SOLID HOCKEY DISCUSSION: “Enforcers”

Talking about the amount of games Cody McLeod is getting, I noted Tanner Glass getting waived out of Calgary (and the NHL for the xxth time)- I pointed out that the knuckledraggers are fewer and farther between. This guy disagreed… and when all is said and done, I disagree with him.

Eric de Montarnal said: Given the fact that points are not at all related to the term enforcer like most think (ie: probert, iginla, etc.): this is a list of players with not only the mentality but also the statistics to prove that they are an enforcer (not pests ie: perry gallagher tkachuk). Some only just cracked the lineups this year as rookies, none the less:
1.)Nsh McLeod
2.)Pit Reaves
3.)Wsh Wilson
4.)Van Dorsett
5.)Fla Haley
6.)Phi = Manning + Simmons
7.)Bos =multiple but Mcquaid is their heavyweight
8.)Lak Andreoff/ MacDermid; last year was Clifford
9.)Dal Roussel + Mckenzie
10.)Ott Borowiecki used to be Neil
11.)Edm jeeze where do I start Lucic Kassian and company
12.)Mtl Shaw
13.)Wpg Lemieux (rookie but is an enforcer)
14.)Njd Prout/wood
15.)Sjs n/a was haley previously
16.)Nyi Mayfield
17.)Tor Martin
18.)Chi n/a although tootoo and hartman combined for 10 fights last year
19.)Stl Thorburn (long time Jet )
20.)Buf n/a was Foligno last year
21.)Tbl Brown
22.)Col n/a *Greer is young and seems to have taken that role
23.)Vgk Engelland (Cgy long time enforcer)
24.)Min Stuart
25.)Ana Boll
26.)Det Witkowski
27.)Cgy Ferland
28.)Cbj Anderson
29.)Car n/a but multiple in minors
30.)Ari Rinaldo
31.)Nyr n/a although Glass was that guy last year with 11gp so he was already on his way out last year.

now for the 6 teams with no definite enforcer they all have one in the minors; however, this causes star players, and young rookies to have to fill that role look at Sjs, Nyr and Car as prime examples of that. so yes you’re correct 6 teams don’t have one, but they’re suffering because of it.

My reply:

OK, let’s look at the stats, and Mr. deMontarnal’s statement:

NSH – McLeod (averages 6:17 per game and has 60 PIM in 12 games)

PIT – Reaves (averages 7:18 per game and has 59 PIM in 17 games)

WSH – Wilson (averages 13:45 per game and has 46 PIM in 12 games)

VAN – Dorsett (averages 15:38 per game and has 65 PIM in 16 games)

FLA – Haley (averages 7:51 per game and has 45 PIM in 14 games)

PHI – Manning (averages 18:56 per game and has 10 PIM in 11 games)
PHI – Simmonds (averages 18:18 per game and has 15 PIM in 16 games)

BOS – McQuaid (averages 14:42 per game and has 12 PIM in 6 games)

LAK – Andreoff (averages 8:43 per game and has 24 PIM in 14 games)
LAK – MacDermid (averages 9:48 per game and has 26 PIM in 11 games)

DAL – Roussel (averages 11:49 per game and has 26 PIM in 15 games)
DAL – McKenzie (has not played this year, but averaged 10:51 per game last yr.)

OTT – Borowiecki (averages 13:14 per game and has 25 PIM in 9 games)

EDM – Lucic (averages 16:06 per game and has 14 PIM in 15 games)
EDM – Kassian (averages 12:18 per game and has 19 PIM in 15 games)

MTL – Shaw (averages 16:32 per game and has 20 PIM in 17 games)

WPG – Lemieux (averages 7:44 per game and has 19 PIM in 7 games)

NJD – Prout (averages 13:59 per game and has 13 PIM in 4 games)
NJD – Wood (averages 11:31 per game and has 19 PIM in 14 games)

NYI – Mayfield (averages 16:47 per game and has 17 PIM in 10 games)

TOR – Martin (averages 8:21 per game and has 14 PIM in 16 games)

STL – Thorburn (averages 7:52 per game and has 7 PIM in 8 games)

TBL – Brown (averages 10:16 per game and has 7 PIM in 9 games)

COL – Greer (averages 8:10 per game and has 18 PIM in 6 games)

VGK – Engelland (averages 19:03 per game and has 6 PIM in 15 games)

MIN – Stewart (averages 13:03 per game and has ZERO PIM in 15 games)

ANA – Boll (averages 4:05 per game and has 9 PIM in 8 games)

DET – Witkowski (averages 5:16 per game and has 2 PIM in 6 games)

CGY – Ferland (averages 14:36 per game and has 7 PIM in 15 games)

CBJ – Anderson (averages 16:48 per game and has 11 PIM in 14 games)

ARI – Rinaldo (averages 10:41 per game and has 6 PIM in 13 games)

BUF, CHI, SJS, CAR, NYR – none listed

Well… what do I see here? There are a few “Enforcers” in the league. They are:
McLeod, Boll, Haley and Reaves. Those are the only four guys that play OVER protected minutes, don’t do much on the ice other than knuckle drag (though Reaves has a goal and two assists already) and honestly, are dinosaurs in the latest incarnation of the NHL.

The original poster, in defending his argument with me, lists some laughable choices to be called their team’s “enforcer.” Of course, any defenseman, logging top 4 minutes on his team can’t be listed, so let’s take Engelland and Manning out of the mix, and Mayfield is close, so pull him out as well. Chris Stewart has 6 goals and no penalty minutes for Minnesota, so there isn’t a person in that state calling him an enforcer. Michael Ferland and Josh Anderson are very regular forwards for their respective teams, and their lone fighting majors this season came by way of the opposition goading them into taking a five minute holiday. Neither team’s coach is happy when those guys fight, they are both solid offensive weapons. Rinaldo was once a pest, and now he’s remarkably getting ice time in the desert, but offers little in terms of talent. He has no fighting majors in 13 games, and he wasn’t terribly feared a few years ago in either Boston or Philly, so he’s only re-enforcing how bad the Desert Dogs are. Wayne Simmonds: Enforcer makes me laugh. He’s more like Wayne Simmonds: All Star, and Cody McLeod wouldn’t be anyone Simmonds would waste time with. Guys like Witkowski in Detroit, and Greer in Colorado are getting “enforcer” minutes as they break into the league, but neither is a designated goon (just yet.) Witkowski came up through the Lightning organization and is a tough guy, but Detroit doesn’t seem to be much in enforcer mode, so ice time is at a premium for him. As for Greer, he’s a 2nd round pick out of a US college, and he had 15 goals, 38 points in his first season in the American League last year, so he’s hardly being groomed as the Cody McLeod replacement in Colorado. Thorburn has never been an enforcer, but always an honest fourth liner, with varied results. Brown, in Tampa, has 60 points and 175 PIM in 275 NHL games, compared to McLeod’s 123 points and 1512 PIM !!! in 702 NHL games, so let’s not compare them apples to these apples.

So, while Aberg, Gaudreau, and to an extent, Salomaki (with the adding of Bonino to the active roster, all three could be scratches for McLeod) retard their development as legitimate NHL players, we spend an active game day lineup spot on a guy who will play 5-10 shifts “protecting” our smaller players. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Don’t you want Tanner Glass to protect Johnny Hockey? Is big bad JT Brown really there to “protect” Stamkos and the triplets? The whole concept is just silly. Emelin hits like a brick on the back end, and Watson, Sissons, Salomaki and even stars like Subban and Johansen have been known to take care of themselves when called upon. This is not a “soft” team, though it’s not as heavy as Duck and Kings teams of years past. This team has a great mix, and to say that McLeod is a welcome part of that mix in the locker room is fair, but it’s rare that we need to see him in the lineup. Tonight, vs. Reaves, I will grant you, but the chances of a GOOD McLeod v. Reaves scrap? Meh. They may dance in circles for a bit, but ither than seeing some knuckles dragged over helmets… it won’t be or mean much. It never does.

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Post Trade Ramblings and Player Grades: November 9th edition

In general, few people care about my opinion of the Nashville Predators. No one is paying me to make decisions on behalf of the organization, and I pay good money to watch the team play at home, and I’m a faithful viewer of road games on my big flatscreen television.

