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Harlow Salon - one of the very best hair salons in Nashville TN.

Moving On Up!

Well folks, the big news today is that after 3 years toiling away here on Blogger, I'm moving this blog to greener pastures; starting today I'll be contributing over at Kukla's Korner, under the same byline and focusing on the same issues. Namely the Nashville Predators, statistical analysis of NHL hockey, and the occasional forays into fantasy hockey or the business side of things.

I'm thrilled to be joining Kukla's Krew, along with the other new additions Mike Chen, Bethany, The Puck Stops Here, Red & Black Hockey, Goal Line Report, and SensHobo.

So switch your bookmarks over to the new address (http://www.kuklaskorner.com/index.php/otf/), and for RSS feeds, use (http://feeds.feedburner.com/kuklaskorner/Forecheck). Existing content will remain here for the time being, although there are two series of posts (Forechecker's Forecasts and The Forechecker's Fantasy Hockey System) that I've migrated over to Kukla's Korner so that as I complete them,…

Your Tuesday Morning Quickies

Big news for On the Forecheck coming tomorrow, but in the meantime...

1. Wheels are turning in Las Vegas to launch the construction of an arena near the Strip that is apparently destined for NHL hockey. James Mirtle breaks down the expansion scenario, as the NHL's Board of Governors prepares to meet in Toronto. Personally, I think this a fascinating possibility. While the locals may not be able to fully support a team there, I could definitely see a brisk business for people visiting there to catch their favorite team. Just ask yourself, would you rather pack up a few pals and follow your team to St. Louis, Edmonton, or Las Vegas?

2. One question I have is how expansion money might affect the Sommet Center lease agreement, which allows local ownership a buyout prior to 2012 if financial losses exceed $20 million. I know that when it comes to "Hockey Related Revenue" that drives the salary cap under the CBA, expansion fees (which may net each team $10-20 million if two team…

Jerred Smithson, the 2008-9 Forechecker's Forecast

Last season Jerred Smithson became an every-night regular at the NHL level, playing 81 games for the Nashville Predators after 64 and 66 in the previous two campaigns. His even-strength work on a line with Radek Bonk and Jed Ortmeyer was pretty awful; I've said before that this may have been the worst line in the NHL last year. Where Smithson provides some additional value to Barry Trotz is his penalty killing work and relative success winning faceoffs. As competition increases for 3rd- and 4th-line ice time in Nashville, those are two qualities that might benefit him.

For the upcoming season, I would expect his 5-on-5 duty to be reduced somewhat, with a heavier emphasis on the PK and more of a specialized role as a lead-preservation guy.

So, for the official Forechecker's Forecast...

Forechecker's Forecast, 2008-9 NHL Regular SeasonPlayerGPGAPtsShotsSht %Jerred Smithson70358359

All Toronto needs is an NHL-caliber team

There's some interesting commentary from the Puck Daddy this morning about Toronto, which is fretting over the future of the Maple Leafs fan base. Apparently changing demographics and youth hockey participation trends don't bode well for Toronto's long-term outlook.

As for my $0.02 on the issue, I think the best thing for both the Toronto market and the NHL at large would be to get another team in that city. They could easily support it, and since the Maple Leafs are such a ridiculously tough ticket to get currently, that serves to isolate them somewhat from casual fans. A new, upstart franchise might help to shake things up in that regard. Look at the Mets and Yankees in New York to see how this could work.

If the Big Apple can support multiple hockey teams, Toronto absolutely would. Whether by expansion or by relocation (properly done, not a Balsillie-style hijacking), helping hockey grow even in the Great White North starts with making it accessible to the broadest a…

The Return of Radulov?

Imagine my surprise to see this headline from Yahoo's Puck Daddy come across my screen: "NHLPA director: Radulov wants to leave KHL, rejoin NHL." This comes from an interview that NHLPA director Paul Kelly gave on Toronto radio.

Here's the money quote, per the Puck Daddy:

"My information is that the player very much wants to return and play in the NHL. I have that on extremely good authority. He's tried the KHL. He's seen what it has to offer for a few games already. He was quite successful last year for the Nashville Predators. I think, long-term, Alexander wants to play in the NHL. I believe there is an outcome which is doable, which will involve some type of an agreement between the NHL, the KHL, the player himself and the Predators."

