Blue Jackets visit Predators for season-opener

The Nashville Predators spent most of the offseason re- signing their own players, but couldn't keep one of the game's top defenseman in the fold.

The Columbus Blue Jackets faced a similar problem in being forced to deal their franchise player, Rick Nash.

The Preds hope that still having goaltender Pekka Rinne and defenseman Shea Weber in the mix will be enough for a return to the playoffs and they begin this shortened season on Saturday night against the Blue Jackets.

Nashville was a playoff team for the seventh time in eight seasons in 2011-12 and some trade deadline moves had the club considered as a serious contender. The Predators lived up to the hype with a first-round victory over the Detroit Red Wings, but dropped a five-game series to the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference semifinals.

Prior to the lockout, the Predators re-signed a number of their own players, including forward Paul Gaustad and defenseman Hal Gill, both acquired during the campaign last season. They also inked a number of their other players to extensions, including Sergei Kostitsyn, Kevin Klein, Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson.

They did get a scare when Weber, a restricted free agent, signed a 14-year $110 million offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers, but Nashville opted to match the deal for one of the game's top all-around defenseman.

However, Nashville was unable to keep blueliner Ryan Suter, who signed a 13- year deal with the Minnesota Wild in early July.

Weber and Suter had formed one of the top defensive duos in the NHL, but Weber will have a new partner this season in Roman Josi, who had five goals and 16 points in 52 games as a rookie last season.

Weber, meanwhile, had 19 goals and 30 assists a season ago, ranking fourth on the club with 49 points, three more than Suter had.

Of course, Nashville may be able to survive the loss of Suter because of Rinne, a former Vezina Trophy finalist who lead the NHL with 43 wins a season ago.

The 30-year-old signed a seven-year contract extension in November of 2011 and is part of Nashville's veteran core. The Preds began last season as the league's third-youngest team with an average age of 26 years, five months, but the current roster has an average age of 28 years, seven months.

"It's officially a new year," Preds head coach Barry Trotz told his team's website. "That is the way we are looking at it and we are excited about it. We have a good balance of experience -- I think we have nine guys who are 30 years or older -- and we have a good mix of guys who are a little younger. I think everyone's roles are pretty defined right now, and that's a luxury of having a team that is intact."

That isn't the case for the Blue Jackets, who once again are in a rebuilding phase after trading Nash to the Rangers this offseason for a package that included Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a draft pick.

Nash was the top pick of the 2002 draft by Columbus and owns franchise records with 289 goals, 258 assists and 674 games played.

The Blue Jackets, though, have finished last in the Central Division in three straight seasons since making their lone playoff appearance in 2009, and that was with Nash.

Now they'll try to improve despite a roster that has just three former 20-goal scorers in Dubinsky, Vinny Prospal and R.J. Umberger. Columbus does have a solid defender to build around in Jack Johnson, who was acquired last season from the Los Angeles Kings for forward Jeff Carter, but promising rookie Ryan Murray, the second pick of the 2012 draft, is out six months after suffering a shoulder injury in November.

Despite the changeover, which also included trading Marc Methot to the Ottawa Senators for forward Nick Foligno, head coach Todd Richards does have his team's identity in mind.

"The big thing I've been saying since Day 1 is our commitment to checking. We have to be a better checking team, a harder checking team. There's going to be mistakes come Saturday, but our effort can't be a question on any given night," he said.

Richards hopes the mistakes don't come in net, where it is unknown if Steve Mason or offseason acquisition Sergei Bobrovsky will start.

Mason has struggled finding the form that won him the Calder Trophy in 2008-09, so the Blue Jackets traded for the 24-year-old Bobrovsky, who had a strong rookie season in 2010-11 with the Flyers before posting a 3.02 goals against average last season in 29 games.

Starting the season in Nashville isn't ideal for Columbus either as it has lost 19 of its past 22 there and has just three victories in the last 32 as the road team in this series.

The Predators went 5-0-1 versus the Blue Jackets last season.