When I post my opinion on Facebook, I run into a general gaggle of interference from people who just agree to disagree with ANYTHING I say. When I tweet, despite 1500 followers, I often get no “likes,” or “re-tweets,” and once in a while I get a reply telling me I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Last year, I caused a lot of friction with a large group of the fan base because I vehemently loathed the play of Ryan Johansen. “But he leads the team in scoring,” was the response I received more often than not. There was no room to accept my opinion as anything but buffoonery. And, then he turned it on in the playoffs and people just stuck with piling it on me, even though I made it clear I was quite pleased with his play in the post-season.

It’s a new year, and I’ve been fairly silent, but I’m going to say a few things that will surely piss off the masses, and let me get a few things off my chest.

I guess, I should start by laughing. Ryan Johansen has been fairly non-descript in the first fifteen games of the season. Seven assists. That’s all. And, like I pointed out ad nauseum last year. The man hates physical contact and rarely makes the effort to even look like he’s willing to battle for a loose puck. I know he’s an 8 Million Dollar Man. I know he has gifted vision and passing ability. I know he plays with the best forwards the Predators have to offer, but face it. He’s been very underwhelming in this new season’s portion of 2017. You think Lavy notices? I think Lavy notices. In fact, here’s the argument that I’ll present with facts about ice time, and despite these being irrefutable numbers, most casual Preds fans will just stare at me as if I was the busted cuckoo clock that not even a fresh battery would cure.

In the last game, vs. Columbus, A WIN NO LESS: Ryan Johansen was limited to the LEAST amount of 5 on 5 ice time of any Predators forward. YOUR NUMBER ONE CENTER. Less ice time than Cody McLeod! Throw in his over four minutes of PP time, and a minute and a half on the PK, and Johansen’s night consisted of 14:12. Hartnell? 15:07. Salomaki? 15:50. Jarnkrok? 16:32. Forsberg? 18:02. Arvidsson? 18:27. And, who was the forward with the MOST ice time in the victory over the Jackets? COLTON SISSONS at 18:56! Yes, your alleged #4 center, or 3rd line winger, Sissons found himself getting 27 shifts to Johansen’s 17. You think Lavy notices the guy’s been laying eggs for the better part of 15 games? I’d say he doesn’t need Marc Nathan’s blog to tell him just how underwhelming Johansen has been.

That being said, Johansen has hardly been the worst offender when it comes to the team’s mediocre beginnings in areas like 5 on 5 play, power play or penalty kill, and even with all of that, the team has been respectable and finds themselves in the middle of the pack, where they found themselves for most of the regular season last year.

To grade the players after 15 games, you’d see something like this:

Aberg C- (in and out of the lineup because this team demands immediate results. Playing with consistent linemates would help.)

Arvidsson A (will still go through walls to get to where he knows he needs to be. Team high +7 means he is being very responsible defensively, in addition to his terrific offense.)

Bonino INC (though I’m never going to change my opinion that GMDP overpaid, overtermed, and he’s ESPECIALLY WITH THE TURRIS ACQUISITION totally not needed on this team.)

Fiala C (I’m sure people will think this grade may be a bit high for a guy with the expectations that were put upon him, but he hasn’t looked overmatched as he had in previous starts to seasons.)

Forsberg A (Let’s just hope he doesn’t match his old Oct-Nov slumps with this season’s Dec-Jan, or worse yet, Mar-Apr)

Gaudreau C (May find himself back in MKE shortly due to a numbers game, but there is no doubt Freddie is an NHL player.)

Hartnell C+ (I haven’t been in love, but he’s come in as a bargain basement acquisition, and he hasn’t hurt the team at all. Interesting to see where he shakes out in the Turris era. Team worst -8 is indicative of his being in the wrong place at the wrong time.)

Jarnkrok B- (Scapegoat for all James Neal fans, but Lavy knows what this guy brings, and he is asked to be on the ice in all precarious situations. He succeeds far more than not.)

Johansen D+ (Yeah, yeah, worse than Aberg BECAUSE he gets 8M to do what he showed he could do in the post-season, and he’s not doing it. Not even close.)

McLeod C (Tries as hard as he can to be a difference maker. I didn’t think he’d play in half as many games as he has so far this season, and if this continues, I’ll be disturbed.)

Salomaki B- (Had a great pre-season, and when he didn’t produce early, was benched. I see a guy who needs to play important minutes to produce important moments. They will come.)

Sissons B (Playing close to 17 minutes a game, despite being called a 4C or a bottom 6 winger, he’s getting critical ice time because he plays a smart and hard game. Points to follow. #8th in Faceoff percentage among NHL forwards)

Smith B- (My tendency to grade him lower because he is so streaky is mitigated by his recent point spurt. As “hot” as he is now, we could see that 20 game goalless streak any time now. As sure as rain in November.

Watson B (Fifth among NHL forwards in Blocked Shots. Gives 100% and is one of the toughest guys in the league. Earns everything he gets from Lavy.)

Bitetto INC (Will be spending much of this season in street clothes unless the injury bug hits hard.)

Ekholm B+ (Continues to establish himself as a legit top 4 defenseman. Paired with Josi, Subban or whomever, he adapts and plays a solid game.)

Emelin C+ (Hits hard, but misses checks and occasionally looks bad doing so. I think he’s a great addition. Preds fans don’t really get him. One fan mentioned that he’s always taking penalties. Uh, in 14 games he has 5 minors.)

Irwin C (Yes, he came back from exile and scored in back to back games, but he was noticeably worse than virtually any time during last season during some early games this season.)

Josi A (He’s the captain. He’s a leader. He’s a warrior. He’s great at both ends of the ice.)

Subban B+ (Was easily in the “A” category until he made a couple of auspicious gaffes in the past couple of games. I marvel at his skill set, and yet, I never give him the love I give other players.)

Weber C+ (He and Irwin were a remarkably solid third pairing last season, and this season with the team trying to work Girard and Bitetto into the mix, they have not found their groove just yet. Ellis’ return will mean one will probably sit.)

Rinne A (Not as dominant as last November when he was unconsciously hot, but almost as good so far this month. In Pekka I trust.

Saros C- (So far there’s been more talk about him shuffling down to MKE for a tune-up than that of supplanting Pekka for the top dog honors in Nashville. He’s gonna be fine, but he could use back to back wins to give everyone some breathing room.)

* Girard B (Good luck in Colorado. They now have a decision to make.)

 

People have such short memories… and a great story about balls.

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 🙂

 

 

 

The password is… PARITY

With the 2017-2018 National Hockey League season set to kick off tonight, I have spent the last few days sitting at my computer, preparing knock a blog piece out of the park, and send Preds fans into either ecstasy or fits of anger and depression.) For the first time in four years I am not blogging for Sports and Entertainment Nashville. They were good to me. Paid me to write about a sport I love, and as long as I didn’t interject any of my personal negativity about the team, the way they were playing, the coaching staff and the way they were dictating the way the players were playing. In short, for three years I wrote mostly innocuous fluff pieces that ended with “and they lived happily ever after.”

But I started writing my own blog, and people took me to task for some of my negativity. Fact is, I hated the Johansen trade (still disappointed to an extent,) loved the Weber deal, and was acutely aware of the fact that Viktor Arvidsson was going to be a stud long before 99% of all Preds fans knew who that little bug in the 38 uniform was!

2017-18 season comes off a remarkable playoff run that fell a couple games short of a Stanley Cup victory, falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in game 6. New heroes were created. Two with debilitating injuries that would force them to miss key time (Fiala, Johansen) and a third who played through an injury (Ellis) that would require off-season surgery, and an optimistic outlook that has him returning to the ice somewhere in the latter stages of 2017.

Pundits abound, and the Preds are a team that is all over the map. You can find people projecting them to win the division, conference and cup, but you can also see the posts that talk of this team falling behind division rivals like Winnipeg, as well as previous combatants such as Chicago and St. Louis. Will Bruce Boudreau guide the Minnesota Wild to a division championship behind the superlative goaltending of Devyn Dubnyk? Did David Poile do enough to fill the holes in Nashville’s forward landscape to cultivate some new talent to fill a void left by the retirement of Mike Fisher, the expansion draft plucking of James Neal and the trading of long time enigma Colin Wilson? Are Nick Schmaltz, Alex Debrincat, and Gustav Forsling ready to take regular roles in Chicago? And, will injuries to (choose any 5 names from the St. Louis Blues roster) make it difficult for the team to find consistency under head coach Mike Yeo? Then, there are the Winnipeg Jets, who boast one of the most explosive players in the NHL, Patrick Laine, coming off a rookie campaign that was certainly worthy of hardware, save for that Maple Leaf named Matthews!

