Martel Mailbag: Wilson, Hellberg, Jones and more
We’re introducing a new bi-weekly segment here at FOX Sports Tennessee and it starts with you, the reader. In the Martel Mailbag, I’ll be answering a few Nashville Predators-related questions that readers have sent to me via either Twitter or email.
If you want to submit your question, please feel free to contact me with your thoughts and maybe you’ll see your question posted in the near future. Let’s get started:
Wilson’s been an inconsistent forward for the majority of his time with the organization since he was drafted in 2008, but I’m of the opinion that taking his focus away from individual performances was one of the biggest reasons for his transformation this season.
In my feature on him earlier this month, there’s one quote from Wilson that stuck out in my mind:
"When you take the mentality of just trying to win every game and help your team win as opposed to worrying about your own play, it’s funny how it all works out in the long run. I’ve just been taking that mentality and just wanting to contribute. I think that can allow for more offense."
Wilson is, by far, one of Nashville’s best forwards this year. Just that simple change in his mindset could be what earns him a lucrative contract sometime over the next handful of months.
Hellberg has been rock solid for the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s AHL affiliate, all season. Marek Mazanec, who was the goaltender called on to back-up Hutton, has also played quite strongly. Both have 11 wins, however Hellberg has the better overall statistics and was selected for the AHL’s All-Star Game.
In fact, Hellberg leads the AHL in goals against average at 1.75 and is second for save percentage at 0.934.
It’s reasonable to assume that Mazanec’s call-up was simply due to his previous NHL experience last season alongside Hutton, including his Rookie of the Month nod last November as well.
Another thing to consider is that the Predators may not feel that Rinne’s injury is serious enough to warrant calling up a player who is having the season that Hellberg is having. If you call up Hellberg and don’t give him enough playing time, it could irreparably damage his performance when he’s sent back down to the minors, which would be inevitable once Rinne returned.
If Rinne were to be out longer than his normal timeline, only then would I believe swapping Mazanec for Hellberg be necessary. Besides, if Rinne returns closer to the three weeks than the five, that sets him to be between the pipes in the first week of February. There’s just not enough time to utilize Hellberg.
Overall, Jones has played well in his sophomore season compared to his rookie year. He’s been more consistent and had fewer moments where he’s looked 20 years old. Jones is a little under pace to match his 25 points scored last season, but he’s tied with Roman Josi with a +11 for plus/minus, a statistic that had him second-to-last on the team in 2013-14 at -23.
Ultimately, a lot of Jones’s ups and downs revolve around him being alongside a consistent partner that complements his play style. Last year, he split the majority of his season either paired with Shea Weber or Mattias Ekholm. This season he’s been paired primarily with Anton Volchenkov and Victor Bartley.
You can’t control when a player will get injured or suspended, this being the case with Volchenkov, but it’s hard to really find a groove when your defense partner continues to fluctuate.
Ryan Ellis finally found his perfect match when he was paired consistently with Ekholm this season, Weber’s has always been Josi since the departure of Ryan Suter but Jones has yet to find his compliment.
I’m not sure that Nashville has the piece to match up with Jones at the current time, on the roster or in the system. Predators general manager hinted at the team looking for depth on the blue line during a recent radio interview closer to the trade deadline, which could be beneficial to Jones if Nashville wants to attempt a deep run in the playoffs this year.
When we’re looking at current and past Predators teams, there are absolutely a few names that stand out as Hall of Fame candidates.
Albeit a brief stint with the team in 2007, Peter Forsberg was recently elected to the Hall of Fame and former players Paul Kariya and Jason Arnott could find their way into the Hall sooner rather than later.
Active players no longer with Nashville like Ryan Suter and Kimmo Timonen should be considered as well once their playing careers come to an end. Inside the organization, faces like Rinne and, of course, Weber, could find themselves heading to the Hall as well.
However, one person that should have guaranteed entry into the Hall of Fame is Poile. He’s been Nashville’s only general manager, sculpted the team from a fledgling expansion team to one of the best in the league and done more for the game of hockey than most of us know.
If anyone is a lock for enshrinement, David Poile certainly is.
When the deal was pulled off during the draft this summer, I was initially skeptical at what Neal could deliver that sending off both Hornqvist and Spaling was deemed necessary. Hornqvist was Nashville’s net-front presence over the years and Spaling was one of their most serviceable bottom-six forwards. Neal is a former 40-goal scorer with the Penguins and had been one of their primary offensive weapons, outside of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Even though they were seeing one of the best forwards at driving the net depart, the scoring punch that Neal has brought to the organization has made it all worth it. Neal is on pace for 30 goals this year, barring any more injuries, which would be only his second season with 30 or more goals in his career.
In place of Hornqvist, Mike Fisher has taken over residency in front of the goaltender since his return from an Achilles injury that kept him out until around Thanksgiving, doing a masterful job.
Nashville has also been adequate in regards to their bottom six forwards, where Spaling would have been utilized.
Both Hornqvist and Spaling have done great for Pittsburgh as well, where both have taken up nearly the same roles they played in Nashville.
Has it worked out for both teams? At this point, I believe it has.
Catch more from Kristopher Martel on his weekly podcast, The Predcast. A weekly hockey show available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio and TuneIn Radio, hosts Kristopher Martel, Chris Link and Dan Bradley break down the news surrounding the Nashville Predators and around the rest of the NHL.