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Cheer Up, It’s Not All that Bad!


Predators' Roster = Garbage Eclair

If I know my readers, and I like to think that I do, you’re likely a little unsettled by the unabashedly positive title to this blog entry.  Before you go jumping to conclusions that I’ve suffered some sort of head injury, found religion, or made some kind of consciousness transposition with Kris Martel, you should probably note the image I’ve attached, and furthermore, the caption.

If you’re looking to be talked off the ledge completely, I never have and never will be the blogger for you.  However, if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’ve had an odd serenity about me, amidst the turmoil and suckitude of the Nashville Predators over the past few weeks.  Today, I’m going to try to share a little bit of perspective, a healthy dose of “told ya so,” and above all, the reason that I’m displacing or delaying my frustration.

Following a goodly number of Predators fans on various social media, I’m seeing a lot of negative emotions: sadness, frustration, grief, anger, disgust.  On some level, it’s understandable.  The team that we all live and die with, our beloved blue-collar Predators are having a rare “bad season.”  In much the same way that we’ve not really enjoyed an elite team, we’ve also not really had to endure a “terrible team” in about ten years.

As a result, we’ve grown somewhat spoiled.  We go into every season with an expectation that we will make the playoffs, and potentially win a round.  The vanilla icecream consistency of Barry Trotz and some of his banner players assures us that while we’ll always be at least satisfied, if not thrilled with the outcome.

However, in the world of sports, there’s no such thing as an automatic.  I’m not trying to be overly pedantic–of course you know that.  However, that aforementioned consistency has fostered a sort of expectation.  It may come as a shock to you, but I sometimes find it easy to spot the negative possibilities, the potential for a bad outcome.  Consequently, I was one of a very few standing on the corner, preaching “end is nigh!” doomsays, as early as July.

At the time, I was frustrated by it.  The sting of the loss to the Coyotes, and the way that it went down, was still fresh.  I was cognizant of the fact that the 2011/12 Predators were in a rare situation of all stars aligning.  The team was in the last year of having not one, but two of the top five defensemen in the league.  Somehow, someway, Alex Radulov was back in the lineup and looked deadly in a way that no Predator had since he left the first time.  It stunk of a missed opportunity, and when Suter inevitably (at least to the hockey world outside of David Poile’s office) left for more Minnesotan pastures, Radulov went back to the world of borscht and Russian Pop Star girlfriends, when the blank following “We’re going to replace Ryan Suter….” was filled in with “…internally,” and when the never-ending search for the elusive top six forward came up empty, I was bothered enough to realize that I should self-impose a hiatus from blogging and tweeting.  What would have resulted would have been too acerbic, too negative even for my standards.  However, as it always does, the grief cycle lead me to acceptance.  At that point, I wrote of my concerns that it wasn’t going to be a good season.

Of course, I was met with the usual skepticism, told that I was just being my usual Debbie-Downer self.  But on an intellectual level, I was pretty steadfast.  The same team that was beaten pretty soundly in the spring was back–minus three components that were key in beating Detroit in the first round.  So, by extension, unless you believed that Andrei Kostitsyn\Alexander Radulov\Ryan Suter were the reason that we lost to the Phoenix Coyotes, there was at least some dropoff to be predicted.

Now, I know where the Predators offense landed last season. I know that the power play was number 1 in the league.  I know that the bulk of that roster returned, a fact that both Trotz and Poile trumpeted as the basis for their belief that they would again be a top team.  However, closer examination showed a couple of things.  First, a few guys had uncharacteristically good seasons.  That much was obvious.  A little less apparent was that the team had abysmal collective Corsi\Fenwick numbers.  What that basically means is that the team didn’t play with the puck very often, and for most players on the team, it was far more likely that a shot\scoring chance against occurred than a shot\scoring chance for.  That’s a trait that has unfortunately carried forth into this season.

However, another telling stat that lead me to believe last season’s offense was artificially and unreliably inflated: team shooting percentage was astronomical.  Barry Trotz loves to tout “shot quality,” and sure, that’s part of it, but to me it read more as “unsustainable good luck.”  Which is where we seem to be today.

I alluded to the loss of three key components,without adequate replacement.  I don’t mean to suggest that Josi hasn’t been terrific in Suter’s role.  I felt reasonably confident that Josi could do the job.  However, while Josi may have replaced Ryan Suter…there’s no one to replace Roman Josi, which is a good part of why the defense has been so unreliable.  Finding someone capable of playing 20-22 minutes a night alongside Kevin Klein has been a struggle.  The team essentially has 3 top four defensemen, and 4 number 6s.  That’s something I hope to see addressed this summer, but I’ll get to that a bit later.

