TSN ranks Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne both among the top NHL players. (PHOTO: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

The Nashville Predators, The Flaming Lips, and the Evolution of Expectations

Nashville Predators (and Tampa Bay Lightning) fan Clare Austin sent out a tweet this afternoon that made me chuckle:

There’s no doubt that the NHL lockout is a big factor in the white-hot fan fury in some cities after just nine percent of the schedule has been played. There was a bubble of rage that had been building since September, and since it burst into the great, wide open that rage has been finding every way it can to manifest itself. Poor play is a magnet for this, so there’s no surprise that some teams are getting it worse than others. Still, even fans of those teams on top of the world this early know there’s no reason to panic this early.

I don’t know that Preds fans are exactly panicking over the team’s 1-1-2 start, but nobody around here is particularly happy, either. Any why would they be? The team hasn’t found its identity after the long layoff, and its inconsistencies are the kind that are usually troubling when they pop up in January. There’s absolutely time to turn things around, but throw mediocre performances and the lockout together and you have enough to cause a freakout flare-up here and there. But I think most of the whatever grumbling there is among Nashville Predators fans is a result of their evolving expectations.

Part of it is the big money the franchise has thrown around lately, last year in particular. Pekka Rinne was given a seven-year, $49-million contract. Shea Weber was given a 14-year, $110-million offer sheet by Philadelphia and the Preds matched it. GM David Poile offered Ryan Suter big money to stay, too, and I think that being in a position to offer that much money to him and Weber and Rinne had an effect on fans’ psyches even though the Preds lost out in that sweepstakes.

But not everything in the increased expectations of Nashville Predators fans is about money. There’s a core fan base here that’s been watching since this team was a lowly expansion squad filled with nigh-unpronounceable names, big PIM totals, and not a lot else. They have watched the team go from pushover to potential powerhouse even before monster contracts became a factor. Being two wins away from the Western Conference Finals, two year in a row, creates a certain level of demand from a fan base that remembers the bad old days.

Due to high expectations, the Nashville Predators are providing needles for your balloons

Like the Flaming Lips, the Nashville Predators are facing high expectations

There’s an obscure EP of outtakes and demos from one of my favorite bands of the 1990s, The Flaming Lips, with a charming, shaggy dog of a title: Due To High Expectations, The Flaming Lips Are Providing Needles For Your Balloons. They released it after unexpected finding themselves an MTV hit with a silly, two-year-old song called “She Don’t Use Jelly” off their Warner Bros. debut, Transmissions From The Satellite Heart. They playfully mocked themselves when the record company, which probably didn’t even remember they’d signed the Lips a few years earlier since Transmissions quite predictably didn’t tear up the charts, suddenly had demand for their music. A few years later they went on a run of record releases (The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, in particular) that any band would be proud of.

I suggest that anybody who’s too stressed over the team’s performances think of the early 2013 Nashville Predators in the same light. They’re popping all those expectation balloons right now. On the one hand, it stinks; winning is a lot more fun than losing. On the other hand, most of the core structure that turned the team into a contender is still there. Think of these first four games as the Preds’ EP and look forward to the great albums they’ve got in the works. There are problems to work out, and it’ll take a little while to fix them, but we’ve got time.

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