How is the Central Divison going to shake out? A wise hockey veteran was once quoted, saying predictions are for gypsies (fortune tellers) so I’m not going to give it a whirl. I will make some overtures towards what the Predators can, will, should and possibly won’t do to secure a spot in the post season, so here we go.

TOP 5 REASONS WHY NASHVILLE IS CLEARLY A TEAM READY TO MAKE A STATEMENT IN THE HUNT FOR A POST SEASON RETURN:

1. The experience the young team received in last season’s playoff run has gelled them as a unit, and made them road-tested as a group that will advance in the face of adversity. Guns will be loaded for Kevin Fiala, the newly re-acquired Scott Hartnell, and the traded-for Stanley Cup Champion, Nick Bonino.

2. You really can’t touch the top 4 defensive corps when healthy, and even without Ellis, a chance to show off blue chip prospect Samuel Girard for a short period of time (a return to Juniors is likely, but a few weeks with the team will acclimate him to the NHL lifestyle (travel, practice, etc.) and give him a head start on the starting job he should lock up within a season or two.

3. An embarrassment of riches, meaning the money shelled out by GM David Poile to keep star forwards Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson happy. In tandem with Filip Forsberg, this dynamic trio gelled as a line in the latter half of the regular season, and forged through the post season until Johansen’s injury and should be one of the more potent lines in the NHL this season. Whether together or separated, each guy should be counted on to hit the scoresheet on a nightly basis.

4. The goaltending tandem of Pekka Rinne and young Juuse Saros should continue to be rock solid and provide the team with more than adequate goaltending. Both of these guys are “if I can see it, I can stop it” players, and will rarely give up “bad” goals. Tips, deflections, re-directions and fluke knuckle”pucks” all happen over the course of the season, but the Preds commitment to team defense is generally unparalleled.

5. Home Ice Advantage. The Predators fans, henceforth known as “The 7th Man” are a factor. The volume level at Bridgestone Arena is often staggering to the players, both home and opposition, and the fans. The fans can occasionally will the team out of the doldrums and back into a hockey game. Some of that will be needed over the course of 41 regular season home games.

But then again…

TOP 5 REASONS WHY NASHVILLE WILL STRUGGLE TO TAKE THEIR SEASON PAST GAME #82:

1. Some questionable roster moves sent post-season hero Freddie Gaudreau and slick young gun Vladislav Kamenev down to the American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee. Granted, neither player had to clear waivers, and Poile enjoys his assets, but Milk Carton “favorite” Craig Smith, and tough guy Cody McLeod are not the future of this team. We may need the future more sooner than later, but for now, we suffer the inconsistencies, as well as the ineptitude when puck meets stick.

2. Who in their right mind was planning on doling out 16 million dollars for four years of Nick Bonino… OK, OTHER THAN NASHVILLE’S David Poile? Answer: (/crickets)

3. Something’s got to give with the Nashville Power Play. In the pre-season it was inept at best, and laughable more times than not. Sure, this team will get its share of goals when you have Josi, Subban and (eventually) Ellis bombing the opposing goaltender from the points, but the carry the puck into the neutral zone and send a drop pass back to the lone defender, having HIM try to worm his way into the offensive zone is painful time after time. Like a drinking game, count the number of times Preds PA guy, Paul McCann is bellowing “YOUR NASHVILLE PREDATORS ARE … ON … ” and the team is scurrying back into their own zone to regroup because of a lost faceoff win or an advantageous clear by the opposition. It’s a scary number. Scary numbers need improvement.

4. Fans bemoan the loss of Neal, and I don’t share in that sentiment, but there does have to be questions surrounding where the secondary goal scoring is going to come from. Most seem to hate on Jarnkrok and Sissons as viable 2C options, but I think once you understand the potential overvaluing of the aforementioned Bonino (he joins Smith as the from now forward to be known as “The Milk Carton Kids”) there is going to be a need to rely on Salomaki, Fiala, and Aberg, and as much as I am a big fan of all three, if they spend the first quarter of the season watching Bonino, McLeod, Smith and company eat up critical minutes they should have had from the get go, it’s setting up to be a winter of bewilderment and discontent for all concerned.

5. Face it. I haven’t even MENTIONED the Dallas Stars, and there are a TON of prognosticators thinking the additions of Bishop, Methot and Radulov make them a healthy contender for the Central crown. Throw in the logjam in the Pacific Division and you have a lot of teams fighting for a select few spots. The Preds need to start strong, and get stronger.

I like the Nashville Predators as they head into the 2017-18 season, but like a tightrope walker during a windstorm, there are variables that could send this group tumbling to Earth in a nanosecond. It’s easy to remember the post-season run when the juggernaut Preds annihilated Chicago, St. Louis, and Anaheim, and it’s easy to say that if Fiala and Johansen had remained healthy, two more wins were easily within reach. But, the season has been re-set, and the Good Place could become the Bad Place and This Is Us, might be This Was Us, and fans in Winnipeg, or Dallas may have the last laugh, as we did last spring.

Parity is why we live in a salary cap era. Parity is why on any given night a Golden Knights might just best a seemingly mightier Ducks team, or why the Av Nots may truly become the Avs and show the Preds why having a Matt Duchene can be a game breaker. Yes, predictions are for the gypsies, and over 50 years of watching this sport I’ve been wrong far too many times to go out on a limb and make the statement that the team to beat in 2017-18 will be… … but, I can safely say that IF you stay healthy, IF you score clutch goals, IF your special teams don’t falter, and IF your 35-year-old goalie plays like he’s found the fountain of youth, you’re gonna win a good number of hockey games, and probably enough to make the post season, and, what we learned from last year, you just have to get in and make a statement. Here’s to another statement. Go Preds, 2017-18!

Welcome to Post number ONE: Preds 2017-18 – Let the show begin!

“Hello… hurray, let the show begin, I’ve been ready!”

In quoting a lyric from a 1973 Alice Cooper single, I think I speak for virtually every Nashville Predators fan when I say we are all ready for the puck to drop, and the Preds to once again begin the quest for the Stanley Cup. A quest that took them to within two victories of achieving hockey’s ultimate goal, yielding to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Bridgestone Arena in Game 6 of the Finals.

The 2017-18 edition of the team is not too far removed from the team that left us just a little disappointed in June, although whoever thought the team would be in that position based on their regular season play should have been buying lottery tickets on a nightly basis.

Changes include the retirement of Captain (center) Mike Fisher, the loss of winger James Neal, to Las Vegas in the expansion draft, the dealing of Preds veteran forward Colin Wilson to Colorado, and the arrival of Penguins forward Nick Bonino, signing a four year deal as a free agent during this past summer. The real changes, however, lie in the depth of experience some of the team’s younger players got during the long run through the post season. Pontus Aberg and Freddie Gaudreau arrived from the Milwaukee Admirals in the American Hockey League, and young Preds Colton Sissons, Austin Watson, and Kevin Fiala all saw their stock rise with increased ice time and responsibility over the final months of the season. Big injuries during the playoffs to Fiala, and Ryan Johansen proved to be only small speed bumps in the Preds path through the playoffs. Now, both players appear to be healthy and ready to make even greater contributions in the new campaign.

Returning talent, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and Calle Jarnkrok give the team a smart, speedy core, complimented by Fiala, Johansen, and Aberg. Additionally, the team re-signed veteran forward Scott Hartnell to provide some veteran leadership, and sand paper in front of the opposition’s net.

Defensively, the Preds boast an arguably best top 4 backliners in the NHL. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm are all considered elite defensemen, and despite an injury that will keep Ellis on the shelf until Christmas time, newly acquired veteran Alexei Emelin joins from the Montreal Canadiens, and returnees Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber should eat up the remainder of the minutes until Ellis’ return. Additionally, a young stud defenseman, Alex Carrier may be given a look past training camp, as he excelled in Milwaukee in his first pro season, and could be ready to slot in a more offensive role at the start of the campaign. If Carrier fits nicely in Ellis’ spot, there will certainly be speculation that once Ellis returns, the team could then dangle a defenseman in an effort to acquire a veteran forward, such as Matt Duchene on Colorado. An embarrassment of riches, and a great problem for David Poile to have heading into the new season.

