As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.
Team 10 of 30: the Nashville Predators
HOW THE PREDATORS SPENT THEIR SUMMER VACATION
The Nashville Predators have gone to the playoffs in six of their past seven seasons - which is a pretty good record (.500) for a team that's only been in existence since the 1998-99 season. For some reason, however, the Predators being in the playoffs always seems to draw scoffs from around the league, perhaps because of Nashville's history as a "sunbelt expansion" hockey team.
Nashville has only had one coach in its history: Barry Trotz, who has coached the team to a 455-407-60-76 record. His time with the Preds gives him the second-longest tenure in the NHL (Lindy Ruff of the Sabres is first), and is only the 10th coach in NHL history who's coached 750 games for a single team. Although Trotz has finished strongly in the Jack Adams being ""adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success") voting both in 2007 and 2010, the only award he's gotten for his work has been NHL’s Coach of the Year (2007) by The Sporting News -- which, by virtue of being based on the votes of his peers, may be an even more valuable recognition of what he's achieved than the Jack Adams, which is voted upon by the NHL Broadcasters Association.
This spring, Trotz coached the Preds to their first ever second-round appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, beating the Anaheim Ducks in the series 4-2. While the Predators lost in the second round to the Vancouver Canucks 4-2, that matchup may have been the best thing to ever happen to the team and its fan base.
For starters, while the Preds are a perennial thorn in the Central Division's side, if you ask their fans who their biggest rivalry is, they'll probably answer with the Detroit Red Wings, who knocked them out of the playoffs both in 2004, and again in 2008 en route to a Cup victory. Nashville has also developed a strong secondary rivalry with the Chicago Blackhawks, especially after Chicago knocked them out of the playoffs in 2010 en route to their own Cup.
But the Canucks? At best, a sort of cautionary respectful nod of conference rivals from across the continent.
So when the Predators dropped the puck against the Vancouver Canucks in the second round this spring, it had the potential to be a real Cinderella story for Nashville - the team least-expected to get out of the first round going up against the west coast President Trophy winners. For both teams, there was also the undercurrent of what was very nearly a friendly playoff series -- the Canucks were coming off the euphoria of finally beating the Blackhawks; and the Predators were riding the high of their first-ever Semi-finals appearance.
When the hockey press - especially the Canadians - descended upon Nashville, it thrust the Predators finally into the spotlight of the NHL stage due to the historical magnitude of the match-up. And they discovered what an enthusiastic fan base the Predators have; what a fun city Nashville is to visit; and Pred players like defenseman Shea Weber and goalie Pekka Rinne got plenty of long-overdue attention. While their 2010 series against the Blackhawks had put the team on the hockey radar, the 2011 series gave the city and its team far more attention.
For Nashville, the biggest question of the summer was getting team captain and RFA Shea Weber re-signed. Weber has spent his career in the Preds system, starting with their AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, but has been in the NHL since the 2005-06 season. He's taken home gold with Team Canada both in the 2010 Olympics and 2007 World Championships; and has gone to the NHL All-Star Game in 2009 and 2011. He was a strong favorite for the Norris Trophy this year, losing out to Nicklas Lidström by a very narrow margin. The Predators took him to arbitration to avoid other teams being able to give him an offer sheet - which also meant that whatever the arbitrator decided, the team would have to give him.
The Predators have long been known as a team that has achieved a lot on one of the lowest budgets in the NHL; but even so, it was a bit shocking to hear the disparity of salary figures submitted in the Weber arbitration case. In the end, however, the arbitrator set a new standard: instead of splitting the difference between the team figure and Weber's figure, he set the figure awarded ($7.5M) based on the actual salary (vs cap hits) for those defensemen closest to Weber's status in the league - Chicago's Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. It was probably more than Nashville was hoping to pay, but it was an honest indicator of Weber's worth. Next season, the Preds will be faced with re-signing Weber, as well as coming to an agreement with Vezina-candidate goalie Pekka Rinne.
