stanley Cup Champions.

Or have they?

Kevin Allen of USA Today has been covering the National Hockey League for 26 years. He’s one of the best writer’s in the country and he’s even the President of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. If anybody has seen a common thread amongst Stanley Cup winners it’s him. According to Allen, the theme above may be wrong. In fact, it seems like the Preds may already have a championship blueprint.

“A premium defenseman,” Allen said, when asked what’s essential to playing into June. “Boston had Zdeno Chara, Anaheim had Chris Pronger, Chicago had Duncan Keith, Detroit had Nicklas Lidstrom, etc.”

Nashville already has that piece in place. Matter of fact, they have two of them. Both team captain Shea Weber and his first lieutenant Ryan Suter fit the bill and both blueliners are expected to don a Predators sweater past the NHL trade deadline on February 27.

But it’s not just Allen that shares that view.

“Experienced defenseman,”  said Craig Button, former NHL General Manager and current NHL Tonight co-host. ”You can’t win the Cup without experience because, as you move along in the playoffs, the challenges become increasingly difficult.”

One could argue that Weber and Suter are ready for that challenge. They each led the Nashville blueline during the heartbreaking first round loss to the Blackhawks in 2010, they each played a key role in the first round defeat of the Anaheim Ducks last season and they went through the war with the Vancouver Canucks in the second round before losing in game six. Obviously, neither of them have a Stanley Cup ring but they’ve been learning how to be successful for six years now and they may be ready to accept the new challenge.

But the Predators’ hopes don’t start and end with the defense corps. According to Button, the Stanley Cup blueprint possesses something else.

“I believe you need two very strong centers to win,” Button said. “Think back to last season in the playoffs versus Vancouver. The Predators did very well in negating the Sedins because they could match up versus Henrik. They could not match up versus Ryan Kesler and he was instrumental in the series.

Allen had a second requirement too but it’s one that the Preds already have taken care of.

“Solid goaltending,” Allen said. “I used to believe you need stellar goaltending but now I believe you just need a goalie who doesn’t lose it for you. It helps if he can win a game by himself, but it’s more important that he doesn’t have any bad games.”

Good thing Pekka Rinne does just that. He rarely has a bad game and, when he does, the team seems to overcome it. Just look at last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinal against the Ducks. Rinne was average, allowing three goals or more in all but two games. He was even pulled in one contest after giving up six goals on 29 shots. If you had told me that those would be his numbers going into the post season, I would have said “another one and done series, I guess.” But no. The Preds offense came alive, preying on the weak goaltending situation of Anaheim. He then returned to form against Vancouver but it was the offense that went cold. He allowed two goals or fewer in half of the games, had a 44-save effort in a loss and even allowed just a single puck to get by him in the opening game of the series in which his team gave him zero goal support.

In short, the least of Nashville’s worries are between the pipes.

It appears as if the Predators already have a Stanley Cup blueprint in place. They may be one or two pieces away from completing the puzzle but that piece isn’t necessarily a big name superstar like a Rick Nash or a Zach Parise or a Bobby Ryan. It very well could be an experienced defenseman like Hal Gill in Montreal or Pavel Kubina in Tampa Bay. Somebody who’s been there, done that and somebody who’s going to compliment what’s already in place.

So maybe the Stanley Cup grid should reflect star defensemen and goaltenders, as opposed to just superstars. If so, you can clearly see, the 2011-12 Predators roster would fit.

YEAR TEAM STAR DEFENSEMAN AND/OR GOALTENDER
2011 Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara, Tim Thomas
2010 Chicago Blackhawks Duncan Keith
2009 Pittsburgh Penguins Marc-Andre Fluery
2008 Detroit Red Wings Nicklas Lidstrom
2007 Anaheim Ducks Chris Pronger, Jean-Sebasiten Giguere
2006 Carolina Hurricanes ?
2005 no season
2004 Tampa Bay Lightning ?
2003 New Jersey Devils Scott Stevens, Martin Brodeur
2002 Detroit Red Wings Nicklas Lidstrom
2001 Colorado Avalanche Ray Bourque, Patrick Roy
2000 New Jersey Devils Scott Stevens, Martin Brodeur
1999 Dallas Stars* Ed Belfour
1998 Detroit Red Wings Nicklas Lidstrom
1997 Detroit Red Wings Nicklas Lidstrom
1996 Colorado Avalanche Patrick Roy
1995 New Jersey Devils Scott Stevens, Martin Brodeur
1994 New York Rangers Brian Leetch
1993 Montreal Canadiens Patrick Roy
1992 Pittsburgh Penguins Larry Murphy

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When asked why they think Nashville is a Stanley Cup contender, both Allen and Button gave similar answers that should leave fans in Music City optimistic. The catch? We’re right back to the superstar discussion.

“The Predators are a Stanley Cup contender because I believe any team that earns a playoff spot in the West can win it. They have two premium defensemen and a first rate goalie. They play a defensive style that works well in the post-season. The Preds have the ability to limit a team to one or two goals per game in the post-season. That should make them competitive in every series. The only question is whether they will score enough.” – Kevin Allen

“They have a premier goalie and two of the very best defensemen in the NHL. They are well coached, play hard and are smart. From my perspective, they need to add a significant center to be able to match up in the West. The best teams have the following: Detroit (Datsyuk & Zetterberg), Vancouver (Sedin & Kesler) and San Jose (Thornton & Couture). That is the difference, in my opinion, between those teams and Nashville. They have to get a significant center but you don’t go into the “Hockey 7/11″ store, go down the ‘significant center’ aisle and find one.” – Craig Button

PHOTO/GRAPHIC CREDIT: Bradley Field // Twitter (special to section303.com)