Nashville Predators, 41-29-12, lost in the Stanley Cup Final, $6,086,667 in cap space.
Biggest changes: The Predators lost captain Mike Fisher to retirement and scoring winger James Neal to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. But they signed Nick Bonino, one of the league's better two-way centers, away from the Pittsburgh Penguins on a four-year, $16.4 million contract. Bonino excelled in Pittsburgh's speed-first, puck-pursuit system the last couple of years and he should thrive under coach Peter Laviolette, who likes to push the pace. Defensive backbone Ryan Ellis is out until after January while he recovers from a knee injury, so Alexei Emelin was acquired in the offseason to provide depth. Emelin won't replace Ellis, one of the team's best puck movers, but his presence should lessen the blow. Former Predators winger Scott Hartnell, 35, returned for one year at $1 million. He's not the goal scorer he was earlier in his career, but he's just one season removed from 23 goals with the Columbus Blue Jackets and should prove a nice value signing and veteran presence in the room.
Case for: The Predators made the Stanley Cup Final last season with a core that's mostly in its mid-20s. In fact, one could argue they would have beaten the Penguins if center Ryan Johansen hadn't suffered acute compartment syndrome, which knocked him out of the last two Western Conference Final games and the entire Final. Wingers Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson each scored 31 goals last season, and Forsberg especially has the potential to challenge for 40 goals. Johansen is also a lock for 60-70 points and proved during the postseason that he's a legit elite center. The Predators are often in good hands when they have one of their star defensemen -- Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm or P.K. Subban -- on the ice. Not having Ellis to start the season will be tough, but he'll return with more than enough time to play in the team's most important games down the stretch. Goaltender Pekka Rinne proved he's still got it at the age of 34 and had the strength to carry his team to the Final, with a 1.96 goal-against average and .930 save percentage in the playoffs.
Case against: Although Rinne had a renaissance season, he will be 35 in November, and a drop-off wouldn't be a surprise. If he falters, Juuse Saros, 22, has appeared in 22 career NHL games and it's unclear if he's ready to carry a bigger load. The Preds didn't replace Neal's 23 goals and it is still to be determined if youngster Kevin Fiala, who is expected to replace some of Neal's offense, can take the next step after suffering a gruesome leg injury in the playoffs. The absence of Fisher, one of the better leaders in the NHL, will hurt the team's depth at center, where he was a stalwart. Not having Ellis, one of Nashville's more irreplaceable players, to start the season could hurt big time. Emelin is more of a defensive defenseman and might have difficulty fitting in with Laviolette's attacking system. Bottom-two defensemen Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber are a big drop-off from the top four and struggled from a puck-possession perspective last season.
Trade bait: Emelin, a pending unrestricted free agent at $3 million per season, appears more like a placeholder who is likely to be moved to add another piece for the stretch run after Ellis returns.
Goalie situation rating: 7. Rinne is coming off a Stanley Cup Final run and Saros has a lot of talent, but both carry questions heading into the season: age for Rinne and inexperience with Saros.
Scout's take: "The only thing I think they're lacking is a little bit of leadership there. I think that losing Ellis out of the room and losing Fisher, their leadership [absence leaves] a big hole. But I think they still have a good basis of what they are. Johansen finished pretty strong before he got hurt. I think that Arvidsson is just starting to go. I think they have some good direction, so they shouldn't miss a beat. I just think they're missing some leadership."
Prediction: Second in Central
Ryan Ellis (injured)