Here’s a familiar sounding story but with a different ending. The shortened days of winter are a distant memory and hockey fans in Nashville are following the NHL playoffs with great interest. The team making local headlines prides itself on an all-world goalie supported by stifling blueliners thriving under a defense-first style of play. Goals are hard to come by for this low seeded playoff team but that hasn’t stopped the club from advancing and battling Detroit in a best of seven series. The Red Wings do lose the series but in a sick twist of fate the hopes of hockey fans in Nashville are dashed.
The year is 1995 and the New Jersey Devils owners have been flirting with then Mayor Phil Bredesen in exchange for an offer of $20 million dollars and a sweet lease deal to move their franchise to the not yet opened Nashville Arena. However, after winning the Stanley Cup Finals public officials in New Jersey cannot ignore the growing fan support and decide to make amends with the Devils. The team stays in East Rutherford and eventually begin play in a new arena in Newark.
Sometimes I think about what it would have been like if the Devils had actually made Music City their home. New Jersey went on to capture three titles and have been a mainstay in the playoffs. The irony is that for many of those hypothetical seasons we would have witnessed the same “boring” brand of hockey that causes us to complain today about the Predators.
And with a closer look you can see that the two teams mirror each other in more ways than style of hockey. Neither the Devils nor the Predators have profited from early draft picks that reward years of ineptitude like the Penguins, Blues, Blackhawks, and (sorry to say this) soon Blue Jackets. Both franchises are seemingly pushed down below the level of national conscious by the media despite success on the ice. And more recently each team has faced the painful jilt of a once loved player in Zach Parise and Ryan
So while the question of why the Devils have been so wildly successful implementing what appears to be a very similar hockey theory as the Predators still begs to be answered what troubles me about this conundrum is also what gives me hope. I think a lot of the difference has to do with luck (or lack thereof). In other words, I don’t believe there is a major fault with Coach Trotz or GM Poile. How could Poile have predicted that picking a dynamic and offensively talented Radulov would set the franchise back not once but twice? Or guess that Steve Sullivan would spend nearly two years of his prime out of service with an ailing back? And what were the chances that Mike Lombardi would only see action in one game wearing a Preds uniform before suffering a debilitating concussion?
It is true that the Preds fortunes share common themes with many of the ballads recorded on Music Row. But name me a franchise that hasn’t had a rough patch. And considering that this team is still only a handful of points from the eighth spot in the Western Conference how bad is it really? Really?
Today’s Predators roster is like a C-130 flying home riddled with bullet holes and an engine fire. Arguably the five most talented forwards (Wilson, Fisher, Bourque, Hornqvist, and Erat) are either out of the lineup due to injury/trade or despite amazing feats of courage still are not even close to 100%.
But make no mistake – this is not a dumpster fire. While the playoffs are for all intent and purposes out of the question for this year, the key pieces are in place for next year. How could you not like the possibility of Bourque and Wilson centered by Fisher? I know both Wilson and Fisher are technically centers but each have played wing. Or a line featuring Hornqvist, Legwand, and Beck?
And why not bring back Andre Kostitsyn? Yes, I know he screwed us by missing his curfew but hasn’t one season been enough punishment? Who hasn’t been victim to the siren call of a hotel lounge and stayed out a little later than they should during a business trip? I’d love to see AK46 paired with his brother SK74 centered by Craig Smith. Let’s face it, Sergei absolutely hates to shoot but loves to be the set-up man. Both Andrei and Craig Smith like pulling the trigger. Awesomeness would happen.
The fourth line of Halischuk, Spaling, and Gaustad would be adequate and bring energy. And if any of these pieces devolved we still have Chris Mueller, Brandon Yip, Austin Watson, and possibly Filip Forsberg waiting in the wings.
The defense is fine with the pairings of Weber/Josi and Klein/Bartley. The third pairing would be Gill and either of the Blum/Ellis projects. Anchoring goal would of course be Rinne and Hellberg as his back-up. That’s not a bad lineup if you ask me and this doesn’t include possible moves in the offseason to upgrade personnel.
My point is that the sky isn’t falling and in fact we should have good hockey to look forward to in the near future.
Consider this. Detroit began ending hockey dreams for Nashville even before the Predators existed. They’ve beaten us on the head for the better part of a decade and a half like a big brother. Yet, the Predators have won 12 of the past 18 games between the two teams including the most recent playoff matchup. That is something tangible that demonstrates progress. A good run will come. Skate away from the cliff.