With the Predators in their long mid-season break, there is plenty of time to look at what the franchise has gone through not just recently, but over the last decade.
In 2010, the Predators had never won the Central Division, a playoff round, or even a playoff overtime game. Now, in 2020, all of those landmarks and more have been met. Additionally, the Predators are up to three head coaches in franchise history, while in 2010 Barry Trotz was still the only main face behind the bench. A lot happened in the 2010’s, so let’s take some time and reflect on a successive decade and hand out some awards.
Best Game: May 22, 2017 Western Conference Championship
Runner-Up: April 20, 2012 Western Conference Quarterfinal
As we will discuss more in depth below, there was a palpable hatred between the Predators and the Anaheim Ducks this last decade. The climax of their rivalry came in Game 6 in the 2017 Western Conference Finals, and it was a game no fan will forget any time soon. With the team battling numerous injuries at center, including to Ryan Johansen, Colton Sissons was the next man up and scored a hat trick to send the Predators onto the Stanley Cup Final.
A game from earlier in the decade, the Predators’ Game 5 win over the Detroit Red Wings was monumental at the time. Not only had the Red Wings lorded over the Central Division for what felt like forever, but they had also eliminated the Predators a few times prior to this series. This was also the Predators’ first playoff series win against a divisional opponent, and a talented one at that.
Best Goal: Mike Fisher, May 5, 2016 Western Conference Semifinal
Runner-Up: Jerred Smithson, April 22, 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinal
For many, this was the defining moment that the Nashville Predators, an expansion team franchise without much success, had finally arrived. In a physically and mentally exhausting triple overtime affair, the Predators and Sharks were at a standstill. With everyone visibly sluggish in the third overtime, the level of play dropped like a weight, similar to how everyone’s legs felt. After midnight, Mattias Ekholm picked up a turnover in the offensive zone and fired a shot as Mike Fisher drove to the net. The rebound bounced right in front where Fisher was all alone, and he managed to tuck it back into the net, winning the game and sending 17,113 fans home to a good night’s rest.
The first overtime playoff goal in franchise history, Jerred Smithson’s overtime winner against the Anaheim Ducks may not be well known by new fans, but nonetheless was enormous. Not only was this the Predators’ first overtime playoff goal, but it was also against the Anaheim Ducks, setting the stage for further great playoff moments later in the decade. The Predators used the momentum from this goal to continue forth and eventually win their series in seven games.
Best Assist: Filip Forsberg, December 13, 2017
Runner-Up: Mike Fisher, June 5, 2017
The famous forehand-backhand assist, this goal by Calle Järnkrok was all about Filip Forsberg’s talent. If you closely watch Forsberg’s hands, after he makes a great move to drive towards the net, he actually switches his hand placement on his stick and, despite being a right-handed shot, holds his stick like he’s left-handed in order to make his pass to Järnkrok. It is unquestionably the most talented play that Filip Forsberg has ever made, and yes, that includes his recent Michigan goal.
Moving from raw talent to sheer determination, this assist from Mike Fisher shows what being a leader is all about. His second effort, giving every ounce of strength to reach and pass the puck to Viktor Arvidsson, stands out as one of his greatest moments as a leader. Fisher was always willing to do anything to make those around him successful, and this assist is another example of just that.
Best Save: Pekka Rinne, May 3, 2018 Western Conference Semifinal
Runner-Up: Pekka Rinne, November 13, 2018
Like a fine wine, Pekka Rinne improved over the course of the decade, so it comes as little surprise that both of his top saves came from 2018. Both saves demonstrate just how quick of a thinker Pekka Rinne is, instinctively aware of other non-traditional options to stop the puck.
Best Series: 2016-17 Western Conference Final, Anaheim Ducks
Runner-Up: 2015-16 Western Conference Quarterfinal, Anaheim Ducks
Truth be told, these two series had to be the ones selected because the pure hatred of the 2017 series would never have happened without the history of the 2016 series. The 2016 series against the Anaheim Ducks was one of the most grueling, grind-it-out affairs of Predators hockey post-Barry Trotz. It was also a bizarre series, as the road team won every single game. The Ducks entered as winners of the Pacific Division, but the wild-card Predators emerged victorious.
Almost every game it felt like the Predators were under a relentless siege from the Ducks, just trying their best to weather the storm. Game seven in particular frayed more than a fair share of nerves: it was the first game seven in franchise history for the Predators. In perhaps Pekka Rinne’s best game of his career, the Predators were able to hold on to an early lead and escape the Honda Center with a 2-1 win and advanced to the next round.
After losing that game seven, the Ducks fired head coach Bruce Boudreau and brought back Randy Carlyle, hopping for better results the next postseason. They achieved that, as the Ducks advanced to the Western Conference Finals, but only to play the Predators once again.
Unlike other series, the animosity between the Ducks and the Predators was palpable. One could cut the tension with a knife. No two teams hated each other more than the Ducks and the Predators and, with a berth in the Stanley Cup Final on the line, the stakes were the highest they had ever been. In the best playoff series across the NHL this decade, the Predators upset the Ducks yet again, this time in six games. It was a fun, intense, wild series with drama on and off the ice. Speaking of which...
Biggest Individual Villain: Ryan Kesler
Runner-Up: Sidney Crosby
Some of you may have some strong disagreements about the runner-up here, but let’s first dive into the biggest villain in Predators history. While the Predators faithful may more recently remember Kesler for his antics in a Ducks sweater, he was a villain long before he donned the Anaheim black and orange. Back in 2012, he single-handedly helped the Vancouver Canucks eliminate the Predators from the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Scoring five goals and six assists for a whopping eleven points in six games, he quickly rose in conversation to being the biggest “Pred-killer” up with Marián Hossa, whose comeback performance in game five for the Blackhawks a year earlier was still fresh in the mind.
