Everything you need to know as the Nashville Predators get set for the Stanley Cup Playoffs

There are a number of friends I haven't seen in person since we all started spending a lot of time inside last March.

Every now and then, I wonder what's changed about them in the past quarter of a year: Have they grown out their hair to shoulder length? Shaved it all off? Crafted a Ryan Ellis-like beard? Shed – or gained – a few pounds? Pierced a body part? Gone Goth?

As the Predators ready to return to playing games in August – after putting their season on pause for nearly five months – the questions in that vein can be boiled down to two: Will this look like the same Preds team we watched for most of the 69-game regular season? Or is there any reason to believe the lengthy layoff will result in a new-and-improved edition as the playoffs commence?

If the answer to the first question is yes, the Preds' stay in Edmonton – home to the Western Conference's playoff teams – may last no longer than an Alberta heat wave.

Sound pessimistic? It's easy to think that way following the abbreviated 2019-20 regular season, one that could only be described in Nashville as disappointing. The Preds took the ice last October as one of the favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup – especially after the much-anticipated signing of Matt Duchene – but wound up finishing fifth in the seven-team Central Division and eighth . . .

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