As far as the forwards go, the reasonable fan should probably realize that when 25 percent of your forwards were literally cast offs from other teams, players that another team evaluated and said “we would rather give you away for nothing than have you on our roster,” your team probably isn’t very good.  A quarter of the team has been snatched out of the NHL’s garbage can like a dirty eclair, and David “George Costanza” Poile has wiped off the treats he’s found, convinced they’re still good for consumption. Combine this roster-building tactic with the fact that the “core” forwards are all playing a line or even two too high.

Again, why is anyone surprised?

So, I know that I promised a positive post, and all I’ve done is say a lot of stuff to depress you further.  I also said that you would have to crane your neck a bit to see how this is positive, and it’s mostly about adjusting your outlook.  It’s about tempering your expectations accordingly.

Step one, you should probably begin to accept that the Predators are not going to win the Stanley Cup this season.  They’re most likely not even going to make the playoffs…AND THAT’S OKAY!  As I said earlier, we’ve become a bit spoiled.  Every team is due a dud season every so often, and as I’ve been preaching all along, this is the absolute best season for it. It’s a shortened, quirky year. The draft is simply delicious. Free agency as it stands now looks like there will be some absolute gems, enough to go around for once–and that’s before some of the cap-strapped teams exercise compliance buyouts.

The Predators are an awful team right now, but they are in a position for an on-the-fly rebuild, not unlike what the Flyers did in 2007(partially by dipping their hands into our cookie jar and absconding with Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen.)  If they’re bad enough, there’s an opportunity to grab one of the 5 or 6 forwards that scouts feel could play in the NHL next season.  The future has the potential to be very bright.  However, you’re missing on the fruits of this promise, the longer you hope\expect this season to get turned around.  That’s not to say that I’m actively rooting for losses–it’s just that they don’t cut the way they normally would.  There’s a built-in silver lining.

After losing consecutive games to teams that are also going to miss the playoffs this weekend, I chuckled and said “The jokes on you, you’re just hurting your draft position and helping ours.”  I would implore you not to look at this as advocated “tanking.”  It’s simply a matter of being pragmatic.  The roster is too weak, the field too improved.  I still go into each game hoping for a win, I can’t turn that off–but I’ve moved past the point of being angry or disappointed by losses.  A failure this season isn’t missing the playoffs…it would be winning enough to ALMOST make the playoffs.  The worst case scenario is the sort of mushy-middle finish that has haunted past Predators teams.

I’ve seen quite a bit of “Fire Trotz\Fire Poile\Trade Everyone” talk lately.  This is to be expected, but I would encourage you to take everything I’ve said into consideration.  Trotz can only coach the players he’s given.  Poile can’t sign players that aren’t free agents, can’t overpay for players that won’t help much while costing us the thin assets we still have.  The only players that we have with value are the ones we don’t want to lose (Wilson,Weber, Josi, Hornqvist,Ellis,Rinne,Bourque).   I would encourage you to give them the benefit of the doubt..for now.  However, if we’re sitting around in August talking about how it’s okay that we didn’t make any free agency splashes, or talking about the two-way character forward that GMDP is already comparing to “a guy like Mike Fisher,” then there will most certainly be another blog, one with a far less pleasant affect about it.

I can absolutely give a pass for this crazy season, but it’s with an eye toward one of the most crucial, opportunistic offseasons the team has ever wandered into.  The gameplan this summer could potentially make or break the next few seasons going forward, and my opinion of Poile in particular will ride on the outcome.

So, now that you’re all equipped with my sunny, optimistic outlook–my embrace of the silver linings of a pre-ordained bad season, I look forward to a different social media landscape.  Most importantly, I hope not to see some of what I’ve been seeing: threats of cancelling season tickets\ceasing to buy tickets period.  One bad season doesn’t justify that sort of idiocy.  Especially when the team has been handcuffed into being as bad as it is.

I am steadfast in maintaining that a team that has an occasional mediocre season is better than no team at all, and I have a hard time believing that anyone making\acting on such threats was around in 2007 when the team almost DID move, would consider destabilizing the financial viability that way.

As always, follow me\tell me I’m dumb on Twitter @PredatorialJN