I moved to Nashville just a day or two before the lockout season 2012-13 began. I bought a single seat for every Predators home game, and got myself acquainted with the arena, and the team. I was literally acquainted with a small piece of the team because David Poile acquired Rich Clune from the Los Angeles Kings and their Manchester Monarchs AHL affiliate the day I landed. Rich followed soon after. We’d been friends for a couple years and I had just spent a couple weeks in New Hampshire, where we had seen each other multiple times when he was off the ice. I was thrilled to see him get his NHL shot. I also had some existing relationships within the organization, as Pete Weber and I first met in the late 1970’s when he was the Kings “color” man to Bob Miller’s play-by-play, and Gerry Helper, who had been assisting team GM Poile since the inception of the franchise, was someone I knew when we both lived in New York City and he toiled for the National Hockey League’s front office in the early 80s.
Those first couple of seasons I lived here, we endured some pretty bad hockey. Oh sure, Barry Trotz was a great guy, and did the best he could with what little he had to work with, save for a world-class goaltender (Pekka Rinne) and a reasonably solid defense corps led by captain Shea Weber, but in those first two seasons, it was a David Poile late season trade that began to define the future. First he swung the heist of the century, grabbing Filip Forsberg for beige wallpaper, Martin Erat. Then, the following year he grabbed Calle Jarnkrok for franchise legend, and the epitome of mediocrity, David Legwand. Other pieces began to fill the boxes as well. I saw one game of Mattias Ekholm in 12-13, and the following year, with Weber, Seth Jones, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis as the top 4, Ekholm, Victor Bartley, and the tandem Kevin Klein/Michael Del Zotto filled the 5-6 holes.
Now, let’s back it up a moment. Ryan Ellis played in 80 games during the 13-14 season, and notched 6G, 21A. The previous two years he split between Nashville and Milwaukee, amassing 5G, 12A in 64 games. He had been the team’s #1 draft pick in 2009, and when I arrived in TN, the scuttlebutt from the fans was that this kid had to go… either to Milwaukee or any other NHL team in exchange for any body that could dress himself and lace his own skates. Yes, it’s true. I don’t have the benefits of having archived Facebook or Hockey’s Future board posts, but for the majority of the Nashville fan base, Ellis was a giant NO. Personally I never hopped on that bandwagon, as I was too busy wondering why I had to endure Brandon Yip, Scott Hannan, Viktor Stalberg and a host of other problems that were impeding the team’s playoff possibilities. Then, Ekholm? More of the same, but less vocal. Few talked about his upside and potential. Many were confused as to why he was being given opportunities in light of Klein or Bartley (clearly favored.) When Klein exited and Del Zotto joined, scales tipped a bit more in Ek’s favor because no one got too attached to MDZ (except for me buying his green St. Patty’s day warmup uni.)
Then there was the Seth Jones hate. And, yes, there was hate, and that had me up in arms. This kid was so clearly a far more skilled defenseman than 90% of the rearguards toiling in the NHL, but yes, he was young and occasionally overmatched and thrust into the fire without the benefit of a ton of education. Still, he showed poise and confidence during large stretches of his ice time and was relied on heavily throughout his tenure in Nashville. Fans say, “Off with his head,” and they got their wish during the middle of his third Preds season. Just 21 years old, and a veteran of almost 200 NHL games, Jones was shipped to Columbus for Poile’s next big piece, the number one center of our dreams, Ryan Johansen.
Johansen arrived in Nashville with a big price tag attached, and he was already cast as a malcontent of sorts with the Blue Jackets organization. Having had a big season very early on in his NHL career, Johansen saw both his goal numbers and ice time diminish in Columbus, as he singlehandedly held the team hostage for more money than he was actually worth. Now, after the team success in Nashville, Johansen parlays a very strong playoff run, cut short for him by an injury, into a new deal that should keep him in Preds Gold for the next eight years. And while fans marvel over his skill and chemistry with linemates Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, he’s still being paid elite money for what sometimes look like a lot of cash for little return. Fans dubbed former Preds forward Colin Wilson as “Playoff Colin Wilson,” vs. “Regular Season Colin Wilson.” Without wanting to incite a riot, I can safely say that over the next eight years, we just might begin to see a “Regular Season Ryan Johansen” and a “Playoff Ryan Johansen,” because there are times the guy just doesn’t seem to want to involve himself in physical play.
And, what OF Viktor Arvidsson. I believe it was four seasons ago in summer development camp when Arvidsson ended a sequence with a shootout move that had a few of us jumping out of our seats. To this end, we were alerted to the diminutive forward who clearly put Nashville on notice that he had serious intention of a long career in the National Hockey League. What did fans think? I can honestly say that two years ago, coming off an 8 goal season, he had a small but vocal fan base. Most, even those at the core of the base were still giving him a small role on the team, mostly bottom 6 duties, but VERY FEW saw what was to happen last year when the “Too Short” kid, who was constantly being knocked on his butt along the boards or in the neutral zone. Yes, Arvy had supporters, but dating back the year prior, VERY FEW saw him as an NHL player, citing size and weight as the main deterrent. He’s proved to the doubters that he’s a dangerous offensive star. Shame on those who doubted the little BIG mighty mite who has since become a true fan favorite.
