It’s the time of Thanksgiving in the United States (the Canadians got the jump on us in October), and we look back at the things we should be thankful for.
Before Wednesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, the Nashville Predators may be struggling at the moment. However, the team has given plenty of reasons for their fans to be thankful. The team is on the way up and is competitive despite being in one of the toughest divisions in all of the National Hockey League.
The Predators are not the same team that struggled to miss the playoffs, as they’ve put together a pretty squad that more casual fans will get to know in the later months.
I’ve put together a list of things that Nashville fans should be thankful for this season. I didn’t put the list in any particular order, but I think it covers some of the really pertinent points for Preds’ fans.
The Predators have one of the best defenses in the league with their sizzling playmakers and hard-nosed players. The blue-liners have really helped bail the struggling forwards with their great offensive play from the back. Shea Weber and Roman Josi are arguably the best D pairing in the league. Weber looks to be fully recovered from his knee injury as he’s already got six goals and Josi is putting himself in the conversation as one of the most underrated defensemen in the league.
Let’s also not forget the other solid defenders on the team. Seth Jones and Barret Jackman are a solid pairing with skill (Jones) and toughness (Jackman). Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are also a fairly good pairing. Nashville has a bountiful harvest of defensemen.
The other rock for the Predators is Rinne. He continues to put up stellar efforts on a consistent basis. Rinne may not have the gaudy statistics that he did last season, but he is one of the best in the world. Rinne continues to make incredible saves on a nightly basis.
Poile helped build the Predators roster and do it a fairly good price. In an era where teams are consistently up against the salary cap, the team is not feeling the crunch. That may change in the offseason with Poile having to find the money for the upcoming extensions for Filip Forsberg and Seth Jones. However, he’s got a little more wiggle-room than other GMs in similar situations.
The Ekholm extension is proof of Poile’s salary cap wizardry. He managed to get a player that could get a little more money from another team. Poile clearly has a vision of what this franchise could be, and he’s gotten players like Ekholm and others to buy in at a discount.
One other thing Poile has down well is draft talent. He managed to get some super steals in the past. Rinne, Weber, and Craig Smith have been great picks of the past from Poile. He’s also got a good stockpile of players that have paid dividends this season. Look at who Colton Sissons, Austin Watson and Mikka Salomaki have stepped up in the fourth line.
There’s also a good group of players in Milwaukee. Marek Mazanec could be the eventual successor for Rinne, but there is also Juuse Saros waiting in the wings. Kevin Fiala is struggling, but there’s hope he can turn it around. There is also the possibility that Jimmy Vesey could join the fold after his season at Harvard is over. There are plenty of future options for Nashville.
It may not be common knowledge to hockey fans, but the Nashville Predators were on the verge of leaving the city. Former BlackBerry CEO Jim Balsille tried to buy the team from former owner (and current Minnesota Wild owner) Craig Leipold, and wanted to move the club to Hamilton.
Local ownership came in and saved the day to stabilize the situation. Things have calmed down and the Predators look to be in it for the long haul. Crowds have gone up five of the last six seasons and the atmosphere is one of the more underrated ones in the league. (Even if there are some haters.)
Hockey fans know Fisher fairly well, but a lot of casual and non-hockey fans know him as the husband to country music star Carrie Underwood. However, Fisher is one heck of a player. He was in the middle of an eight-game scoreless slump before busting out on Wednesday, but he’s worth more than just goals and assists.
He’s one heck of a leader and he was missed last season when he struggled with a late-season injury. Fans could tell the difference in the Predators team when “Fish” was with the club. He’s one of the veterans on this club, and he can step up and drop the gloves when called upon. (Ask the Anaheim Ducks’ Kevin Bieska about that one.)
The Fourth Line
I’ve waxed poetically about the fourth line a few times this year, but you really can’t say enough good things about them. Eric Nystrom was putting in goals when other forwards struggled. Paul Gaustad is probably the best face off man on the team, and Austin Watson has been providing youthful energy and hitting power.
Let’s also not forget the contributions of Salomaki and Sissons that I mentioned earlier.
Sure the other forwards haven’t gotten off to a great start, but the “Real Deal” has thrived in his second season in Smashville. He struggled last season, but he’s been one of the more consistent players on the team.
Neal is deadly on the power play and is starting to the form that he did in Pittsburgh with the Penguins.
The Coaching Staff
It’s amazing to see this team transform from a grind-it-out club to one of the more exciting teams in the league. The have great young wingers that can score when things are right. The defense does more than its fair share of putting in goals.
A lot of the credit goes to Peter Laviolette, Phil Housley and the rest of the staff. Laviolette as remade this team in his image where the defense has more freedom “Lavy” really plays to the strength of this team. Having a Hall of Fame defenseman like Housley to maximize the D group also helps.
I usually didn’t pay much attention to some of the announcers, but I’ve really gotten into hearing some of the great radio voices in the league. I do a lot of multi-tasking and sometimes I can only hear the game online (for free on NHLcom), and I get to hear a great play-by-play man like Weber.
I’ve done a little hockey play-by-play in college and I understand how hard it is to call a game. Weber makes it sound easy. He’s got a unique sense of humor and can really liven up the dead parts of games. If you get a chance to listen to Weber, he’s a treat.
That’s the list. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope that you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Covered hockey since attending SUNY Oswego in Upstate New York in the early 2000s. Has written about college, major junior and professional hockey for the last five years.
Resides in Watertown, NY.