The 20 players that make the score card for the Nashville Predators that will take the ice for the puck drop on Wednesday night at the Bridgestone will look far different than the ones on opening night of the 2011-2012 season.
In the preseason, the one thing that Predators' GM David Poile repeatedly stressed was that the Predators would be much better in the season's second half than in the first half and that the team was ready to spend the money that it took to do it.
It actually started sooner than the midpoint.
After 27 games, the Predators were 12-11-4 and looked fairly average. Starting with the comeback victory in Columbus on December 8, the Preds went 36-15-4.
Poile's reshaping of the Preds' lineup was drastic, ongoing, and highly successful.
On opening night Teemu Laakso, Blake Geoffrion, Jon Blum, Cal O'Reilly, Niclas Bergfors, Zach Stortini, Mattias Ekholm, and Jerred Smithson were all on the 23 man active roster. Today, Laakso, Blum, and Stortini are in Milwaukee, Ekholm is in Europe, and the rest are out of the organization.
In October, no one could have imagined that the season would end with Hal Gill, Paul Gaustad, Andrei Kostitsyn, Brandon Yip, and the crown jewel of pick-ups, Alexander Radulov, playing key rolls with the Preds.
Rookies that broke through to play key roles during the second half of the season included Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Gabriel Bourque, the player that Barry Trotz says "makes any line better."
Forty different players have been on the Predators active roster at some point during the season. Some never touched the ice but still were in Smashville. That list would include college signee, Jack MacLellan, and back-up goalies, Jeremy Smith, and Chet Pickard.
Now as the playoffs loom, the Predators boast an active roster of 28 players, that includes three goalies, eight defensemen, and 17 forwards. All except for rookies MacLellan and Smith are NHL ready players competing for playing time every night.
With the late season acquisitions, several players that have been key to the team's past success have found themselves in the press box as often as not. Jordin Tootoo, Colin Wilson, Matt Halischuk, Craig Smith, Jack Hillen, and Ryan Ellis have all been in and out of the twenty players that dress in the last month.
Trotz discussed his plan for the line-up in the playoffs. "I think we will have more of a set line-up. We have tried to keep everybody in the fold involved and tried to sort our what was the best grouping of players. Now I think we will go to pretty much of a set line-up."
"Guys play themselves in and out of the line-up. Just like last night (in Colorado on Saturday), it was sort of a dress rehearsal for some guys." Trotz continued, "Guys that hadn't been in there in a while and played very well they may have made a real good statement so they may not start the series but they have moved up the ladder."
"Every day you are evaluated and we just have to put the right pieces in. Everybody brings a specific skill set to the group and we're going to need all kinds of skill sets to make it work."
Trotz then made an interesting analogy to the line-up discussion, "They say it's like be a contractor when you build a house. You need a little bit of everything and all kinds of trades people to make your house beautiful and be efficient. So we'll need all those type of contractors."
In summary, Poile has amassed the best group of high-end talent in franchise history and the Preds are carrying an abundance of depth players that Trotz has ready to play a high energy game as needed during the playoffs.
This should be the best opportunity for the Nashville Predators to have a legitimate shot at a run for the Stanley Cup that the citizens of Smashville have ever seen.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOntheGlass