The NHL lockout means no big games for Nashville. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

What If There Were No NHL Lockout in Nashville?

If you are part of the 99.9999 percent of the North American hockey world that doesn’t own an NHL team, the NHL lockout has been a complete and unmitigated disaster. Neither side has been able to make real progress, to the point that calling their discussions “negotiations” gives a bad name to negotiators the world over.

But what if the owners had decided that making a deal so nobody lost money this season was more important than becoming a living definition of intransigence? What if the players had decided to get creative and find a solution? If there were no NHL lockout, where would the Nashville Predators be right now?

Tough games

For starters, we’d be 30 games into the 2012-13 season. The first month would’ve been a tough test. After opening on the road and playing four games at home, a seven-game western road trip was on the schedule. Those trips have often been brutal to the Preds’ road record in the past, so they very well may have struggled in the early going.

The 10 games scheduled for October included matchups against every single team Nashville has played in the playoffs since 2003-04: Detroit, San Jose, Anaheim, Vancouver, and Phoenix. The Canucks, Coyotes, and Red Wings always give the Predators a run for their money. And while the Sharks and Ducks haven’t packed quite as much punch lately as they once did, they still have the ability to play Nashville tough. Add in games with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, and it would’ve been a stressful but exciting month for Nashville Predators fans.

Seeing old friends

There would already have been a number of reunions with recently departed Predators. The October 12th opener at Detroit would’ve been the team’s first chance to face Jordin Tootoo, who signed with the Red Wings during the offseason. November 19th would’ve seen the Preds travel to Montreal, home of Francis Bouillon. But the most anticipated reunion would have come on December 1st. That was the day Nashville’s former 1st-round pick Ryan Suter and the Minnesota Wild were due to play at Bridgestone Arena.

Seeing Webs land a few on Bertuzzi’s face would’ve been nice, too. (PHOTO: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports)

Looking into the future

Besides great matchups against tough teams, the NHL lockout has robbed Nashville Predators fans of watching the development of the team’s younger players. Colin Wilson has shown flashes of brilliance and was ready for his chance at becoming a major contributor. A big gap was created on defense by the departures of both Suter and Bouillon during the offseason, one that was set to be filled by Milwaukee Admirals blueliners like Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Craig Smith and Gabriel Bourque, two of last year’s youngest contributors, have missed a second year of competing at the elite level required in the NHL.  And Milwaukee forwards like Austin Watson and Taylor Beck have missed chances at NHL call-ups.

What I really wanted to know after the offseason was how Shea Weber would perform after committing his professional future to Nashville. After his close shave with the Norris Trophy last year, I was looking forward to him bringing the first serious piece of NHL hardware home to Nashville this season. I was looking forward to seeing him lead a young team to another playoff berth, and potentially even a historic division title.

Curse you, NHL Lockout

The 2012-13 season had all the makings of a turning point in the history of the Nashville Predators franchise. Instead of seeing that first-hand, we have to be content with hearing about our prospects from afar and turning to computer simulations (or our imaginations) to answer our questions about how the Preds would have responded to its experiences during the 2011-12 season. The NHL lockout has robbed Nashville fans of ever knowing what might have been.

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