My point is that today, with boxes filled, and James Neal in Vegas, Preds fans find fault in so much, and it’s just a question of giving players time.
“COLTON SISSONS WILL NEVER BE A LEADER OR TOP 6 FORWARD ON THIS TEAM”
“HOW THE HELL DO YOU PROTECT JARNKROK OVER NEAL? NEAL is the real deal, and Jarnkrok couldn’t even hold his jock strap.
“OH MY GOD, EMELIN IS TERRIBLE, CAN WE TRADE HIM?”
“OH MY GOD, WEBER IS TERRIBLE, CAN WE TRADE HIM?”
“OH MY GOD, BITETTO IS TERRIBLE, CAN WE TRADE HIM?”
“OH MY GOD, IRWIN IS TERRIBLE, CAN WE TRADE HIM?”
“OH MY GOD, McLEOD IS TERRIBLE, CAN WE TRADE HIM?”
“FIALA CAN’T SCORE, ABERG CAN’T SCORE, GAUDREAU CAN’T SCORE”
The list goes on with complaint after complaint, and yet, more often than not these guys do as much good as the ones you really enjoy watching.
I’ll throw some logs on the fire at this point:
“WHY CAN’T THE POWER PLAY GAIN ENTRANCE INTO THE OFFENSIVE ZONE AT THE START OF THE PENALTY?”
“WHY DON’T THE FORWARDS MOVE THEIR FEET AND TRY TO ELUDE THEIR DEFENDERS?”
“WHY DOES PEKKA LUNGE AT THE PUCKS THAT RIM AROUND THE BOARDS TOO FAST TO STOP?”
“WOULD IT KILL THE COACH TO LET SALOMAKI DO HIS THING WITHOUT FEAR OF THE HEALTHY SCRATCH?”
“WILL WE GO MORE THAT A WEEK BEFORE WE HAVE TO HEAR THE GIRARD ARGUMENT AGAIN?”
“HOW MANY OF THE 82 GAMES WILL FEATURE MILK CARTONS THAT SAY “HAVE YOU SEEN THIS PERSON, WITH PHOTOS OF NICK BONINO or CRAIG SMITH?”
You didn’t believe in Ellis. You didn’t believe in Ekholm. You barely believed in a “getting old” Pekka when he’d be just average for a couple weeks running. STAY THE COURSE.
This team was mediocre at best last year, and caught fire in April, and we got bonus hockey in May and June.
Now expectations for the new season seemed high, until Neal ended up in Vegas and potted those GWG with frequency in week one.” Here’s the real deal on “The Real Deal” — it’s exactly the same as it was with your dearly departed Captain from the year prior, Shea Weber – Picture LOTTO… there are X number of balls in the hopper. You know that James Neal will score 25, maybe 30 goals in a season (you like to SAY he’s a 40 goal scorer, but honestly, his level of disinterest over 82 games usually puts him much closer to 25 and I’ll give you 30.) Shea, with his blast from the point can even get you 20. So in this case “X” stands for 82, as in 82 games in a regular season. Last year, after the first month of the season, fans were apoplectic, because a hot Shea Weber was ripping it up for the Canadiens. In fact, his winning lotto numbers ended up being: 4, 6, 7, 9, 13, 15, 16, 20, 35, 40, 49, 52, 64, 70, 74, 79. 17 goals… down 3 from his 20 with Nashville the year before. Now, Neal, always a streaky player got his lotto balls shaking early this season: 1, 1a, 2, 3, 3a, 4. After game 4 he was projected to score about 162 goals. That projection has now dipped to 70 as he did not get his balls called in games 5, 6, 7. There’s a good chance that Neal will end up with his 25 to 30 goals this year and everyone can simmer down about losing the potential free agent. (Yeah, I know, Jarnkrok has a lone assist…)
The lotto comparison reminds me of the very first time the New York State Lotto hit a record high $100M. I was in Salt Lake City on business, and knowing the number had never been that high, and knowing my mother was a frequent player of the game, I called the 900 number to hear the numbers. A little further back story. My mother, born on September 8th, bore two children. I was born on March 14th and my brother on December 22nd. So, after the phone rang, a recorded voice told me that the winning numbers for the New York State Lotto were 3, 8, 9, 12, 14, 22. I listened in shock as I heard them a second time: September 8th, March 14th, and December 22nd. I began wondering how I was going to spend the money. I frantically dialed my mother in Queens, and heard her sweet “Hello?” All I could muster was, “SO?????” and there was a pause. … “Oh, honey, I know what you’re thinking… You think I won the lottery because the numbers were your birthday, your brother’s birthday and my birthday… BUT THEY’RE ALL SUCH LOW NUMBERS, I NEVER PLAY THEM ALL ON THE SAME CARD. I HAD MY BIRTHDAY WITH YOURS, MY BIRTHDAY WITH YOUR BROTHER’S AND YOU TWO BOYS BIRTHDAYS… I WON 37 DOLLARS!”
My desire to call my mother obscenities that I’m not sure I’d ever uttered out of my mouth was at an all time high. I screamed, “FOR FIFTY CENTS WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE – IT COULD COME OUT 1,2,3,4,5,6…” to which she laughed and said “Oh, no, it couldn’t…” BUT IT COULD… Look at James Neal 🙂