Q: How much of an impact will Rinne's surgery have on the team? Will a trade have to be made?
I don't see a trade happening any time soon, simply because the team will want to get a good long look at Carter Hutton, who was just signed on July 5th as a free agent. In addition, they have Magnus Hellberg, a 2nd-round pick (first goaltender taken) in the 2011 Draft, who enjoyed a strong 2012-13 season in the AHL, and comes straight out of the Pekka Rinne/Anders Lindback model of long & lanky Nordic keepers who have prospered under the tutelage of Mitch Korn, the Predators' Jedi-Master goaltending coach.
Basically, if Pekka is able to return somewhere around the 1st of December it would be wasteful to trade for a veteran goalie, and in the meantime the organization can get a much better handle on what the rest of the depth chart really looks like.
Now, if we get around Thanksgiving with Hutton & Hellberg struggling, and it looks like Rinne will be on the shelf for a lot longer, at that time it might be worth making a move, but that will be highly dependent on what the market looks like. This isn't a Cup-contending type of team, so it wouldn't make sense to give up much for a short term goaltending fix.
Q: Given how poorly the team performed last season, what should be different this time around?
The first point you'll hear from the team is that last season injuries to multiple key players resulted in a perfect storm, something we shouldn't expect to see again. While we can certainly hope for better fortune on that front, real improvement will come from the continued development of a young group of defensemen, and the addition of depth forwards such as Matt Cullen basically pushing Nick Spaling out of the regular 3rd-line center spot, and Eric Nystrom filling in for Brandon Yip (it looks like you guys got a brief look at Yip this fall, too).
That said, I'm not so sure that these improvements will prove substantial enough to lift this team into the playoffs this spring. They probably won't draft in the top five again, but I don't see the talent up front, nor enough stability on the back end, to say this team is a winner.
Q: How good is Seth Jones? Great defenseman or the greatest defenseman?
I've been one of the guys pleading for people to tap the brakes a bit and keep their expectations realistic for a teenaged player making the jump into the NHL, but it's hard not to be excited about what Seth Jones is doing night-in, night-out. Yes, there are moments where he gets schooled away from the puck, and that's to be expected of any rookie, but when the puck's on his stick Jones is as cool and confident as any veteran. Go back and look at the play he made to beat the Canadiens in Montreal, and you see a guy who knows when to jump on an opportunity that presents itself.
The concussion suffered by Roman Josi back on October 4th resulted in a battlefield promotion for Jones, and you still may see him on the top pair tonight alongside Shea Weber. Keep an eye on him when he's out there, because Jones has probably been the biggest treat of the season for Nashville Predators fans.