By Amanda DiPaolo
The puck officially drops on the 2010-2011 NHL season tonight, and expectations are the highest they have ever been for the Nashville Predators.
Of course not everyone has jumped on board the Predators bandwagon. Yahoo Sports ranked Nashville 28th out of 30 teams a year ago and in their first power rankings of this year list the Predators at 24th in the league, behind even the Islanders and Maple Leafs. TSN has Nashville pegged at 9th in the West. The Hockey News states “you can never underestimate the Predators” but then underestimates Nashville predicting a 10th place finish in the West. But there is a large minority of predictions out there that have predict Nashville will be in the post season once again come April, 2011.
Other national media outlets are also predicting a return to the Predators this season. Adam Proteau from The Hockey News lists Nashville as likely to finish 7th in the West. Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy says Nashville will continue to struggle to score but will “white-knuckle their way to another easy playoff berth.” Even Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail pencils Nashville in at 8th in the West. And Pierre LeBrun ESPN Power Rankings places Nashville 13th overall in the league. Not a bad spot to start the season.
If the current mood of the national media towards the Predators can be described as somewhat positive, or at least cautiously optimistic, for fans the mood is ecstatic, and a genuine expectation that this is the year Nashville makes it past round one of the playoffs. Gone, without a doubt, are the days of being satisfied with a couple extra home games in the middle of April.
These new found expectations has to in part be because team came so close to taking out the eventual Stanley Cup Champions when the Predators lost the Western Conference Quarterfinals in 6 games to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Had Nashville hung on in the final minute of game 5 and had Patrick Kane never scored the tying goal, shorthanded, with 13.6 seconds left in regulation, the Predators would have taken a 3-2 series lead home to Bridgestone Arena. Coming home victors would have given Game 6, and potentially the series, a different feel to it.
Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said what made the loss to Chicago so difficult was that the Predators had played just as well as the Blackhawks. “It was a huge disappointment and at the same time you are so proud of your team getting to that point and playing such a good opponent to their level. I was so disappointed because I feel like we had that series and we kind of kicked ourselves,” Rinne told Predlines at the start of training camp when asked about the series loss.
It isn’t just the fans and the players with long memories. After Nashville’s 2-1 preseason win over Atlanta in Nashville on Monday, September 27th, Coach Barry Trotz told the media that the game should have been won by a 3-1 score. The Predators, Trotz said, should have put the game away with an empty net goal. “We had to finish the game off there. We made a mistake like that in Carolina and it almost cost us. We all know what happened in the playoffs.” Trotz reminded everyone in attendance.
Yes, we do. And apparently so does the Predators ownership group and front office. At the Predators annual Skate of the Union event held in July, the new Predators chairman, Tom Cigarran, made it clear that the ownership group was in it to win it, the Stanley Cup that is. On-ice off season moves aside, the Predators also hired a new CEO, Jeff Cogen previously of the Dallas Stars, as well as a new COO, Sean Henry, formerly of the Tampa Bay Lighting–two Stanley Cup winning teams.
In regard to on-ice personnel changes, the Predators have been busy since their early exit from the playoffs. Dan Hamhuis and Dan Ellis were lost to free agency, their rights traded away for Ryan Parent and Sergei Kostitsyn respectfully. Trading Jason Arnott and naming Shea Weber captain has energized the fan base, and from all accounts has also energized the team.
Along with a new Captain, the team also starts the season with speed. With the acquisition of Matthew Lombardi, from Phoenix, in the mix with Steve Sullivan, Martin Erat, and David Legwand, Nashville boasts one of the fastest teams on the ice.
Leadership, speed, making a risky, bold move in taking a chance on Sergei Kostitsyn, having a healthy Colin Wilson from the start of the year, a focused and undisputed number one goalie in Rinne, and resigning Patric Hornqvist are all moves that make Predators fans excited for the home opener Saturday night against the Anaheim Ducks.
Just this past Tuesday, Nashville traded Ryan Parent and Jonas Andersson to the Vancouver Canucks for tough-guy defenseman Shane O’Brien. The 27 year old will log a lot of ice time, last year averaging just over 17 minutes a game, will fight for and protect his teammates, and while he has been a liability in terms of taking penalties in the past, O’Brien is responsible in his own end, as pointed out by Dirk Hoag over at Ontheforecheck.
Maybe most importantly is that O’Brien brings with him to Nashville 28 games of playoff experience. When discussing the O’Brien trade, Jeremy Gover from section303 talked to Coach Trotz about the move. Trotz said while O’Brien might not help the roster come this Saturday, he sure will come May and June.
May? June? The puck hasn’t even dropped and Trotz is talking deep post season run. For a team that has yet to win a playoff series, such talk is welcome and of course raises those expectations all the more higher.
The Nashville Predators don’t open their season until Saturday night at home against the Anaheim Ducks. Tickets are still available. The puck drops at 7pm CT.
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