There are no questions as to who will be the team’s number one netminder, as Pekka Rinne returns for another season in Nashville. Rinne, who was NHL Goaltender of the month last November, was spectacular through the first three rounds of the playoffs, and at times seemed to singlehandedly carry the team on his back for long stretches of time. Young netminder, Juuse Saros returns as the backup goaltender, but free agent veteran Anders Lindback has returned to Nashville, and with Saros waiver-exempt, the team can always give Saros some games in Milwaukee and let Lindback caddy for Rinne for short periods of time throughout the season.

While some feel goals will be hard to come by, given the loss of Neal, and to a lesser extent, Fisher, others believe it is the maturity and growth of players like Fiala, Aberg and Sissons that will pick up the slack and give the team plenty of offense, to match the stingy defense, and solid goaltending during the early going.

Questions include:

What can we expect out of Craig Smith? – Smith was wildly inconsistent last season and saw his goal production dip to just 12 after three consecutive 20+ seasons. No one denies Smith’s talent, but his stock fell mightily last year, and he needs to get off to a good start to make Preds fans believe he can sustain as a top 9 forward for much of the season.

Who’s #2 down the middle? – Conventional wisdom says that GM David Poile acquired Bonino with an eye towards that second spot at the center position, but don’t count out Swedish center Calle Jarnkrok just yet. Although Jarnkrok has posted modest numbers in his three full seasons with Nashville, there are many who believe he will take his game to the next level given regular linemates, and a designated role as the team’s #2 center. Too often over the last two seasons Jarnkrok has moved up and down the lineup at both center and wing, playing with a myriad of players in an equal number of roles. Stability could be a defining moment for Jarnkrok, and chemistry with a speedster like Fiala could be a determining factor in his job description in 2017-18.

Which rookies make the leap? – Notching his first three NHL goals in the Stanley Cup Finals was a calling card for Gaudreau, who seems to be an adept faceoff man, and solid penalty killer. His goal numbers in Milwaukee jumped from 15 in 2015-16 to 25 in 2016-17, and that at least gives an indication that given an offensive role, Gaudreau can find the back of the net when given the chance. Another Milwaukee player, Vladislav Kamenev will also bid for ice time in Nashville. The 21 year old Russian forward notched 21 goals for the Admirals in his second season of North American hockey, and the highly skilled forward is hoping to prove to Coach Laviolette and staff that he would benefit from NHL action this season.

Finally, after scoring the big contract, which Ryan Johansen shows up for the Preds this season? – Nashville’s new almost 70 million dollar man will be in Preds gold for eight more seasons (barring the unforeseen,) and prior to his injury in the post season, he was playing some damn fine hockey with his linemates, Arvidsson and Forsberg. Johansen is loved in the team’s locker room, and the fit seems to suit all parties, but will he come back from his injury and his bank vault with the same intensity he showed this past post-season? Major question given the fact that on most nights the team was on the ice, we saw a player, who despite leading the team in points, took too many shifts off, barely seeming to break a sweat and showing less than a full effort despite obvious talents, and leading the team in scoring for the regular season. We know Forsberg will have more than a single goal leading into December, and we know that it will take a Mack Truck to stop Viktor Arvidsson as he bulldogs his way around the neutral zone, heading in 9 different directions and seemingly always ending up with a shot on goal.

There’s plenty more to touch on, and I hope you’ll consider reading regularly throughout the 17-18 season. I’ll do my best to provide you with unique content over the course of the year.

MN

Bonus Hockey: When it needs to be more than 140 characters.

I haven’t posted since the Predators finished their season in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals. I wasn’t sure how other Preds fans would take my rather laissez-faire attitude. You see, to me, it was all “bonus hockey.” Hockey that honestly had no business being there, but as long as it was, you rode the wave and enjoyed it for what it was. What it was, was eye-opening, tantalizing, joy filled, and galvanizing… in addition to being incredibly lucky, well-timed, and frankly, a bit fairy-tale-ish. The Preds were solid. Quite solid for the first two rounds, a bit more mortal in round three and good enough to be competitive, but over-matched at times in the final round. All in all, a hell of a ride.

Then came the aftermath. We got jobbed! This was all the officials fault! Sissons scored (remember that name for later in this blog-piece.) and the whistle blew, and it shoulda counted, and where’s the review, and what about that goal in Calgary, and the refs hate us, and so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby…

Two weeks before the end of the regular season it was not even fait accompli that the Preds would be IN the post season. Remember that? Like the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, the team came together and went on this amazing run, spearheaded by a hot goalie (in ’12, Quick… in ’17, Rinne.) The crowds got louder and louder and all of a sudden, Nashville was center stage. Everyone was talking Nashville, talking Predators, wearing Predators garb, putting Predators signs on their lawns and in their windows. The city was galvanized. The world seemed galvanized. The Preds were Cinderella and everyone wanted to attend the ball. Writers, pundits, broadcasters alike all proclaimed “NASHVILLE IS A HOCKEY TOWN.”

Well, guess what? Nashville made strides, absolutely… but to call it a “hockey” town? To me that’s a bit to the extreme. Here’s what Nashville is (and was, and will always be:) Nashville is a PARTY town. Nashville is a COMPETITIVE town. Nashville is a SPORTS town. All of the above. Top of the list. No argument. No question. But ask some of those people wearing Preds garb, or decorating their homes or cars with Preds flags and banners… Hey, who are the players on the team? You may get a “Pekka” out of them… you may even get a Mike Fisher or a Filip Forsberg. Some may mention Shea Weber or David Legwand, but If Nashville was a hockey town, there’d be more than 10-15,000 that could name the core four defensemen (and not spell Ekholm “Elkhome” as a number do on Preds Facebook Fan boards.) They’d know what icing is, or the difference between high sticking, and playing the puck with a high stick.

So it was Game Four of the third round of the post season, and the team was deadlocked against Anaheim. Two major forwards were lost to injury by game’s end. Mike Fisher’s concussion, and Ryan Johansen’s immediate thigh surgery. Both coming after forward Kevin Fiala’s broken leg, suffered earlier in the playoffs. With the two new losses, it appeared the Preds were expected to lay down and die against Anaheim, but they made adjustments, and substitutions, and found themselves winning the next two games, allegedly both certain defeats, and moved on to play Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Preds won two games, to the Penguins four. Who was credited with the game winning goal in both Nashville victories? That would be undrafted rookie Freddie Gaudreau, who had spent the better part of the last three seasons in Milwaukee. The kid had scored 9 goals in his first professional season, netting 4 in Milwaukee, and 5 in Cincinnati. The following year he scored 15 in Milwaukee. This past season, he had 25, and 3 more in the AHL playoffs, so his three in the Stanley Cup Finals put him at 31 goals this season. (Hold THAT thought.)

Then there’s 23 year-old winger, Pontus Aberg from Sweden. Drafted in the early part of the second round in a 2012 draft that included Colton Sissons and Jimmy Vesey, Aberg came to North America and got his game in order over time. In his first year, his 16 goals, 34 points were 5th on the Admirals. Next season he improved to 25 goals, 40 points, and this past season he lit the lamp 31 times in just 56 games for Milwaukee, and added three goals for the Preds. It may be too soon to call him a 30 goal scorer in the NHL, but his trajectory is not far off from that of Viktor Arvidsson.

And, let’s talk frankly for a minute about Viktor Arvidsson. In 2015-16, Arvy posted 8 goals and 8 assists in 56 regular season games for the Preds. He added a lone goal and assist in 14 playoff games, as well as eighteen points in 17 games for Milwaukee. I own the jersey in which he scored his first NHL goal. I am a huge fan. I was a believer that coach Laviolette UNDERUSED him for the better part of his rookie season. Virtually no power play time, no time with top 6 linemates, and the rap that he was too small and too easily moved off the puck to make a significant impact on the Nashville roster. Just five times during the 2015-16 season did Arvy log 15 minutes in a regular season game, and when the year was up, he tallied just one single power play point (a goal in a 5-2 loss at the tail end of March, 2016.)

