NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 20: Joel Ward #29 and Steve Sullivan #26 of the Nashville Predators celebrate a goal scored by Ward against the Chicago Blackhawks during game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on April 20, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
As the new year is almost upon us, now is a good time to look back at what was an entertaining, heartbreaking, and frustrating 2010. There were ups, downs, and everything in between over the past 365 or so days, and we'll hit the high points as best we can.
This will not necessarily be an exercise in positivity like our post-elimination article in the same vein, but an effort to try and pare down the top ten moments in Nashville Predators hockey, on and off the ice, during the year 2010.
In Nashville, fans have known for a long time how good Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are. We had not, though, seen them for any length of time apart from each other until last February. To say they didn't lose a step would be putting it lightly. Weber was named to the All-Tournament team, notching 2 goals and 4 assists in seven games while playing on Canada's top pair with Scott Niedermayer. Suter led the entire tournament in ice time and plus/minus, while his superlative play in all situations allowed defensive partner Brian Rafalski to lead all players in scoring by a defenseman.
Weber won gold, and Suter silver, but perhaps the most lasting effect for the Predators' two best players is that they are no longer strangers to the hockey world.
The Hobey Baker Award, to put it in perspective, is sort of the "Heisman of hockey". When Predators prospect and Tennessean Blake Geoffrion won the award while at the University of Wisconsin, it was a hallmark moment for not only the Nashville Predators, but hockey in general - no player from Tennessee has ever won the Hobey Baker, let alone make the NHL.
Far too often, the Predators have been seen as a hard working franchise who just can't fill their own barn and make headway in the local community. Since Jeff Cogen and Sean Henry have been aboard, there's been a tangible difference in the way the team is marketed, and attendance is very much on the way up - Nashville has already sold out 6 of 17 home games in 2010-11.
Along with attendance, another stigma Nashville hasn't been able to shake (and still can't, really) is the lack of a big-time goal scorer. In his rookie year, Patric Hornqvist was a disappointment. 2009-10, though, was a different story entirely. Hornqvist, unfortunately barely ineligible for the Calder Trophy, would lead the Predators in goals with 30, scored largely in the mold of Tomas Holmstrom - from in front of the net. Hornqvist missed four crucial playoff games, though, and one wonders if his presence would've pushed the Predators over the Blackhawks.
That Barry Trotz had not been named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award in a previous year as head coach was probably a travesty, because 2009-10 was not even his best coaching job to date. That David Poile was named a finalist for General Manager of the Year in the award's inaugural season was no real surprise - nobody does more with less.
One thing Nashville has been known for, though, is coaching stability. Barry Trotz, regardless of playoff success, has proven to be a miracle-worker behind the Predators' bench, winning 428 games in less than 12 full seasons. His 400th win came against the Atlanta Thrashers, and served as a reminder that the Predators would not have anywhere near the success had Trotzy not been in charge.
Winning a road playoff game was, after winning a series, the elephant in the Predators' locker room for as long as the franchise has been in existence. The mainstream media did not give Nashville much of a chance when they drew the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference quarterfinals, but the Preds went into the United Center for Game 1 and out-hustled, out-hit, and outworked the Blackhawks, en route to a 4-1 victory. Temporarily, elation abounded.
Just a few days ago, the Preds were mired in a slump and missing four important forwards. Then came the news that sparkplug Jordin Tootoo had voluntarily checked in to the NHL/NHLPA's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program. The details are private (as well they should be), and there is no real time frame for his return. It was shocking, but also a reminder that there are more important things than hockey. Jordin Tootoo will be missed, but it took a lot of courage to ask for help.
When Jason Arnott was traded over the summer, the Predators' captaincy became vacant. There was a little speculation, sure - Ryan Suter and Steve Sullivan are both excellent players and team leaders. Really, though, there was never any real doubt as to who would take over. Even while Arnott was still on the team, the Nashville Predators followed Shea Weber's lead. On the ice and off, Weber is now the face and leader of the team.
Before the jump, I mentioned that we wouldn't focus on all positive things. Its now come to this, a moment that, while unpleasant, is undoubtedly the most important from the past 365 days.
The Nashville Predators had the Chicago Blackhawks nearly on the ropes - the series was tied 2-2, but the Hawks were down 3-2 with just seconds to go in game five. With a win, Nashville would've headed back home with the series lead and a prime chance to win the franchise's first playoff series.
It wasn't to be. An errant pass on the power play by Martin Erat let the Blackhawks bring the puck up-ice, where an extended sequence in the Nashville end eventually led to Patrick Kane banging home the tying goal (edited - Dirk). Marian Hossa went on to score the overtime winner almost immediately after exiting the penalty box, and that was that. They played game six, but for all intents and purposes, game five ended the Predators' season and left fans and players alike sick to their stomachs. The entirety of the 2010-11 campaign is based around erasing those memories, and putting it right - its time for the Nashville Predators to win a playoff series.
Did I leave something out, or do you disagree with the order in which these are placed? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.