It’s hard to comprehend that it was fourteen years ago that we learned Nashville was going to be granted an expansion franchise in the National Hockey League. Many naysayers, especially those north of the border, thought that this franchise would not only fail on the ice, but would subsequently leave Nashville within five years of inception.
Here we are thirteen seasons later, and the Predators are as fiscally healthy as they’ve ever been, and are once again one of the top tier teams of the highly competitive Western Conference of the NHL. And this Saturday’s game against one of the NHL’s oldest and proudest franchises, the Montreal Canadiens, marks the 1,000th regular season game for the Preds.
The franchise, which went through some frustrating times with changing ownership and rumors of a possible relocation five years ago, have not only weathered that storm, but have come out all the stronger on the other side. This is primarily due to a committed local ownership group, amazingly loyal fans, and a core of exciting (mostly homegrown) one-ice talent that has fostered a winning environment.
And at the center of all of this stands the only Head Coach the Predators have ever known, Barry Trotz, and the sole General Manager in the team’s history, David Poile. Together they have formed one of the best leadership tandems the NHL has to offer.
These two have steadily improved the Predators success on the ice during the formative years, consistently winning more games each season than any prognosticators could’ve predicted. Simultaneously they built a strong scouting and minor league system that has developed most of the Predators players, making up over 85% of their current roster, the highest percentage of any team in the league.
And once the Preds started making the playoffs in 2004, they have been back to the tournament for Lord Stanley’s Cup six of the last seven years (only three other franchises in the league can say that).
Most Predator faithful have come to take Trotz and Poile for granted, but here is an interesting stat to put things in perspective: Since 1998, the other four teams in the Central Division have had a combined twenty-three different coaches and eleven General Managers.
Preds fans have been a vocal lot in supporting their squad. In those first four seasons, despite little hope of making the playoffs, they filled the arena at a 94% capacity rate, earning the reputation as one of the loudest barns in the world. Then there was a lull when the uniqueness factor started to drop off and the average dipped to 79% for three years. But as the team began building into a regular playoff participant, the percentage grew back to 88%. And now, the past two seasons, it is returning to the 95% range, with sellouts occurring more often than not. And the rabid enthusiasm of these fans has helped the Predators consistently place in the top three across the league in home won-loss record for the past five seasons. It is a mutual admiration society, with players regularly commenting how they feed off the intense energy brought into the confines of Bridgestone Arena every time they take the ice for another battle.
It is therefore appropriate that when the Preds take on the stalwart Canadiens this Saturday evening at 6 PM, it will be the featured game on Hockey Night In Canada broadcasts across that entire nation on the CBC. And, it will be yet another opportunity for the Predheads of Nashville and the core of young talent on the ice featuring Rinne, Weber, Suter, and Smith can show all of those hockey purists north of the border that Smashville, just like Trotz and Poile, is here to stay.
Let’s let them see and hear our Predator Pride throughout the night, and give them a glimpse of the next 1,000 games with all the grit and drama that will be needed as we strive together to bring the Cup to Hockey Tonk.