This is sure to light up a firestorm of emotion from Predators fans, who were quick to rid themselves of the young phenom. Here's a sample from the Preds message board:

"Fine, come on back you POS. Find some…

Some Wednesday Afternoon Quickies

Three interesting stories came across my screen today, all of which provide a glimpse into how NHL teams are run; since we've still got two more weeks until training camp opens, they're well worth a read:

1. Courtesy of Kukla's Korner, Carolina's News & Observer digs into the NHL's contract insurance policy, and how it impacts the negotiations for big-time players. There's nothing specific to Nashville in here, but I couldn't help but think of Steve Sullivan's situation while reading it.

2. This link's a bit old, but the Bleacher Report featured an interview with Jason Bukala, one of the Predators' amateur scouts.

3. Lastly, the Preds website has an interview with Barry Trotz as he looks ahead to training camp, and extols the virtues of rookies he looks forward to seeing there. Here's the pre-camp spin on one such hopeful:

"He reminds me a lot of a Joe Mullen-type of a player. He’s very effective. He gets open. Off the rush, he sho…

Ryan Suter, the 2008-9 Forechecker's Forecast

One of the questions that Nashville Predators fans worried over earlier this summer was whether the team would be able to retain both Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, the two high-profile restricted free agents due for major pay increases. Now that he's locked up for four more seasons at $3.5 million per, the focus shifts to how much of a step forward Suter will take as he shakes off the young rookie label and fills a key role on the Predators blue line.

Suter enters his 4th NHL season as a potent offensive threatPhoto courtesy of Paul Nicholson
Over the course of three seasons, Suter has steadily progressed into a solid two-way performer, and a key cog on the power play. He became much more aggressive offensively last season, firing 138 shots (compared to 87 the year before), presumably due to an increased opportunity working the point with the man advantage:

Ryan Suter Even Strength & Power Play Performance
TOI = Time On Ice, Pts/60 = Points per 60 Minutes of PlaySeason GP EV PtsPP Pt…

Sizzle or Steak? Or can we have both?

As we ponder the many ways that the Nashville Predators can fill out their top two forward lines, the usual discussions revolve around veterans on the back end of their career (Mark Parrish, Glen Murray) or rookies who yet to prove themselves at the NHL level (Patric Hornqvist, Ryan Jones). This is, of course, framed by the presumption that Nashville either can't or won't go after a bigger-name player in their prime years, such as Marian Hossa or Olli Jokinen, to cite two stars which changed teams this summer. The common wisdom is that a superstar like that is either outside the Predators budget constraints or that such a deal would violate GM David Poile's patient, long-term franchise building process.

So, when it comes to the NHL, what is best? Gaining a dynamic superstar who can excite a fan base, or a slowly assembling a deeper roster of less dramatic players that forsake individual glory for team achievement?

On the one hand, we have Brandon Felder, who in a recent…

The Forechecker's Fantasy Hockey System

Hockey training camps open later this month, so naturally the hockey poolies are starting to come out again, scooping up fantasy hockey guides at the bookstores and snooping their way around the internet to get the latest information on player transactions, depth charts, and projections for the upcoming NHL season. Last year I had the honor of participating in James Mirtle's Bloggers Invitational, and did quite well in the regular season before pulling up lame in the playoffs. I'm bound and determined to finish the deal this season, and along the way I thought I'd share some of the tools and techniques that have helped me over the years. The nice thing about these methods is that they apply to pretty much any fantasy sport, as they've served me successfully over the course of 15+ seasons of fantasy football as well.

The basic concept that I utilize is to have the most effective draft possible; we all know that Draft Day is by far the biggest single event of a fantas…

Your Monday Morning Video Quickie

Everybody can use a giggle on a Monday morning, so here's a brief clip from last Wednesday's GOAL (Get Out And Learn) session, in which a few dozen kids from ages 4-9 with little to no skating or hockey experience get a basic introduction to the game, courtesy of the Nashville Predators. You can just imagine what happens when they're all lined up along one goal line, and then told to race down to the other end...


Antti Pihlstrom, the 2008-9 Forechecker's Forecast

One of the interesting storylines to follow during training camp later this month will be the progress of Antti Pihlstrom, the Finnish agitator who has an outside shot at landing a roster spot with the Predators. After leading the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals in goal scoring (with 27 in 78 games), is Pihlstrom ready for the big stage in Music City?

