Offseason moves bring new life to Preds

Two teams in the Western Conference have a donut in the loss column.

That one of them is the Chicago Blackhawks, well, ho-hum indeed.

That the other is the Nashville Predators, well, who knew?

The clubs meet up Thursday night in Music City, the Hawks having prevailed 2-1 in overtime over the Preds on Saturday in Chicago.

"A chance for a little redemption," Predators captain Shea Weber told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Fans and media all over the league are waiting for the Predators to come back down to earth after a 4-0-2 start. Games like Thursday night are a measuring stick to help answer the question: Are these guys for real?

"The Blackhawks are in town Thursday night and then the Penguins on Saturday, so yes, absolutely, we’ve got games against top teams," Predators general manager David Poile said Wednesday. "It’s been a real good start for us."

The Predators' story has to begin with Poile, the veteran hockey man who worked tirelessly in the offseason to continue reshaping his club. He tried to get in on the Jason Spezza sweepstakes at the draft in Philadelphia in late June but was told by the Ottawa Senators that the star center would not waive his no-trade clause to go to Nashville.

That same weekend, Poile acquired winger James Neal from the Pittsburgh Penguins, a bold move that brought the Preds the pure goal scorer they have lacked for years.

Then three centers, all reclamation projects of sorts, were hauled in via free agency: Olli Jokinen (one year, $2.5 million), Mike Ribeiro (one year, $1.05 million) and Derek Roy (one year, $1 million).

Even if just one of those centers rediscovered his past form, it would be well worth the modest investment as a whole. Another buy-low candidate, Anton Volchenkov (one year, $1 million), was added on defense.

"We’ve brought a lot of quantity. Hopefully in that quantity we’ve got some quality," said Poile of his offseason.

The efforts by the GM did not go unnoticed in the dressing room.

"The guys that we got have been great for us so far," said Weber. "It’s only going to keep getting better as they get to know the guys in the room better and build some chemistry as the season goes on. We’re happy to have them and fortunate we did some good work there to bring some guys in to improve our team."

Truth is they’re still not totally clicking on offense. The Predators were 18th last season at 2.61 goals per game and, as of Wednesday morning, were 18th at 2.50 this season.

But with all the new parts, it’s going to take some time.

"I do think it’s still a work in progress with our forwards," said Poile. "We’re still not where we want to be offensively."

Ribeiro is the ultimate gamble, a former point per game player with huge offensive skill who was bought out by the Coyotes last summer amid comments of his off-ice problems.

"Obviously he has some baggage coming from Arizona. He’s been very forthcoming as to his issues and what he’s had to do to take steps to resolve them," said Poile. "It’s a situation that has no guarantees. As a hockey player, we are and we will be very satisfied with him. Hopefully the other things will be something in his past. But only he can take care of that."

Another newcomer has already had an impact, coach Peter Laviolette. Longtime coach Barry Trotz parted ways amicably with the Preds and is off to his own solid start in Washington, but it was clear a new voice was needed in Nashville.

"It was a very competitive training camp. Guys didn’t know what to expect," Weber said of Laviolette. "I think it’s brought out the best in a lot of guys so far. We’re excited to keep going. It’s still early and we’ve got a way to go, but it’s a good start."

The most important factor of all, though, is having a healthy Pekka Rinne. The All-Star goalie missed a huge chunk of last season battling a serious hip issue, and the team could not overcome his absence.

"There’s no doubt in my mind it starts with our goaltender," said Poile. "Pekka has played fabulous. He wasn’t with us for 51 games last season, and I think it makes a world of difference for the level of confidence that we have going into every game."

This team is about Rinne and Weber, both among the best in the world at their positions.

The hope is the supporting cast around youngsters such as Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg will help fill out a playoff team.

But is their 4-0-2 start for real?

"Great ‎goaltender, very good group of D," one NHL head coach from the Western Conference told ESPN.com via text Wednesday. "Forwards may have issues against heavy defending teams. Center is small and light. [Mike] Fisher will help, but interested to see how things go with 'hard' teams. Looks like they have some new life from the changes."

And that’s just it. There just seems to be new life with this team.

It’s been an interesting few years to say the least, from the devastating free-agent loss of Ryan Suter, the Weber offer sheet, Alexander Radulov's curfew controversy, Martin Erat's trade demand and finally Trotz’s emotional farewell.

This is a team that many believed was a Cup contender in 2011-12 before all of that happened.

Now they hope they are on the road back to respectability.

"It's been a tough couple years after the high expectation we had [in 2011-12]," said Weber. "There’s been a lot of changes. I look around the room and there’s not a lot of guys here that I’ve been here [with] for a long time. It’s taken a little bit of time to get the new guys here and adjusted. This year it’s been a quick turnaround, and I think we’ve done a great job of accepting everyone in and they’ve accepted their roles well so far. We’re just looking to build off that."

It’s only six games, to be sure, but in the NHL’s toughest division, the Central, digging an early hole could be deadly.

"Yeah, definitely, it’s something we talked about all through training camp, the importance of getting off to a good start," said Weber. "Especially with the strength of our division, how good those teams were last year and they got even better throughout the summer. So we knew we had to get off to a good start."