The Nashville Predators were not a playoff-caliber team on the Fourth of July. A day later, that changed.
Shortly after the United States’ birthday came to a close and free agency began, GM David Poile improved his club by bringing five new players to the Music City: Viktor Stalberg, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom, Matt Hendricks and Carter Hutton.
The most significant acquisition here is Stalberg, who Poile believes will jump right into the team’s top-six. The Preds entered the off-season with a need to repair what was the NHL’s worst offense in 2013, and the 6′ 3” Swede will go a long way towards improving that area of weakness.
Stalberg, 27, may not be a game-changer, but he has potential to be a 20-25 goal-per-year guy in Nashville — especially with the expanded role he’ll receive from what he had in Chicago.
So excited to join the preds! Wanna thank Chicago for these three years, it’s been amazing!
— Viktor Stalberg (@VStalberg) July 5, 2013
The former Toronto draft pick racked up 22 goals in 79 games in 2011-12 and nine goals in 47 games last year, so we know he can find the back of the net. That regular season scoring pace over the last two years averages out to 20 goals per 82 games, which now makes him one of the most lethal forwards on the Preds’ roster.
“He has shown flashes of it with Chicago,” Poile said. “He’s got everything you want — size, skating. He’s got the hands. (He had) a tough time getting ahead of Toews, and Kane and Hossa and guys like that. With all due respect, our forwards are not as dynamic as that.”
What has gone relatively unnoticed by fans is how strong Stalberg is in the defensive aspect of the game. During even strength play the Blackhawks gave up just 0.99 GA/60 when he was on the ice last season; conversely, they gave up 2.06 GA/60 of EV when he was off the ice.
Stalberg’s Fenwick % last year was 55.5%, which is extremely high. As this fantastic article will show you, a team’s overall Fenwick % has a strong correlation with its ability to contend for a playoff spot. The Preds as a whole have seen its Fenwick dip over the last few years — going from 51.7% in 2009-10 (sixth in the NHL) to 45.9% in 2013 (25th in the NHL) — and acquiring a player who can help drive possession was absolutely crucial.
Furthermore, Stalberg’s PDO of 1053 was tops among Chicago forwards in 2013 and ranked 17th in the league in NHL forwards who played in 20-plus games in 2013.
Nashville’s PDO last season as a team: just 996.
“We were very specific in the guys that we wanted,” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. “And we went out and got them.”
Undoubtedly, Stalberg’s defense and good possession numbers were part of what attracted Poile and Trotz.
While Stalberg certainly plays the kind of grind-it-out “Predator Hockey” Poile sought in free agency, he does have quite a bit of offensive potential as well.
In 2013, Stalberg scored 2.12 points per 60 minutes of ice time. That’s a better output than fellow teammates and former All Stars Marian Hossa (2.1) and Patrick Sharp (1.7).
Additionally, he potted 1.005 goals per 60 — second on Chicago only to captain Jonathan Toews.
So give this guy some more TOI, make him a staple on the power-play and surround him with good line-mates. If all that can be done, Stalberg could become the kind of forward Nashville has been lacking.
“I wanted to go to a competitive team that’s going to challenge to go into the playoffs and go far in the playoffs,” Stalberg said. “In Nashville, I have that opportunity. In talking to them, they see the same in me. They think I can have a bigger impact on games. They have a good team that’s going to challenge in a couple of years.”
The one major concern here, though, is Stalberg’s performance throughout the playoffs this past spring, which led him to be benched by Joel Quenneville on two separate occasions. While he would go on to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, he scored zero goals and amassed just three assists in 19 post-season games — not exactly in line with his regular season numbers.
But frankly, there weren’t many other options out there who would serve the Predators better in terms of cost vs. production. I would have loved to see Poile pick up someone like Nathan Horton or Clarke MacArthur, but with the market somewhat thin in goal-scorers, Nashville brass probably knew that upper-echelon free agents would likely look elsewhere.
Regardless, Stalberg and the Preds should fit together well. His name may not raise many eyebrows, but he’s a guy who is ready to spread his wings, knows a thing or two about winning and provides Nashville with the kind of skill set they so desperately need.
Photo credit: Robin Alam/Icon SMI