At the start of this past season, these are facts: (a) Arvidsson was NOT considered a top 6 or even a POTENTIAL top 6 forward by the coaching staff or the majority of the fanbase, (b) After David Poile had signed Calle Jarnkrok to a 6 year, $12M contract at the end of the previous season, with full knowledge of the expansion draft forthcoming, the choice for Nashville was obvious: Forsberg, Johansen, Neal and Jarnkrok would be the four protected forwards, along with the top four defensemen and goaltender Rinne.

The first four games of the season saw Arvidsson in much the same role that he had the previous year. Averaging about 12 minutes a game, he found the score sheet with a goal in a loss to Chicago, and an assist in a loss at Detroit. Game five was the famous “food poisoning game,” and Arvidsson stepped up with two goals and 20 minutes of ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The roster stabilized a bit four days later as the club got pasted 6-1 by the Anaheim Ducks in Southern California, and Arvy was held off the scoreboard in just 13:20 of ice time. The next night the Kings hosted Nashville in a game that went into overtime, and Arvy was given just 11:51 of ice, but he made the best of it with a goal and an assist in a 3-2 OT loss. He had just a lone assist over the next six games with varying degrees of ice time, but it was a 5-0 win against the Ducks at Bridgestone where Arvy netted a pair of assists in 14 minutes of ice time that the confidence of Lavy started to kick in. Just six or seven times over the remainder of the season saw Arvy under the 15 minutes of ice time, including the penultimate game of the season, in Dallas, where Arvy delivered two goals (his 30th and 31st) and two assists in a 7-3 rout, with Viktor only needing 14:47 to get his job done. The “JOFA” line established, Arvidsson ended the season with 9 power play points and 7 shorthanded points, including 5 goals! Suddenly, two new facts were made obvious: (a) Arvidsson established himself with the coaching staff and a majority of the fan base. He had arrived, as witnessed by the huge number of shirts that joined mine in the arena on any game day, and (b) Poile was now faced with a much different decision come Expansion Draft Day: Neal? or Jarnkrok?

With Arvidsson locked into a top 3 forward spot for David Poile’s Predators, the choice was Neal’s production and term (1 year remaining @ $5M) vs. Jarnkrok’s upside and term (5 years remaining @ $2M) — to me, it was a no-brainer, and here’s where some incredibly ugly things were said within the fan base on Facebook, Twitter, etc. In a Twitter vote, 57% believed Neal was the player to be protected, but I never flinched leading the charge of the remaining 43%. Calle Jarnkrok brings far too many intangibles, and as a versatile forward who can play up and down the lines at either center or wing, his abilities made it clear to me that he was the keeper. I speak about the “culture” within the team’s room, and a cursory look at the roster shows an abundance of Swedes, Swiss and Finns. Jarnkrok and Forsberg were both acquired at a time of transition and the two became immediately close. Ekholm and Josi both became powerful NHL defensemen as part of this transition, and draft choices Fiala and Aberg added to this culture. Neal, while a very solid offensive player, and part of the team’s leadership group, was deemed expendable, though that’s where the line is drawn. If he was as essential to the team’s offense as most fans thought he was, why did Poile not choose to either sign him to an extension or trade him prior to allowing Vegas to pluck him up for nothing? Here’s a fact: Poile believes in his younger “next-tier” players. Aberg, Fiala, Watson and Sissons (as well as Gaudreau) should make big contributions to the team in 2017-18. Neal’s production (to me) was enigmatic. The guy was clearly one of the most gifted offensive snipers in the NHL for much of his time with Dallas, Pittsburgh and Nashville. BUT… everyone asks “How are you going to replace Neal’s thirty goals?” Here’s a couple of answers to that question. The first is that this past season, Neal’s thirty goals were actually twenty-three, which land closer to twenty than thirty, and his eight power play assists left him with just TEN even strength assists for the entire campaign. You think TEN assists won’t be made up by a group of forwards over the course of 82 games? You think scoring one goal in the team’s first 10 games, and two goals in the team’s last 10 games (both coming in the same game) is irreplaceable? James Neal has an amazing release. He and Los Angeles’ Jeff Carter are probably the most dangerous shooters within a split second of gathering the puck on their sticks. For SURE. It’s a treat when Neal connects on one of “those” goals, and they come in streaks, but if a player like Arvidsson could be given the chance to succeed over the course of a season, and raise his totals from 8 to 31, then let’s trust David Poile and Peter Laviolette and see what a healthy Fiala can do, what a matured Aberg can do, what a hungry Sissons can do, what a grateful Gaudreau can do… and throw in Watson, and possibly a Kamenev or a Trenin later in the season, if their trajectory warrants recall from Milwaukee. The experience gathered in the post season, playing “bonus hockey” gave us a glimpse of how these kids CAN play if given the chance. Will they all pan out? I’d like to think that they will all go on to legitimate NHL careers. Nine consecutive seasons of 20 goals or more, ala Neal? Perhaps not, but like guys who have seasons like Craig Smith usually does, the object is to stay OFF the milk carton. Play consistently with consistent line mates and keep working knowing you have something to prove, replacing a scorer as prolific as James Neal. Will Poile buckle and grab a free agent, or make a trade (that would probably include a guy like Smith) to acquire a scoring forward? It’s possible I suppose, but I guarantee he’s breathing a lot easier knowing he didn’t lose any of the young kids who were developed in the Nashville system over the past five years. The time has come for them to reprise their roles established during the playoffs, and show the NHL how strong and galvanized this team has become.

A linchpin will be the announcement from Fisher as to his status for the upcoming season, but I actually don’t doubt his wanting to return, and expect him to play a pivotal role, reprising his Captaincy in 17-18.

I expect to see:

Forsberg – Johansen – Arvidsson

Aberg – Jarnkrok – Fiala

Watson – Sissons – Salomaki

Wilson – Fisher – Smith (I don’t really expect this to be the “fourth” line)

Gaudreau, McLeod, (hopefully re-sign Harry Zolnierczyk)

Ellis – Josi

Subban – Ekholm

Weber – Irwin – Bitetto

Rinne – Saros

A TEAM I COULD MORE THAN LIVE WITH! BONUS HOCKEY ABOUNDS!

 

 

 

 

Siriusly… The Preds are in the Cup Finals too…

Dear SiriusXM Radio,

I’ve been a subscriber to your product, XM Radio (later to merge with Sirius) for a good 10 years… maybe 11 or 12, but I was definitely an “early adapter.”

I made friends with Dan Blakely, who was an early Program Director. I was even featured on an old “call-in and maybe we’ll use your message on the air” spot that said, “When I want to see my LA Kings in first place, I just turn my computer’s monitor upside down.” — They ran with that for a while, and then the Kings won a Stanley Cup.

After Blakely exited, there was Joe Thistle, and while we didn’t become “buds,” he replied to my occasional emails, tweets, Facebook posts, whatever.

Now, from time to time, I have had conversation with a myriad of guys (and gal) on the station. Scott Laughlin, Steve Kouleas, Nick Alberga, Michele Sturino, Mick Kern, Peter Berce (perhaps he replaced Thistle) have all liked the occasional tweet, and/or taken my calls on the air and we’ve talked hockey. I’ve enjoyed chipping away, 20 seconds at a time, my 15 minutes of fame. (Believe me, I use the term “fame” QUITE loosely.)

So, here we are, the Nashville Predators, the lowest ranked regular season team to squeeze its way into the NHL post-season, just two wins away from hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. The channel is buzzing with hockey talk, interviews, special guests, and of course, calls from all across North America. I generally only listen in my car, and today I was only in my car for perhaps 45 minutes or so. I know that after the afternoon programming they had play-by-play of the AHL’s Calder Cup game, and then replays of the “Power Play,” and their guests included Kelly Hrudey and Ray Ferraro.

I just want to go on record that in the time spent listening, I NEVER heard the NAME of a Nashville player. Not once! I heard 2/3 of the Penguins roster, and at any moment I expected to learn what Pens 4th line winger Josh Archibald had for breakfast today!

Crosby came to the party. Malkin was invisible. Kessel has to shoot more. They’re missing Letang, the official beverage of French Astronauts. Daley is banged up. Schultz is banged up. Jake Guentzel wasn’t on the team last year. Dumolin is the best defenseman they have. Bonino is hurt. Kunitz. Hainsey. Rust. Sheary. of course, Murray, Fleury. Seriously, it never stopped.

