I thought this was supposed to feel like a shortened season… Yet, somehow I feel as though I’ve been watching this team for half a year if not years and not a mere two months worth of hockey.
Maybe I have.
Tonight in Dallas, the Predators start a 5 game road trip that many are rightfully deeming the “fate of this season.” I won’t belabor the point and tell you Nashville’s current place in the standings, how close the West is, or how the placement of Hornqvist and Wilson onto IR Monday couldn’t have come at a worst time. You know these things.
So why, after months and months do I yet again feel the urge to write the ever so rare column? Why not just stick to tweeting my thoughts sporadically (@brandon_felder)? Good questions.
But first, let me tell you a story. A true one at that. It was the 2006-2007 season. There I sat on media row, pondering the fate of the Predators headed into the trade deadline. I knew the team was good, really good, as did everyone truly following the NHL that year. Yet, they could be great with the right pieces. David Poile in his wisdom sees this, gets the ok from then owner Craig Leipold and makes the deal that will forever stand in Predators history as a huge splash.
“This is it” I thought to myself, “I’m going to get to cover a Western Conference Final, and maybe even the Stanley Cup if the puck bounces the right ways.”
If you are newer to being a Predators fan you may need a bit of help here with this part of the story. Never, in the history of the Nashville franchise had the roster looked or played so well. Going into the playoffs they were a favorite by many mainstream media to reach the Western Final. Rightfully so.
Consider some of these names on that roster: Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya, Steve Sullivan, Jason Arnott, Scott Hartnell, Alexander Radulov, Shea Weber, Kimmo Timonen, Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis, J.P. Dumont, Martin Erat, David Legwand. All together, at varying stages of their careers, but all playing well. Six of the forwards each had 20+ goals. Even the role players were high quality 3rd/4th line guys. Scott Nichol, Vern Fiddler, Jerred Smithson, and the rugged Greg Zanon on the blueline. Looking back, what a roster that was. On top of that, Tomas Vokoun and Chris Mason BOTH had 20+ wins in net and save percentages at or above .920%.
They looked like THE team. THE best shot ever to get a Cup.
But we know what happened. 5 games and the San Jose Sharks did them in. 3 of the 4 Shark wins by a mere goal. I couldn’t believe my eyes as the series ended, and in Nashville to boot. As the offseason began, I thought for sure the Predators would be getting a new coach. As we’ve seen by his quotes in the past, so did Barry Trotz.
But then the most historical summer ever in Predators history since they came to Nashville: Leipold suddenly officially announces his intent to sell the team. The on ice product takes a back seat and rightfully so because there may be no product to speak of if the city of Nashville doesn’t band together. Barry is saved by the sale.
So as October of 2007 rolls around and we do turn back towards hockey talk and not ownership talk, I am re-reminded of the previous year. Somehow, Trotz is back despite a colossal playoff failure and what had become a poor playoff track record:
2004 – a respectable and solid first showing losing in 6 to Detroit.
2006 – out in 5 against San Jose after losing 4 games in a row. To top it off the NHL’s best faceoff man that year Yanic Perreault plays 1 game while a grinder like Jordin Tootoo plays 3.
2007 – discussed above
2008 – out in 6 but still no road playoff wins ever. At this point I again think Trotz is done.
2009 – the team does not qualify for the playoffs
2010 – out in 6 again but 1 road win to start the series.
2011 – 1st round finally won. 2nd round out in 6 and no wins on home ice that round.
2012 – No need to re-hash that. It’s still fresh in our minds.
By the time 2010 was done and there was no coaching change I had come to realization that there will never be a Predators team that has Poile as GM and someone other than Trotz as head coach.
Back in 2008, I became apart of a small minority of the opinion that Trotz is not the coach to get the Predators to the next level.
Let me be clear: he is the best REGULAR season coach in the NHL. No question about it. He gets the most out of the least and routinely deserves being in the Jack Adams discussion. Should Nashville find a way to turn this around this year, Barry Trotz should be the Jack Adams winner. Without question. It would be the first time I ever fully felt that in my bones.