Despite gaining notoriety back in that 2012 series, the legend of Kesler only grew upon his being traded to the Anaheim Ducks. In the Predators and Ducks’ consecutive series in 2016 and 2017, Kesler was held to four goals and five points total. However, his on-ice persona was that of a more villainous Tom Wilson. Constantly delivering heavy blows, many of which were late, he took it upon himself not only to crush the Predators on the ice, but also to best them mentally. This, of course, led to the great feud with Ryan Johansen.
@RyanJohansen19 How’s summer training going? Want to meet me in the streets before we get going on the ice?— Ryan Kesler (@Ryan_Kesler) August 5, 2018
I'll pay for your parking— Ryan Johansen (@RyanJohansen19) August 6, 2018
The runner-up selection of Sidney Crosby may be a little bit of an oddball pick, especially considering the rivalry between the Predators and the Blackhawks. However, while many may be clamoring for Patrick Kane to take the runner-up spot, if any Blackhawk deserves a nod here, it’s Marián Hossa. His Game 5 overtime winner that robbed Nashville of a 3-2 series lead back in 2010 was the biggest moment for the Blackhawks versus Predators rivalry this decade. Even though Kane has more goals against the Preds, he never had the monumental moment that Hossa did.
However, Sidney Crosby beats out Marián Hossa because, well, Hossa never really did anything scummy to the Predators. On the other hand, Crosby, in addition to being crucial to the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup over the Predators, had the temperament of a poorly-behaved child. Constantly bickering, riling up the Predators, the non-stop whining. Most importantly, remember when he threw a water bottle from the Penguins’ bench at Mattias Ekholm during play? Or how about when he held P.K. Subban down on the ice while punching him?
Do not be mistaken; the battle for the runner-up villain spot was close. However, there was no chance that Ryan Kesler would ever be denied his status as the greatest villain in Predators history.
Biggest Rival: Anaheim Ducks
Runner-Up: Chicago Blackhawks
This comes down to a question of fans versus players. There’s no question that Predators and Blackhawk fans do not like each other. Due to sky-high ticket prices in Chicago, it became, in some instances, cheaper for Chicago fans to travel to Nashville for games than to watch their own team at home. Chicago natives are used to this, as Milwaukee-based Predators fans are well acquainted with Cubs fans priced out of Wrigley taking the train up to Miller Park to watch their team play the Brewers. Of course, Milwaukee is only an hour and a half from Chicago, as opposed to the distance to Nashville, but the case still stands that, for the average Blackhawks fan, traveling was more accessible than attending their own games.
Hordes of red-clad Blackhawks fans descended onto Nashville any time the Blackhawks played in Bridgestone Arena. Furthermore, the Blackhawks played the Predators three times in the playoffs, with the Predators only winning one series—their final one in 2017, a four-game sweep. Additionally, both series that the Predators lost were close. The Predators outplayed the Blackhawks in 2015 but just couldn’t buy an overtime goal for their lives. Meanwhile in 2010, the Predators choked Game 5 away in remarkable fashion, leaving Marián Hossa to play hero, and they never recovered.
However, while fans may hate the Blackhawks the most, it was apparent that the most hated team of the decade in the Predators’ locker room was the Anaheim Ducks. The Ryan Johansen and Ryan Kesler feud was the best player-versus-player feud across the NHL the last decade, but the hate goes much deeper.
There were also three playoff series between the Predators and the Ducks, including a game seven. The final playoff series only went six games, but it resulted in so many injuries for the Predators that Frederick Gaudreau ended up on the first line the following round. It also concluded with the most dominant performance of Colton Sissons’s life, as he scored a hat trick in Game 6 to send the Predators through to the Stanley Cup Final.
Finally, the Ducks also had their fair share of villains outside of Ryan Kesler. In 2016, Corey Perry, who was on every Ducks team the Predators eliminated last decade, and James Neal were the ones with their fair share of beef. During warmups, Perry would constantly poke-check the puck away from Neal and the Predators when passing them at the red line. Neal was the one who reacted, and started his own antics to antagonize Perry. Also, while outside our range of dates, the very first day of 2020 Perry elbowed Ryan Ellis in the head during the Winter Classic, though now as a member of the Dallas Stars.
Ryan Getzlaf also got in on the poor behavior, using an anti-gay slur against a referee in in Game 4 of the 2017 series. The NHL failed to contact anyone at You Can Play and gave a meaningless $10,000 fine, especially striking in the face of Andrew Shaw having been suspended a year prior for the same infraction.
All in all, there are reasons as to why the Chicago Blackhawks were a top rival of the Nashville Predators the last decade, but the antics and history between the Predators and Anaheim Ducks substantially outweigh any other arguments.
Best Fight: Shea Weber vs. Matt Cooke, January 10, 2015
Runner-Up: Viktor Arvidsson vs. Carl Hagelin
Do I think the ideal, utopian version of hockey has fighting? Not really.
Is this fight still incredibly satisfying to watch? Absolutely.
While there’s a significant amount of commotion on the ice, Viktor Arvidsson needs to be commended for this fisticuffs performance—in the playoffs no less. While not known in any way for dropping the mitts, the undersized Arvidsson punches above his weight here and puts in a performance well deserving of the runner-up spot.