Before the madness of the Stanley Cup Playoffs grips us all, I thought I'd poll the Nashville hockey writing community on the stories which will stand out when we look back on this 2011-2012 Predators season. This series will celebrate events on and off the ice, some momentous, some just plain silly. I hope you enjoy them. Today's selection: The great challenge facing the team's developing ownership group, getting Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, and Ryan Suter signed to long-term contracts, featuring articles from Predators AJenda and Hockey Independent's David Singleton.
The Doomsday Clock started ticking back on July 1, as Shea Weber's contract expired and both Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter entered the final year of theirs, opening the negotiation season for extensions on all three. Franchise players like Steven Stamkos and John Tavares got long-term deals done with their teams over the ensuing weeks, so surely a competitive young team backed by ownership's public proclamations of financial commitment would be able to lock in their core group of stars, right?
An eerie atmosphere hung over the team in the immediate aftermath of the Shea Weber arbitration, an awkward affair which nobody thought would actually go all the way to a hearing. Once the season got rolling, however, more immediate concerns occupied our interests, but when Pekka Rinne re-upped for 7 years and $49 million, hope spring up again that the ownership group was indeed able to back up the talk (coming particularly from team chairman Tom Cigarran) about doing whatever it took to make the Predators champions:
In recent years, Cigarran has not been bashful about announcing what he considers to be the ownership group's aspiration for the Predators' success. He's not satisfied with the team merely being here; Cigarran has touted an expectation of greatness; an expectation of seeing the Stanley Cup being paraded down Broadway.
Accordingly, such has become the increasing expectation among PredsNation. The team's consecutive strong performances in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 regular seasons, particularly coupled with last season's breakthrough advance to the second round of the playoffs, has given ever-increasing credence to Cigarran's bold pronouncement of one year ago this summer.
But it doesn't take a cynic to know that saying it'll happen is one thing, but placing the team in such a position to make it happen is quite another.
--- Predators AJenda
Doling out a huge contract to a franchise goalie certainly seemed to be a step in that direction, although personally I'm not thrilled to lock up a guy for seven years at big money when the Preds have proven the ability to squeeze superior goaltending performances out of a rotating cast, thanks in large part to the work of Mitch Korn.
With Pekka in the fold, however, the season wore on, and attention then turned to Ryan Suter. Questions arose as to whether David Poile should consider moving Suter in exchange for picks & prospects prior to the Trade Deadline, getting at least something in return for a player who had shown few signs of wanting to stay in Nashville.
But as that Deadline approached, and the team continued its climb through the standings, the lure of a deep playoff run this season set all that logic aside. David Singleton laid out the "go for broke" case:
You often hear coaches talk about players either losing confidence in themselves or needing to play with more confidence. If Nashville wants to be an attractive destination for players looking to contend, they need to manage their team with the confidence that they are going to do everything within their means to win every season.
Commitment to winning is more than just acquiring players, hiring coaches, and running a certain style. Commitment to winning is showing that you are willing to make the hard choices to win now when you have the means.
Show that level of commitment and you might not even have to worry about not having Suter next season, as Nashville will be a place where one wants to play.
As the playoffs approach, I think we can agree that David Poile has done everything he can to complement the current core of the team with some of the best complementary pieces available (Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn, Paul Gaustad) to support them, and the return of Alexander Radulov has proven to be a pleasant surprise.
The chips are indeed "all in" for this playoff run, but as far as the future of the Big Three in Nashville goes, we've only seen one situation resolve itself. Whenever the season does come to a close (June would be OK), we can expect that all this speculation will come right back up again.
Make sure to head over at read these articles at Predators AJenda (Part 1 and Part 2 have much more on the ownership group), as well as Hockey Independent. I think you'll agree that few of us could have seen the team loading up as much as it has for this spring's playoff run.