The Nashville Predators Have A Team In The National Hockey League. But No One Talks About Them.
The crew here at Puck77.com take great pride in providing the hockey-loving public with premium content, covering a majority of the teams in the National Hockey League. Add to that the informative posts blanketing numerous other leagues in North America and around the world, Puck77 is doing our best to deliver for our amazing readers.
But with so many topics to cover, and only so many writers, sometimes a team gets overlooked now and then for a period of time.
So being the wonderful team player I am, I decided it was time we showed the Nashville Predators a little bit of love. And how could we not? The Predators are a top-10 team in the league overall, a mere four points out of second. I mean really, shame on us for letting Nashville out of our sights, if only for a brief time.
Most of my focus and previous posts have centered on the Boston Bruins. While I’m no stranger to the Nashville Predators, I realized some research was in order before I go ripping off a 1000-word post on the inner workings of the Predators franchise. But like any good team, the usual suspects on the Predators come to the forefront when going in-depth on their roster.
Pekka Rinne. He’s pretty good. Always in the Vezina Trophy talk for the league’s top goaltender each year. There’s Ryan Johansen, having himself a nice year. Almost a point-a-game pace. Can’t forget P.K. Subban, the electric, edge-of-your-seat puck moving defenceman that has fit in so well on Nashville’s back-end….
Two hours later, I wake up. Head still down on my keyboard. On my screen, the hockey-reference.com page of Colton Sissons in full display. How did this happen?
This is what the Predators do. In existence now for 20 years, Nashville has never really grabbed the attention of the NHL and its fans. That in itself is an odd statement to write, as they have proven to be one of the stronger league franchises over that time.
The Predators are once again having a solid season, just two points out of first place in the Central division. A definite lock to make the playoffs again this season, they are on pace for 98 points. Should they achieve that, it will mark 12 of the last 15 seasons the club has gone north of the 90-point plateau.
We all got a taste of Nashville during the 2017 Stanley Cup final, where the Predators fell short of the ultimate prize with a six-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their fans were energetic. The team was beyond exceptional. Finally, it seemed, a spot earned amongst the most popular in the NHL.
But the momentum Nashville gained from that glorious spring never stuck. By October of the next season, the Predators were once again “just another team”.
Now the point of this post is not to attack the Nashville Predators. Quite the opposite actually. I’ve always had huge respect for what the Predators have managed to do, both in the standings and in a non-traditional hockey market.
Everyone I talk hockey with agrees that the Predators are good. I was at a gathering with friends yesterday, and as always the talk circled around to hockey. Someone asked who we thought was the team that was going to represent the Western Conference in this year’s Stanley Cup final. Calgary was mentioned. Winnipeg too. Another guaranteed Vegas would do it again. I finally mentioned Nashville. In typical response, everyone just went silent, slightly cocked their heads and shrugged their shoulders, and most begrudgingly agreed that yes, it was possible.
It Starts At The Top
Why is it like this for Nashville?
One reason is the lack of a geographical rival for Nashville. The St. Louis Blues are the closest NHL franchise to the Predators, and they are approximately 250 miles away. I don’t recall many great rivalry games between Nashville and the Blues.
But it’s also by design. David Poile is the Predators President of Hockey Operations and General Manager. Arguably one of the greatest GM’s in the history of the game (he has won more games than any other GM in NHL history), Poile personifies the Predators. Extremely astute and efficient as a leader, Poile shies away from the limelight, and lets the results speak for themselves.
But those traits do not make him a lightweight in the hockey executive universe. Poile has never been afraid to pull the trigger on a big trade that he feels will improve his team. Whether it’s Seth Jones for Johansen, Shea Weber for Subban or the fleecing of Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat, Poile is courageous enough to take a chance on giving his team a different look.
Poile also hired a coach with similar characteristics to himself. To hear the name Peter Laviolette, you automatically think of a french villian in a James Bond movie. But no, this Laviolette has over 600 career wins in the NHL as a head coach, and guided three different teams to the Stanley Cup final in his career, winning with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. Low key and unassuming, Laviolette has avoided John Tortorella-like meltdowns with the media for the most part during his coaching career.
Trade Deadline Spark?
As mentioned earlier, Nashville is almost assured of a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. But the team has had its share of struggles the last two months. The Predators are a rather pedestrian 10-12-4 since December 17th. With this in mind, one would expect Poile to be active in this final week heading up to the NHL trade deadline next Monday afternoon.
Poile has made a couple of smaller acquisitions in the last few days, acquiring Brian Boyle and Cody McLeod to help shore up the bottom six forward group. Names like Artemi Panarin of Columbus, and the Ottawa Senators duo of Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingal have also been linked to the Predators in recent days. Any of those names would be sure to light a fire under the Predators atrocious power play, currently sitting last in the league at only 12.7%.
A return to form of Kyle Turris would be a big boost to the Predators. Turris has yet to manage a point since returning from a lower body injury six games ago. He was a big contributor down the stretch last season for Nashville.
Defensively, Nashville has arguably the strongest top four in the conference. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are all workhorses, used to handling well over 20-plus minutes per game. This unit has allowed Nashville to have the fourth-lowest goals against average this season at 2.61, and seventh-lowest shots against per game at 29.7.
The core of the team that went to the finals in 2017 is still very much intact, and young enough to make another serious run this season. If they do make a run, expect it to catch everyone off guard.
Just don’t fall asleep on the Predators like I did.
Follow me on Twitter @cbradley2928
NOTE TO OUR READERS – We are looking for help covering the Nashville Predators. If you are interested in joining our team, please check out the “Looking To Contribute” page.
Statistics provided by hockey-reference.com and hockeydb.com
Featured Photo Image Credit: Nikos Michals