How about “Phil Kessel has 30 less shots than he had last year at this time?” HOW ABOUT NASHVILLE’S EXCELLENT TEAM DEFENSE? How about a little praise for guys like Jarnkrok, Gaudreau, Arvidsson, Ekholm? I’m sure if I had listened a little more I might have heard a cursory Pekka Rinne or P.K. Subban mention, but it’s like “Well, Pekka was good in Nashville, but now he goes back to Pittsburgh.” Or, maybe we hear about the tremendous contribution to a Montreal Children’s Hospital that Subban has made. It’s MADDENING I TELL YOU.

You think there are NO Nashville stories? How about talking about the decision that Poile has to make next week at the Expansion table? Does he offer up James Neal? Calle Jarnkrok? Colton Sissons? Pontus Aberg? Austin Watson? Colin Wilson? Craig Smith? or does he pull another George McPhee Jedi mind trick and get Vegas to grab Matt Irwin in an effort to get a piece of the Nashville defensive puzzle? Kinda like in the glory days of the New Jersey Devils, when adding a guy like Willie Mitchell meant unlocking a treasure trove of secrets from Jacques Lemaire’s warchest.

Maybe we could hear a little more about Filip Forsberg, who in the past three seasons has 105 goals between the regular and post-seasons, which during a quick cursory look is more than either Malkin (103) OR Kessel (90.)

How about a little discussion about the newly 37-year-old Mike Fisher, the team’s Captain? Succeeded Shea Weber, and in his first year as the team’s leader finds himself in a Stanley Cup Final series for the second time in his career, ten years after being a part of an Ottawa team that got dismantled by Ducks whose names included Getzlaf, and Perry, two guys he helped dismantle just a couple weeks earlier.

I realize the world revolves around Pittsburgh, and satellite radio is required by law to mention the city and their hockey team at least 18 times an hour, whereas Nashville is limited to a maximum of 3 times in the same amount of time, but the predictability of the conversation today has reached a breaking point for a guy like me.

I have ridiculed Preds fans who constantly bombard Facebook boards with conspiracy theories about on-ice officials prejudice, NBC announcer prejudice, National hockey blogger prejudice, and I’ve scoffed…mightily! But, today it became crystal clear to me. These people may actually have an argument (at least about the media.) No one is giving them the kind of credit they are due. Sure there are two games  left to be won by one of these two remaining teams, and it may take three games to decide who hoists and who doesn’t, but one of those teams won it last year, and the other was barely given a chance to finish that Conference Final round after number one pivot Ryan Johansen (and Capt. Fisher) were lost to injury. No chance. Game Over. It was Anaheim that was supposed to be here for all the talking heads… and before that, it was St. Louis, and of course, when the playoffs started, it was Chicago, who were going to WIN IT ALL according to oddsmakers in Vegas! Ptui! I wish I’d placed a bet 🙂

The Nashville Predators are the story here, and every time you remind us that Matt Cullen had a bunion on his #3 toe, or although Kris Letang had his neck operated on, there’s still a faint glimmer of hope he could play in Game 7, or that Carter Rowney and Carl Hagelin are so fast that the old two-niner, Phil Bourque sometimes confuses them with an Amtrak Nor-easter that leaves Penn Station at 6am and arrives in Bahsten 15 minutes before it left. It’s MADDENING. Holy Maatta! Takin’ It To The Streit! Here’s the real news.

Peter Laviolette has done a brilliant job. Phil Housley and Kevin McCarthy are two GLUE guys. Pete Weber is the best radio play-by-play guy left in this season’s arsenal. Terry Crisp no longer has the tie collection he had in Calgary. I am a season ticket holder who is paying 113 dollars to see a game that the guy sitting next to me is paying almost 4,000 dollars to see. THAT’S NEWS. No outdoor game (yet) – A great presentation at last year’s All-Star game, and now a BRILLIANT Stanley Cup Final. Sure, you’ve made cursory mentions of the fans, the noise and the presentation, but barely a peep about a guy named Aberg who spent most of the year in Milwaukee. A guy named Irwin who couldn’t even MAKE a Boston Bruins 2015-16 team that ran through 193 defensemen between the pre-season and the ensuing games that followed. A guy named Zolnierczyk which is obviously Polish for GLUE. A guy named Smith who spent more time on milk cartons this season than he did in box scores. TALK ABOUT NASHVILLE. If you don’t, I may have to call you at some point today, because I can probably come up with 20 more line items that all add up to what the REAL story is!

 

Preds Fans: SHUT UP… and stay LOUD!

Face it, Preds fans… you’re on the national stage now. Barry Melrose says it’s the MOST entertaining place to see a game. He’s NEVER had more fun! They are all there, to a tee… every writer, announcer (save for the one moron from KDKA in Pittsburgh who tweeted that both Columbus and Washington were louder) EVERYONE  is on the bandwagon du Nashville, and if the series goes back to Pittsburgh tied, no one will forget the devastating swing in momentum caused by the crowd’s insistence to set the Predators alarm clocks to WAKE UP at the beginning of period two in game three.

Sure Nashville outshot the Pens 12-6 in the opening frame, but it was Pittsburgh who seemed to have a lot of the momentum, and thank you Pekka Rinne for taking a page out of Archie Bell’s playbook, and “tightening up” after the goal by Jake Guentzel less than three minutes into the contest.

Speaking of Pekka, here’s your first shut up. OK, is everybody standing? If you thought Pekka Rinne would be Coach Laviolette‘s choice to start game three, SIT DOWN. Now, the rest of you, and there are quite a few… WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING? Forget the fact that you pay this guy 7.5M to stop pucks, and he has for over a decade. Forget the fact that your backup goaltender hasn’t seen actual game used rubber from the start of a game for about two months. Forget the fact that after the Chicago series, after the St. Louis series, and after the Anaheim series, one man consistently saved the bacon at the Monell’s buffet of Preds hockey life… that man is Pekka Rinne, and if you BELIEVED crap like “he can’t win against Pittsburgh, he’s NEVER won against Pittsburgh,” well, NOW he has. And, he will again. Maybe even three more times. Then how foolish will you have looked? Hell, how foolish do you look now? Juuse Saros is a hell of a prospect, but nothing more. You wouldn’t have been calling for Carter Hutton, or the guy who made the opening night roster as the backup goalie, who you ALL had faith in when he won the job (cough, Marek Mazanec)… Learn something about hockey culture. To a MAN in that dressing room from the Head Coach to the guy who picks up dirty socks and jock straps and throws ’em in the wash, PEKKA RINNE is the man called upon AT HOME to bring the cup closer to Nashville.

OK, you can all stand up again, start cheering. Let’s talk about faceoffs. Oooh, they’re so important, right? Who won faceoffs last night? Crosby (15 of 26), Cullen (12 of 20), Rowney (7 of 12) and, for the good guys? the number one faceoff man the entire night… for BOTH teams… COLTON IS A SISSONS! Yup 11 of 17, almost 65%… Fisher? 10 of 21, Jarnkrok 6 of 18. Throw in Malkin’s 2 of 9 and that’s where you can take advanced analytics and put them somewhere neatly besides the first four letters of that word. Out the door. Preds dominate the game and lose more faceoffs than they win… but the KEY wins. Ah, yes. Sissons is a monster, and will continue to be because he has great hockey lineage, and In the face of a debilitating injury to number one center Ryan Johansen, has stepped up and done a job that has produced goals, assists, faceoff wins, and solid work on the cycle, down low. Let’s hope George McPhee is busy watching Filip Forsberg and crying in Martin Erat‘s beer.

Let’s talk for a minute about James Neal. Some of you think I’m nuts when I say he will be exposed in the expansion draft, but the numbers indicate that it has to be that way. However, don’t think I don’t think that David Poile is doing some voodoo-magik to keep his team in tact. There will be some very tempting names on the Preds protected list, but while I wouldn’t expect to see any of the “high priced” Nashville forwards (Neal – 5m, Smith, Wilson – 4m) on the Knights opening night roster, I do think one of those three can easily be flipped for more assets come Entry Draft day. Neal, of course, is the juiciest proposition, but he has just the one year left on his deal, whereas Wilson and Smith each have a few. Then there’s that extra layer of Sissons, Watson and Aberg… tempting, no? I digress, but it had to have been sweet to get on the scoresheet last night with such a key goal. Neal is a solid weapon in the Preds arsenal, but each team, in the Stanley Cup finals, or not, does lose a player to Las Vegas, and the intrigue is building to a feverish crescendo.

