In 1998, four teams were scheduled to make their debuts in the league by 2000. Out of the Thrashers, Wild, Blue Jackets and Predators, only one team today has the golden ticket to the Stanley Cup.
On June 25th 1997, fans of hockey welcomed the Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild and the Nashville Predators to the National Hockey League. Geographically speaking, fans were upset that towns such as Nashville and Atlanta got hockey teams rather than reprising some of the older Canadian franchises. Each team has had their ups and downs, but only one team is head and shoulders above the rest today and you can hear them celebrating all the way from Music City, USA.
The Atlanta Thrashers were forced to hit the ground gliding, but they never had time to lace up their skates. Placed in a division with the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals, it was almost as if they were destined to flounder. After several struggling seasons, the franchise saw the most success in the 2006-2007 season when they clinched a playoff berth, only to be swept by the New York Rangers in four-straight games. The franchise has since relocated to Winnipeg and would like to forget the time they ever spent in Atlanta.
Despite finishing dead last in the Northwest Division from 2000 to 2002, the Minnesota Wild clawed their way to the semi-finals in the 2002-2003 season. On their way to the semi-finals, they defeated both the Colorado Avalanche and the Vancouver Canucks in two exciting seven-game series. Unfortunately, the Mighty Ducks would crush the Wild in the semis without letting them win a single game. Since then, the Wild have been one of the more unstable franchises in the conference, only making the playoffs two more times. They started the 2011-2012 season with a solid run only to be plagued by key player injuries. It wasn’t long before the playoffs were out of the question.
The Columbus Blue Jackets first hit the ice in the 2000-2001 season, placed in the Central Division alongside the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, and the Nashville Predators. The Jackets didn’t even see a winning season until the 2008-2009 season where they eventually made the playoffs but, just like the Thrashers, they got crushed in four-straight games (by the Red Wings). Today, in a division of stars such as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks, Brian Elliot of the Blues, and the veterans of the Wings, the only key player they have in Columbus is Rick Nash and he has already voiced his desire to flee the club.
Out of the four expansion teams, the last on my list were the first on the ice. The Nashville Predators’ first few seasons were abysmal. Losing seasons became a bit of a habit for the franchise as they acquired losing records from 1998 to 2003. Minor changes and good team chemistry led to the Predators first successful season in 2003-2004. The team soon became playoff regulars, making the playoffs five out of seven seasons (03-04 to 09-10). Albeit impressive, they never left the first round and were looked at by critics as stepping-stones.
After taking a step back and realizing that his squad had a lot of potential, Head Coach Barry Trotz made moves during the offseason what would show the world that the Nashville Predators were full of potential. In 2010, the team placed second in the Central Division and made it further than they ever have in the playoffs. After defeating the Anaheim Ducks in the Conference Quarter-Finals in front of a sell-out crowd at Bridgestone Arena, they lost a close series to the eventual Stanley Cup Finalists Vancouver Canucks.
By the history books, it is evident that the Nashville Predators are the most successful team out of the 1998 expansion. However, all of that is just a matter of opinion as there’s always more to the story than the stat books state. To be the golden child, your name has to be on Lord Stanley’s Cup and the Nashville Predators have three-key necessities of what it takes to beat the other teams in the race.
Impactful Team Captain: Shea Weber (D)
Drafted by the team in 2003, Shea Weber’s evolution led him to what he is today, and that’s one of the best blue-liners in the league. He’s one of the most intimidating figures in hockey and is as tough as they come. Weber has the ability to absorb hits as well as dish them out and his slapshot is legendary, only second to Zdeno Chára. Before former captain Jason Arnott was even traded away, there were talks of Weber becoming captain of the club. Shea Weber’s first season as captain was the franchise’s most successful season to date as they made it past the first round of the playoffs for the very first time. When first interviewed about his position as captain, Weber said the responsibility was kind of heavy. I’d say he’s dealing with the weight just fine.
Star Goalie: Pekka Rinne (G)
Pekka Rinne is another big part of the Predators’ foundation. Looked over by most, Rinne was drafted 258th overall in the 2004 Draft by the Nashville Predators and was sent to their top minor
league team for grooming. He got called up in 2008 and has been nothing but an impact since then. Last year he was the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy, fourth for the Hart Trophy and was a second team all-star. We are still a month away from the end of the season and he is already having the best of his career. Treating him like the hot-prospect that he is, the Nashville Predators signed him to a 7 year deal worth $49 Million, the largest contract in franchise history. If he keeps playing the way he has been, he is only going to make him and the players around him even better.
Amazing Team Chemisty
Even though they’re a young team, one glimpse at their performance this year would lead someone to believe that this squad has been playing together for years. Shea Weber’s strength and presence and Ryan Suter’s speed and finesse boasts confidence near the blue lines. With Pekka Rinne in net, you can assure yourself it’s going to be a tough game for the opposition. Jordin Tootoo will stick up for teammates and will throw fists without hesitation. Forwards like Mike Fisher, Sergei Kostitsyn and Martin Erat do not crack under pressure and are repeatedly a big part of the wins. Younger names like Ryan Ellis, Colin Wilson and Craig Smith have shown that their future in the NHL will be a bright one. Uniting the Kostitsyn Brothers (Sergei and Andrei) and acquiring Paul Gaustad show that the front office will make big moves to further the franchise. Head Coach Barry Trotz’ system lately has proven to work: Rearrange, move, trade and groom the players you need to until you have one big cohesive unit with players that will contribute to the team as a whole.
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