I don’t know about you, but I thought this season was it.
Think about it.
The offseason acquisition of Nick Bonino was the first needed piece. Although Bonino would remain injured into the beginning of the season, it’s hard to ignore his worth in a playoff series. Versatile veteran 3rd liner with Cup experience? Check.
The pieces seemed to be falling into place into the fall. A blockbuster of a trade saw Nashville acquire Kyle Turris from Ottawa and send young defenseman Samuel Girard to Colorado. There’s your 2C. Check.
When young goaltender Juuse Saros struggled in his starts early this season, he was able to do conditioning assignments in Milwaukee for a few games to help him get his groove back. Gummy-bear loving Anders Lindback could swap with Saros so the young Finn could knock off some rust. The kid played 26 games and has a .925% SVC. Many of those games were tough back-to-back games against powerful teams like Winnipeg and Colorado. Reliable backup goaltender? Check.
Ryan Ellis returned from offseason knee surgery at the beginning of 2018. He made his debut against Vegas and looked fantastic. The four horsemen were reunited. Check.
It almost seemed too good when Mike Fisher announced he would un-retire for the remainder of the season to chase a Cup with Nashville. David Poile allowed Fisher to get conditioned and signed him to a cool $1 million contract. The “old guy without a cup” quota was filled by Fisher, Rinne, and Scott Hartnell. Check.
Down the stretch, it quickly became apparent that Pekka Rinne was going to be in contention for the Vezina trophy. He received his fourth nomination for the trophy and put up one of his better regular seasons at age 35. Star goaltender seeking his first Cup? Potential first-time Vezina winner? Check.
Craig Smith had a rebound season and scored 25 goals after scoring only 12 last season. Kevin Fiala swapped to a pro number and found his niche with Smith and Turris. Two legitimate top lines? Check.
Viktor Arvidsson proved that he was worth his new contract. Check.
Austin Watson and Colton Sissons both had career point totals this season. Check.
P.K. Subban was once again nominated as a Norris trophy contender. He’s also in the running for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy.
First round pick Eeli Tolvanen had a killer season in the World Juniors, the KHL, and the Olympics. Predators fans everywhere watched clip after clip of Tolvanen scoring silly wrist shots and impressing among rookies worldwide. When his KHL season ended and Tolvanen flew to Nashville, he was treated like the star he will become and introduced to the fans in a few games at the end of the regular season. Future star already wearing gold? Check.
There are probably 10-12 more stories I’m missing here. Records broken, goals scored, new stars emerging, fans screaming their delight in a wild game in Nashville. Our favorite Preds having babies and raising puppies…adorable.
The new fans, the old fans, the people who know nothing about hockey learning about hockey…what could be better? The Cup Final in Nashville last year brought with it hockey fever in Nashville. Kids and adults alike are signing up for leagues and learning to skate and shoot. My husband and I have new sticks and new skates and are looking for beer leagues to join over the summer.
The Predators have brought hockey fever to a city with country music. How dare Southerners understand hockey? How dare they establish traditions like catfish throwing and car smashing? How could they disrespect hockey customs and have country music stars sing at home games?
Because this is Nashville. This is hockey in a non-traditional hockey market. This is a team, clad in all gold, who wants to bring the Stanley Cup to Broadway. The bottom line is this: Nashville is right in the middle of a Cup window. I trust David Poile to do some ridiculous sorcery and manage to keep most of the team signed for the next several years in order to have the best chance possible. He will bring in talent and retain the team’s core using his wizard-Poile skills.
[Editor’s note: He won’t have to perform too much sorcery when you look at the breakdown. This team is basically here for a while.]
I’m not going to spend this article speculating about post-season play. There will be plenty of time for post-mortem analysis. I’m here to bring a little positivity to the inevitable let-down many of you are experiencing right now.
That President’s Trophy came by sheer willpower, grind, effort, and sweat. It’s the first President’s Trophy in franchise history. The Predators clawed for their positioning, and ultimately, they were not able to bring that regular-season effort to the post-season.
Can Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros carry the goaltending load next season so the Predators can return to the playoffs? Absolutely. Will the JoFA line continue to dominate? Duh. Will Eeli Tolvanen find his place in the lineup? Yep. Will Nashville’s defensive corps continue to be a threat? Yes.
It’s simple. The Predators can and will repeat this season next year. They’re going to improve and get faster and stronger. They will find ways to push past their limitations. They always have.
I’m not sure if you’ve taken a look at the prospect reports that Eric as been publishing this season (note: you should). The Milwaukee Admirals are developing some incredible talent, and Nashville has prospects worldwide just waiting for their chance to put on a gold jersey. Just this week, the Predators signed a young Czech defenseman and a young Swedish forward.
Nashville has an established identity. Next season, playing with that identity should result in better discipline, more 60-minute play, and stifling defense combined with lethal offense.
I’m down with more catfish flopping on the ice. I’m in love with the loudest arena in the NHL. I’m impressed by every Smashville Standing O and every game opener inside the Bridge. These players bring so much to the community in their service and in their programs...Best Buddies Tennessee, the 365 Fund, P.K’s Blueline Buddies. The city of Nashville loves their team.
The Cup window is still open, folks. There is no reason to hang up your gold jersey.