Division rivalries are fun, especially in one of the toughest division in the NHL. They’re even more fun when fans have a deep-seeded hatred for a player on the rival team.
The start of the 2016-2017 season will mark the fifth season since Ryan Suter left the Nashville Predators to sign with the Minnesota Wild. Despite the Predators going on to acquire the best defensive core in the league, Suter has always left a bitter taste in Nashville’s mouth.
His departure was deeper than the game. It was about loyalty to the organization that drafted him and loyalty to the city of Nashville. Many felt like he had none. From relentless booing every time he touches the ice at Bridgestone to the mocking but cheeky Josi’s better chant, fans have no love for this former Predator.
However, times have changed since Suter wore the Predators logo. A new coach, a new system, and a distinctly different blue line that no longer includes former partner Shea Weber. The power-pairing of Weber and Suter is simply team history to the majority of the current roster.
The Wild have had a turbulent year. They fired head-coach Mike Yeo early in February after a 13-game losing streak. The team barely made it to the playoffs and were ousted by the Dallas Stars in the first round.
Minnesota managed to sign forward Eric Staal to a three year $10.5 million contract this summer. The move is a bit of a gamble with Staal coming off a lack-luster 13 goal season split between the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers. It’s too early to tell if the move will help or become a failed desperation attempt by the Wild to return to Central caliber form.
The Predators were able to tame the Wild, whatever beast that might be, and only dropped one contest to them last season.
Record vs. Minnesota Last Season: 3-1-0
Best Player From the Series Last Year
This rivalry felt a bit cheated last season, with only four games on the schedule, none of which took place after mid-January. With only a handful of match-ups this didn’t feel like much of a rivalry. Most of the production came from several now former Predators. The Wild brought out the best in some of Nashville’s average in the likes of Eric Nystrom, Cody Hodgson (Remember him? I didn’t), and even a shut-out at the gloves of Carter Hutton.
Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg both managed two goals a piece against Minnesota, but Josi gets my nod for best player by notching an assist and three points in four games. Three games if you want to pretend game two of the series never happened, since the only numbers Nashville produced were 30 minutes in the penalty box.
Best Game From Last Year
The final game between Nashville and Minnesota on January 16th takes this spot. Not only did Nashville see goals from Josi, Forsberg, and Nystrom, but Hutton managed to shut out the Wild.
For two teams that were streaking their way to the playoffs, this was a solid win for Nashville. It wasn’t the tension filled brawls we were used to seeing in division games but it was an old fashion win for the good guys on home ice.
Best Moment From Last Year
If you’re a ticking time-bomb of hate for Suter, and you weep with pride every time Josi scores against the Wild, this moment is for you.
Josi nets his own rebound right past a flailing Devan Dubnyk. This moment is great for a handful of reasons. For starters it’s a power play goal, something that was a rarity for Nashville last year. Secondly, Josi manages to stun and then paralyze Jarrett Stoll with his beauty because Stoll left him open not once, but twice. Stoll all but watches in mystified wonder as Josi scores.
Lastly, looking back on it Weber getting the assist on Josi’s goal has to be some form of poetic justice. We didn’t know Weber would never play Minnesota as a Predator again, but what a way to go out. The final nail in the coffin of the Nashville vs. Suter rivalry, sealed by his former spurned defensive partner...
Josi is better.
Bold Prediction for the 2016-2017 Season
The Nashville Predators are a younger and faster team offensively and defensively that will not be easily contained. If Minnesota can’t shut them down in the first or second meeting they’ll be hard-pressed to do it at all. The deciding factor will be what caliber of play Minnesota is at.
Bold Prediction: Nashville scores 15 goals and Minnesota manages to wins two games.
Bolder Prediction: Nashville scores 17 goals and Minnesota wins one game in overtime.
Boldest Prediction: Nashville scores 20 goals and Minnesota implodes.