Pihlstrom is likely to make his biggest impact as a 3rd- or 4th-line banger, with enough scoring touch to provide an occasional boost to the Nashville attack. At 23 years old, we've probably got a decent picture of how he'll fare at the NHL level. Similar to the preview for Patric Hornqvist, let's use Gabriel Desjardin'sLeague Equivalencies work to make a basic projection. In this case, we have a guy who posted 27 goals and 18 assists in 78 games for Milwaukee, a Points Per Game rate of 0.58. Desjardin's Equivalency value for a 23 year-old transitioning from the AHL to the NHL is 0.41, so multiplying it by Pihlstrom&…

Pekka Rinne, the 2008-9 Forechecker's Forecast

Today's projection should be an easy one. Coming into training camp Pekka Rinne has 3 career games of NHL service, so normally one might wonder if there's much history to leverage in terms of predicting future performance. But with the Predators, we have a very clear guideline to follow. Each of the last two seasons have seen Nashville's backup goaltender steal the spotlight with a performance among the very best in the NHL. After all, Chris Mason's 2006-7 season was, by some measures, tops in the league that year, and Dan Ellis led all goaltenders in both regular season and playoff save percentage in 2007-8.

What then, to expect of young Mr. Rinne, who, after salutary duty in Milwaukee the last three years (including an AHL All-Star appearance last season), has been anointed the #2 man in the Predators goal? First, expect a very different profile in net; Rinne stands 6'5", a fair bit taller than Ellis (6'0") or previous #1 Chris Mason (also 6'…

Jed Ortmeyer, the 2008-9 Forechecker's Forecast

Happy 30th Birthday wishes go out to Jed Ortmeyer, and in his honor, today's Forechecker's Forecast is devoted to the one-time University of Michigan Wolverine.

Jed signed a two-year deal with Nashville last summer, and the expectation has been that he'd provide basic checking and penalty killing work. He began the 2007-8 season playing the left wing alongside Radek Bonk in the middle and Jerred Smithson on the right side, on what was supposed to be a shutdown line. As it worked out, however, the only thing that got shut down was the Predators offense when those three hit the ice.

Nashville Predators 5-on-5 Advanced Statistics, 2007-8 Regular SeasonNAMEPOSGPTOI/ 60RATINGQUAL COMPQUAL TEAMPTS/ 60GFON/ 60GAON/ 60+-ON/60GFOFF/ 60GAOFF/ 60+-OFF/ 60JASON ARNOTTC7913.781.900.050.242.653.862.421.432.132.60-0.47ALEXANDER RADULOVRW8112.940.890.010.222.863.612.800.802.232.32-0.09JEAN-PIERRE DUMONTRW8013.810.740.030.452.883.532.930.602.202.35-0.15SCOTT NICHOLC7310.390.59-0.05-0.211.192…

The Forechecker's Fabulous Hockey Blogroll

In order to tidy things up I've consolidated the blog roll here into its own post, which will be available via a link in the page header throughout the site.

Please note that rather than attempt to provide a comprehensive listing (which you can find in many other places), I'm only listing sites that regularly post material, are part of my Google Reader feed of steady hockey reading, and I feel comfortable endorsing to others. That means there are some well-known sites which you won't find listed here, probably because I'm just not a fan of the writing. I'm no Buzz Bissinger, but I do believe there's a lot of content out there that I just can't endorse with a link.

Yes, there are definitely some areas that could use beefing up (there have to be more good Pacific Division blogs, right?), so feel free to either leave a comment here with suggestions.

Nashville PredatorsGeneral NHLGeek ThoughtsKukla's KornerPred JoeJames MirtlePaul McCannSpector's HockeyBra…

Josh Gratton, the 2008-9 Forechecker's Forecast

Amidst the Radulov drama and the Marek Zidlicky trade, one roster move that's been somewhat overlooked involves the enforcer role, fulfilled the last three seasons in Nashville by fan favorite Darcy Hordichuk. The heir apparent to that job is Josh Gratton, a dedicated knuckle-duster who played all of 1 NHL game last year, and 52 the year before for Phoenix. I'm guessing that this is a fan-created site and nothing that Gratton himself has created (although "Chin of Steel" is certainly a moniker worth promoting).

Coming soon to a fist near you...Other than finishing 2nd in the league with 188 penalty minutes in the 2006-7 season, Gratton's NHL-level resume is pretty thin. Basically, there's not much there to suggest that Gratton will bring anything to the Predators' on-ice performance that any other goon (err... enforcer) would. As James Mirtle so ably pointed out earlier this summer, guys like that don't play a lot, and don't do much to help their h…

Pardon The Dust

Lots of template tweaking going on today, so please don't mind some odd formatting you may see from time to time. I'm going to a 2-column layout to increase the amount of space for the articles (and data tables I may include within them).

The blogroll will appear as its own separate article, and a button to get to it will appear in the header. For now, at least, I wanted to save what I had so far. Comments from the Peanut Gallery, are, of course, welcome and appreciated.