Good to see Laviolette come to his senses and go with speed for game 3. The addition of Zolnierczyk and Parenteau didn’t tell a huge story in the box score, but their play was spirited and error free for the most part. Expect to see them remain in the lineup for game 4. Duh.

One guy I’m sorry hasn’t had a sniff is Miikka Salomaki. Chatting about him last night, as to his future with the Preds moving forward, I can only say that this injury year came at a tough time, with so many Preds forwards taking steps towards full time employment in the NHL. Not sure how it shakes out for 17-18, but you know Fiala will be ready for full time duty (when healthy) and a number of RFA’s should be tendered deals (Gaudreau, Aberg, Watson) and then, on top of that, throw in names like Kamenev, Trenin and even a potential surprise like Emil Pettersson… it’s going to be a very crowded camp with competition for the few spots remaining on the roster.

So, here we are, Nashville, center stage, and all the fan whining about poor officiating, Chicago bias, St. Louis bias, Anaheim bias, Pittsburgh bias, East coast bias, throw it all out the door or window. Put your catfish where your mouth is and EAT THIS ALL UP. Everyone loves Nashville. Hockey fans across North America… Hell, hockey fans around the WORLD have adopted our home team, and here’s the deal. They are HOCKEY fans, so this little town called Smashville is now unavoidably the place to be early in June as the 2016-17 season is winding down. Locally, we still have to endure the idiot behind me in Section 207 who yells “SHOOT IT” every time a Preds player has the puck in the offensive zone. We still have fans who think a rookie goalie should supersede a veteran at the most crucial time of our playoff lives, and just for good measure, we still have fans that believe Shea Weber > P.K. Subban (and I’m sure his breath is better, too) but ultimately we have been forced to grow up quickly and know that anything a bandwagon local doesn’t know about hockey, he or she makes up for it with an enthusiasm and an excitement that is so contagious that even Barry Melrose thinks this is the greatest place on earth. Today, it is! Go Preds!

The Preds in 2017: What it was like, what happened, what it’s like now

(This post was written on the 2nd of March, and accidentally never posted. Accidentally, because it was never finished.)

 

On January 1st of this year, the Nashville Predators woke up to a new year and an old predicament. Expected to be a serious contender for the Stanley Cup this season, and coached by the popular Peter Laviolette, who had been given a two-year extension early in the season, the team was on the wrong side of the post-season line.

The Preds sat with 38 points after 36 games. Dallas with 39, Winnipeg with 37, all were on the outside looking in, as Calgary (42) and Los Angeles (40) were “in” as wild card teams in the West.

James Neal was leading the team in goals with 14. Ryan Johansen had 27 points to pace the team, but only 13 of those points came at even strength. Viktor Arvidsson was the team’s first half revelation with 10 goals (besting his full season rookie total of 8) and 24 points, and Filip Forsberg, who had just two goals in October and November, added 6 in December to move towards respectability though seemed a longshot to best or even reach his 2015-16 total of 33 (when he only had ONE goal in October and November.)

On the blueline, Roman Josi had 19 points, but was an uncharacteristic -4. His 2016-17 partner Ryan Ellis had 12 points and was +6. P.K. Subban, out with an injury had played 29 of the team’s first 36 games, and despite a -11, had 7 goals and 18 points to pace all Predator rearguards.

In goal, Pekka Rinne was 13-10-5 with a 2.53 GAA and a .915 save pctg. Juuse Saros came up from Milwaukee and established himself as both the first legitimate backup to Pekka in quite some time, and an early revelation with his effective and efficient play. Saros’ first six games gave him a rather unremarkable 3-2-1 record, but had a spectacular 1.16 GAA and an unworldly .957 save percentage. Third goaltender Marek Mazanec had a couple of unspectacular starts and was 0-2, 4.73 and .839

Some team stats: Goals For: 101 (ranked 16th), Goals Against: 97 (ranked 14th), Shots For: 1156, Against: 1068. Power Play: 20.3 (ranked 10th), Penalty Kill: 81.3 (ranked 16th)

It was time for some balls to drop and to scream HAPPY NEW YEAR!

January and February were months that saw the Preds right the ship and turn things in a direction that led to more stable waters.

(January stats)

Jan to Feb.jpg

(February stats)

Preds Feb to Present.jpg

What this meant was some stability that led to the Preds gathering points and cementing themselves into a post-season berth, with a pretty strong foothold on the 3rd seed in the Central Division.)

The team took advantage of being the fifth highest scoring ream in Jan/Feb to move into the 8th spot in the NHL for the season, averaging 2.95 goals per game. However, with the insurgence of goal scoring came a new, startling lack of detail in the defensive zone, and while the team dropped to 23rd out of the 30 NHL teams in goals given up, for the season this slotted them into the very middle-of-the-pack at 16th, averaging 2.76 goals surrendered. Shots saw similar trends, as the team had the most shots on goal in Jan/Feb (at 840) but gave up 840 as well in the similar period, which was the 3rd most given up in the league. This put them at 5th in shots for the season (at 31.7 per game) but while they were eighth best from the start of the season, through December, their Jan/Feb totals dipped them all the way to fifteenth, giving up 30.3 shots per game.

In contrast, from a shots given up perspective, last year’s Preds team ranked number one in least opponent’s shots on goal allowed at 27.3. The 2014-15 version of the Preds finished sixth, at 28.3, and the 2013-14 team (Trotz’ last season) had them at eleventh with 28.9 allowed. So, to be up over 30 this season is cause for concern when discussing goaltending, and defensive positioning in the defensive zone.

How is the team that was ranked number ONE in shots given up now the number TWENTY EIGHT team in this category over two months worth of games in 2017?

The answer could be held within the loins of the streamlined new goalie pants the NHL has trotted out in mid-season, but more likely it’s in a “Chinese Fire Drill” approach to the transition from offense back to defense that the Predator skaters have enlisted as a substitute to a more sublimated chalkboard system outlined by the coaching staff.

If your name is Matt Irwin, or Yannick Weber, it’s just a matter of time before you are fully exposed. Granted, with the full health of the top four defensemen, you are limited in your exposure, your numbers are trending in the wrong direction. As the trade deadline blew through the NHL on March 1st, few were calling for the Predators, and GM David Poile to grab a defenseman. In fact, Poile himself was on the hot seat as the Colorado Avalanche were looking for Mattias Ekholm as the focus of a package the team was looking for in exchange for star center Matt Duchene.  In the end, Poile stood firm in not giving away another of his prized blue-line. Giving up Seth Jones 13 months earlier in the Ryan Johansen deal was the first ding in the armor of a defensive corps that allowed the fewest shots in the NHL. Granted, Johansen was the top line center that the team seemingly needed to bring the offense to the next level, but in losing Jones, the Predators started to expose the lack of depth that the team had in terms of quality NHL defenders. Off-season free agent acquisitions Irwin and Weber were brought in, in addition to veteran Matt Carle in the hopes of patching together a third pairing that would keep the team’s stingy D just as stingy.

The addition of P.A. Parenteau was Poile’s only move on deadline day, but could point to forwards Cody McLeod and Vern Fiddler as fourth line additions that brought grit to the Preds lineup. With the October injury to Miikka Salomaki, and the seemingly ineffective play of veteran Mike Ribeiro (jettisoned to the club’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee) and opening night fourth line winger Cody Bass, the team cycled through a number of options, such as free agent acquisitions Reid Boucher and Derek Grant, and Milwaukee callups, Freddie Gaudreau, Harry Zolnierczyk and Pontus Aberg. None have actually put a lock on the role, despite some gritty efforts by Zolnierczyk, occasional strong play from Colton Sissons, and now the Fiddler-McLeod combination.

(January/February combined stats)
preds-jan-to-present

(All season combined stats)
screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-12-40-02-amThis post was written on the 2nd of March, and accidentally never posted. Accidentally, because it was never finished.