While Nashville's core is small - Weber, Renne and defenseman Ryan Suter, and to a lesser extent players like Patric Hornqvist, Martin Erat, Jordin Tootoo, Kevin Klein, David Legwand, and Colin Wilson - the players buy into a system that works for them.
The two biggest moves for the Predators were up-and-coming defenseman Cody Franson (to Toronto) and the departure of Joel Ward to the Capitals. Ward had his breakout as a player in the playoffs, and he will no doubt make an immediate impact in Washington. Nashville had one of the smallest acquisition lists of the offseason, picking up just three players - none of whom are exactly household names yet. They bought out J-P Dumont, who had a terrible season. It is a testament to both Coach Trotz and to Nashville's farm system that they will fill roster holes predominantly through call-ups from their AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Predators, such as Jonathon Blum.
New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Niclas Bergfors (FLA), Zack Stortini (EDM), Kyle Wilson (CBJ).
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): J-P Dumont, Cody Franson (TOR), Marcel Goc (FLA), Matthew Lombardi (TOR), Shane O'Brien (COL), Steve Sullivan (PIT), Joel Ward (WSH).
There's no doubt that the Predators have the skills and hunger to carry them into the playoffs yet again in 2012. The question this year will be: can they make it past the second round?
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For , we talked with Rebecca, who covers the South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference (SECHC) for TheHockeyWriters.com and also for Scribeandscrum.com.
Let's talk about your fandoms and your favorite teams.
I actually have two favorite teams, the Blackhawks and the Predators. Originally from Chicago, I’ve been a longtime Hawks fan. However, my Predators fandom came about relatively recently. To use a GRE-type analogy, I love the Hawks like family, and the Preds like a serious boyfriend.
I went to my first Predators game in April 2010. However, the next two times I was in Bridgestone Arena was to root against them (Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Blackhawks). I liked what I saw and enjoyed the atmosphere at Bridgestone. That summer I became a Predators partial-season ticket holder.
I became a fan while watching them play against the Hawks. They were really the only team that gave the Hawks a challenge during their Stanley Cup run. That fall I had a research project to do for a graduate seminar and decided to research Nashville’s hockey history. The more time I spent on that paper, the more I really got into Nashville hockey and, eventually, the Predators. By September I bought a Preds jersey. Even at the Hawks-Preds games I’d cheer for every goal and every save.
My research even caught the eye of UAB Magazine
Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?
During this offseason, the Predators didn’t sign some of the players I’d really come to enjoy watching on the ice. However, like many Preds fans, I’m probably most relieved they resolved the Shea Weber situation.
Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012. How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on?
The Predators have always been pretty strong on defense, so although I may not have agreed with some of the changes (for example, I wish they had re-signed Shane O’Brien), I think they continue to strengthen there.
Offense and goal scoring. I am a bit concerned at the loss of Joel Ward – he’s a player who finds the back of the net. I am still disappointed in the Mike Fisher acquisition. I don’t think he contributed like he was expected. Hopefully, after his offseason shoulder surgery, he will look more like the player everyone expected him to be. I’m also worried they overspent on Sergei Kostitsyn. On the bright side, I look forward to seeing Blake Geoffrion on the ice this season.
They didn’t lose their “C” but did lose an “A” with Steve Sullivan gone. A number of players have worn the alternate, from Martin Erat to Francis Bouillon. For some reason, it would not surprise me to see Fisher with an “A” (whether or not he’s earned it).
Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference? (1st-15th)
Once the Preds settle in to the personnel changes, I think they are going to be difficult to beat and will only build on their successes from last season. I expect them to, at a minimum, get to the second round again. I’d pick them at either 5th or 6th in the Western Conference.
What was your favorite moment for your team last season?
There were actually two moments from last season: 1) Watching Shea Weber’s winning goal against the Boston Bruins on St. Patty’s Day; and 2) Watching the Preds make team history when they beat the Ducks and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time.
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Rebecca was our winner for a T-shirt from Gongshow Gear.
Our thanks again to Gongshow!