The problem is success at a certain point cannot be measured by regular seasons if you are to become a great franchise.
Playoffs are where legends are born. Conference Finals make you great. I no longer felt that Trotz could succeed in the playoffs. Still don’t. He can get you to a certain point, but when it comes down to the in-series adjustments and tweaks it takes to win a series, it’s just not in him. A Tippett, Quenneville, or Julien will out maneuver him every time.
Ok. Enough of the story. “Where is your point Brandon?” you may find yourself asking. Fair enough. Here comes the swerve.
This has been one of the hardest seasons to witness since I began to follow the team. It’s just so frustrating to watch the same methods over & over to get good enough results to make playoffs.
At a certain point we all reach insanity if we believe the same method will somehow get a better result. The reality is every year we hear people say that Trotz has done a great job getting the production out of “that” roster. When does the roster become the thing that is focused on? The ownership seems to show they have money to spend toward a Cup. Well, there’s about 6-8 players worthy of the money spent towards them. Way too many grinders/AHL’ers/in-betweeners are on the current roster and it’s catching up to the Predators.
Ask anyone who followed my work back in the day and you will know that I’ve been crying for this team to add a natural left-winger that can score since the 2007 season began. You currently have a 3rd line center playing on the 2nd and sometimes top line. David Legwand is comparable to Radek Bonk: a top 3 overall draft pick, great 3rd line center that plays very well defensively and chips in a few points from time to time. The problem is David Legwand was never billed as that. He was supposed to be one of the Predators top offensive weapons every year. He did that once. There is nothing wrong with being comparable to Radek Bonk, if you accept what that is. We can’t because for too long the expectations on Legwand have been higher than that.
Year after year depth became an issue. The forward corps was deep enough twice in the Predators playoff history: 06-07 and 11-12.
Time has caught up to the Predators; borrowed time of getting above average results from an average bottom half of the roster and 2nd line forwards playing at the top. The fans have become accustom to expecting too much.
This season is not Barry Trotz fault. He has been given too few pieces. For the first time in a very long time, I have to question David Poile. As much as I don’t feel Barry is the coach of the future Cup for this franchise, I have to admit he has limited resources this year more than others. Even the league’s best REGULAR season coach may not be able to save things.
Last night, for the first time on Twitter, I saw people who thought I was crazy years ago to consider supporting the Predators going through a head coaching change question if now is the time. They aren’t wrong to think these things. It’s just too late.
The reality is there is only one way to get true change: Poile and Trotz would have to both leave. I just can’t foresee them ever not being together in Nashville. That’s a tough and scary pill to swallow. If the Predators don’t make the playoffs this year, it very well may be one ownership has to ponder or even act upon.
I don’t claim to have the answers, just honest, objective opinions that stem from covering this team once upon a time ago.
I haven’t covered a Predators game from a media standpoint in over 2 years. I’ve let the fan in me be re-born. I honestly used to not even care about wins or losses, just great quotes and stories.
Now, I live in Alabama* and the Predators have become one of my deepest connections to my time in TN. I want to see that franchise succeed more than ever. Not for me though. For the fans who used to support my work and still support that team no matter what. They’ve earned it over the years, possible relocation, and lockouts.
The season ticket holders, the fans that watch halfway across the United States, those that have helped the Predators sell out the last 25 home games in a row. Those fans deserve to see the team and franchise reach the elite level. Everyone may need to reevaluate what and with whom it takes to get there though.
So the fork in road could be on the horizon gang. It may require the toughest choice for ownership.
Yes, the Predators are facing the “fate of their season” on this road trip. Perhaps though, it’s the fate of the Predators culture as we have come to know it.
They could turn it around and find a way into the playoffs. The other path in which the Predators miss the playoffs for the first time since 2009, which is the path I believe this season is headed down….
Well, that’s an entirely different and as of yet unwritten story now isn’t it….
Questions, comments, or just general discussion can be had at my Twitter: @brandon_felder
* – If there are any other fans of the Predators in or near Decatur, AL besides me please let me know on Twitter