Today this post serves as a calling card to the Predators post-season run. Fact is, it was a very lackluster first half for the team and signs of life showed in January and February. Stability crept in during March and come April it was unclear that the Preds had the goods to do what they’ve done, but they’ve done it. And, they’ve done it losing Kevin Fiala, Craig Smith, Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher for varying lengths of time. Hats off to the Nashville Predators for proving that hockey is a team sport, and that on any given night, any one of the players dressed could be the difference maker. Four more wins and a real difference will have been made.

I consider this a charmed life…

I am a hockey fan. I know of nothing else that makes me happier than to be sitting within a snowball’s throw of some ice, players, sticks, gloves, puck, etc.

I went to my very first NHL game in New York City at the “old” Madison Square Garden. Thanks to the internet, I found the boxscore from the game. It’s hard to read, but it was on my 10th birthday, and I got to see Red Berenson get three points… THREE OF JUST SEVEN POINTS HE SCORED THAT SEASON.

Over the next decade I discovered pot, booze, pills, and the stuff teenagers in the early 70’s in New York City made more of a priority than sports… ROCK AND ROLL!

I got a job in the music industry in 1971 and began working records to radio stations. Had some success, moved to California in 1975, down to LA from SF in January, 1976, and there I fell in love with hockey all over again, and the Los Angeles Kings were my constant source of companionship. Literally. By 1978 I was 23, a Vice President of Sire Records, and constantly hanging with members of the Kings. Smoking pot, drinking copious amounts of Molsons and Labatts, and meeting guys like Pete Weber, who didn’t indulge in any of that crap, so far as I knew, but he and Bob Miller were the Kings radio and television announcers before the decade turned. I never missed a Kings game, unless I was on the road. I had fierce fan/player battles with a moronic hulk of a defenseman named Dave Hutchison. Not to say this guy was stupid or anything, but he did get knifed by a hooker on a Vancouver street corner on an off day, while the Kings were waiting to face the Canucks. Needless to say, Dave went on IR with a “hand laceration.”

My biggest brush with fame in that era was when Rogie Vachon ALMOST became the first NHL goalie to be credited with a goal.

In the early 80’s, the Kings had a fantastic team … in the regular season, but in the first round of the playoffs (Best of THREE, if you can believe that) they took a dump. I still have a BOX of unused Kings playoff tickets. I think the opening round was 11 dollars!

In the late 80s, while living in NYC, I met NHL executives, Stu Hackel and Gerry Helper (among a few) and Hackel had me help edit the NHL Guide and Record Book a couple of times, and I am pretty sure my name showed up in the book at least once. It was a big deal for a nerd like me.

Perhaps not as big as the 14 minutes of my 15 minutes of fame that was used up when I had insider knowledge on the impending Wayne Gretzky trade to Los Angeles, and being the crazed-myopic Kings fan that I was, I hated to think they would mortgage the future, and felt the trade needed to be stopped. I called on my pal Stu (Hackel) and gave him my intel, and he led me to Glenn Cole in Montreal and Steve Dryden/Bob McKenzie in Toronto. Check the issue of the Hockey News from August, 1988 with the headline “The Trade,” and read about a “New York Music Exec that called to ask us to check on a rumor…” LOL, thank God my nefarious plans were thwarted, right? 🙂

I shuttled back and forth between New York and LA over the next twenty years or so. I was in the building in Toronto, when the LA Kings beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in that semi-final in 1993 that sent the Kings to the Cup finals against Montreal, and if Marty McSorley hadn’t had that illegal curve on his stick, I’d have seen my first Cup Finals.

In 1998-99 I attended my first Stanley Cup Finals game, but had to do so in Buffalo, where the Dallas Stars ended up winning the cup, on a controversial call in triple overtime.

the 1999-2000 season I was attending a boatload of New Jersey Devils games and got to see Game One of the final between the Devils and the Stars. It was a rollicking 7-3 Devils win, and although I did not get to be in attendance to celebrate the Cup (the Devils won in 6 IN Dallas,) I considered it my FIRST “Cup” team.

I moved back to LA in mid-2000, and my love affair with the Kings began again. Additionally I started flying to Manchester, NH to see the Monarchs, the team’s AHL affiliate, and my obsession with some moderate game-worn jersey collecting began.

The Kings were pretty terrible, and as dedicated as I was, I took to the internet to rip them to shreds on a few (read: thousands of) occasions. I wrote game stuff for letsgokings dot com, and was present at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft in Nashville, where I was the first to interview Dustin Brown, after his selection by the Kings that day.

I saw my first NHL game in Nashville five years later, and as I see here, I wrote about it.

Prior to that, however, a couple years before, I was finally in the building for a Cup victory… IN ANAHEIM, no less. I was one of the few Kings fans that also happened to love the Ducks. I love hockey. That Ducks team was INCREDIBLE. Sami Pahlsson, my God, the man was a beast! Pahlsson-Moen-R. Niedemayer were the best checking line I had ever seen. It was June 6, 2007 when, sitting in the absolute last row at the Honda Center I witnessed my first Cup. Glorious.

The NHL entry draft was in Los Angeles in 2010, and my friend Stu helped get me a writing gig with NHL.com — Do you know how cool it was to open my mailbox and see a check from the National Hockey League for services rendered? I know I was giddy for a while… and there was a YouTube clip to prove it. (ABSOLUTELY NOT SAFE FOR WORK IN THE FINAL FIVE SECONDS.)

The Kings needed a Cup badly. It was a 45 year wait, and I’d suffered through an awful lot of them. Finally, I got to witness the incredible. The team was not only the “8th seed” in the West, but just a month before season’s end, we were all so happy we thought we didn’t have to waste money on playoff tickets. LOL. Well, that changed in a hurry. First came a 6 game winning streak, then a couple losses, then three of four wins before the final two losses in the regular season but, with overtimes and shootouts, the Kings picked up 21 of the final 28 points in the regular season and grabbed a playoff berth. Sixteen wins later, I cried for at least a full 24 hours. Tears of joy as Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, Vyacheslav Voynov (so the linchpin) and a cast of characters (Penner, Richards, Scuderi, Mitchell, King, Nolan, … the whole thing was surreal) made Los Angeles a TRUE hockey market from that moment forward.

There was a lockout and I moved to Nashville a day before my friend Rich Clune, in January of 2013. I knew Gerry Helper, and certainly knew of his boss, David Poile. My love for Poile was immense, because it was he and Kings GM Dean Lombardi that worked out the waiver deal that brought Clune back to the NHL, where for better or worse, he would toil under Trotz, making friends and fans, and continuing to impress management with his attitude and his work ethic on and off the ice. I learned a little more about the behind-the-scenes mechanics that the GMs occasionally go through to help a marginal player like Dicky to get regular playing time in the show. Teammates and fans both grew to love Clune, but Laviolette’s regime brought sweeping change, and after two shifts on opening night, Rich was swept to Milwaukee, never to appear in Nashville again.

I’m a hockey nerd. Here, NHL (and Kings) broadcaster, my old pal, Jim Fox and Bob Miller get to poke a little fun at how nerdy I can get. YouTube clip here.

This year has been my fifth season in Smashville, and I’ve made both friends and enemies. I sit in 207 with WONDERFUL people I have become very close to (waving to Linda, Jordana, Leslie, Sue, Steve, Valerie and of course, my dear friends, Lee and Amy and their great kids, Jack and Caroline.)

There’s so much more, but it’s 2:30am and I promised a friend I would be up at 8 and make a drive to spend some important time with him. Tonight has been insane. The loudest I have ever heard and NHL building. In fact, throw in a lot of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and whatever concerts, and it was the loudest arena I’ve ever had the privilege to attend. My head is still ringing.

The Preds were not the better team tonight, and to beat Pittsburgh (yeah, I know… it’s not necessarily Pittsburgh, but come on…) they have to play a whole lot better… and they CAN.

I wrote before Game 5 that it was time for the fans to “buck up,” because losing Johansen and Fisher was not going to deter an entire team. Plenty of people thought the Predators would lay down and die after those two injuries, but I was CERTAIN they would not. Look at the opportunities given to guys like Sissons, Watson, Gaudreau, and Jarnkrok… Move ’em up, move ’em in, MOVE DUCKS OUT! It was that simple.

After each goal tonight it sure sounded like… HEY!   HEY!!  HEY!!! USED DUCK!

If you can squelch a few Ducks, this team surely has the capability of taking down some Penguins! More before the Series starts, but thank you for reading. I just wanted to let you know how grateful I am to have hockey in my life.

MN