Getting To Know The Nashville Predators
Nashville, Tennessee. A mid-sized city in the Southeastern United States. Known for its Country music, fried food and for the past 15 years, hockey.
Nashville has been growing exponentially. The New York Times called Nashville the next “it” city. The Predators have been an integral part of that growth.
Since Gary Bettman became commissioner of the NHL, the league has expanded into “non-traditional” hockey markets. Teams have succeeded in places like Dallas, Tampa Bay and of course, Nashville. It was an experiment at first. There were many that doubted hockey’s feasibility in the South.
Nashville hockey is a unique specimen. It is unlike any other atmosphere in the league. The team has benefitted from somewhat-consistent winning. The team made the playoffs almost every year from 2004 to 2012. The fanbase has blossomed into one of the best in the league.
The Expansion Years
The league granted expansion franchises to Columbus, Atlanta and Minneapolis-St. Paul, along with Nashville in 1997. The team brought in David Poile to be general manager, who remains at that same post today. They also hired Barry Trotz as head coach. He was head coach until earlier this year.
The stability of Poile and Trotz at the helm guided the team through the early years of the franchise, in which the team was unbelievably bad. They didn’t make the playoffs until the 2003-04 season, in which David Legwand scored the team’s first playoff goal. Legwand was the first-ever draft pick of the Predators and remained with the team until 2014, when he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings.
Playoff Successes & Failures
For years, the Predators consistently made the playoffs. But, they couldn’t get past the first round. Year after year, they were bounced early on. They played the Sharks, Red Wings, and Blackhawks. They couldn’t beat any of them. Ever.
In 2011, that all changed. The Predators took on the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. The series was tied at two games apiece, and game five went to overtime. In overtime, Jordin Tootoo took the puck into the corner, and passed it out in front of the net to Jerred Smithson, who was streaking through the slot. He buried the puck behind Anaheim goaltender Ray Emery to win the game. It was the biggest goal in Predators history. The Predators won game six, and the series – their first series win in franchise history.
The Predators would end up falling to the Vancouver Canucks in the next round. The following season, they advanced to the Conference Semi-Finals again. This time, they defeated the Red Wings in five games, advancing to face the Phoenix Coyotes. The team collapsed. Two of their best players, Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, went out partying the night before a game and were suspended for a couple games. The Predators imploded, and fell to the Coyotes quite handily.
A New Era
The past couple years have been pretty rough for Nashville. They lost one of their franchise defensemen, Ryan Suter, to free agency in 2012 as he signed a big contract with the Minnesota Wild. They almost lost their other franchise defenseman, Shea Weber, but they luckily kept him. If they hadn’t, the team would have been sunk for years. The team has missed the playoffs for the past two years, and let go of longtime coach Barry Trotz in April.
Peter Laviolette, who won a Cup with Carolina in 2006, was brought in to replace him. Trotz was known for his defensive tendencies, while Laviolette is known for his offensive prominence. The Predators struggled on offense in the two years they missed the playoffs. Fans are hoping Laviolette’s new system will bring more goals to Nashville.
A Part Of The City
Over the years, the team has been integrated into the Nashville culture. During intermissions, there is live country music in the arena. You won’t find that anywhere else in the world. The arena is right near Lower Broadway, the entertainment district of Nashville. Fans can go to the game, and then go out for drinks at the bar afterwards.
One year, it almost all went away. In 2007, the team was for sale, and one prospective owner intended to move the team to Ontario, Canada. It was chaos. Players were abandoning the team. The fans in Nashville rallied to keep the franchise, and eventually, the team was sold to a Nashville-based group that kept the team in town.
The Predators have developed a number of rivalries over the years. For a long time, the Red Wings were the main rival. They played in the same division, and many Detroit transplants lived in Nashville. The Wings were a model franchise, and the Predators were a bit of a “little brother.” As soon as the Predators started gaining the upper hand on the Red Wings, the league went through realignment and the Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference, limiting the meetings with the Predators to two times per year.
Over the past few years, a rivalry has developed with the Chicago Blackhawks. If you ask a Blackhawks fan, they’ll say otherwise, but in Nashville, hate for the Hawks is real. Every time the Blackhawks come to Nashville, a sea of red invades Bridgestone Arena. Fans don’t like it. It can seem like there are more Blackhawks fans than Predators fans.
That’s the Nashville Predators for you. They are an unrecognized brand in the United States, but they are up-and coming. Watch out for the Predators. They’re a team you should get to know.