The National Hockey League Playoffs have begun, meaning there are 16 teams left battling it out for the Stanley Cup. 15 entire fan bases are left spectating without a stake in the outcome, and many fans may be looking to pledge their allegiance to a different team just for the playoffs, hoping that team will emerge victoriously.
Allow me to pontificate on behalf of the Nashville Predators, the fourth-place finishers in the Central Division. For fans looking for a bandwagon to hop on to, admittedly this might not be the most desirable of the 16, since the Predators had to rely on a wild run through April and May to get into the playoffs, and generally, you may want your bandwagon to look a little more reliable.
Despite a first-round matchup with the Division champion Carolina Hurricanes, the outlook for the Predators is still optimistic. Nashville is a team worth cheering for and supporting this playoff season, and here are the three main reasons why you should choose the Predators’ bandwagon for the 2020-21 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Blue Line Is Fun
There aren’t many things in hockey more exciting than watching a solid blue line corps excel at the top of their game. Now, fans looking for a bandwagon might gravitate towards Cale Makar in Colorado, Victor Hedman in Tampa Bay, or even Tyson Barrie and Darnell Nurse in Edmonton. Frankly, I wouldn’t blame you. However, what’s better than watching one or two top-tier defencemen play at a high level? How about three or four!
Nashville’s blue line was awful at the start of the season, and there is no mistaking that. But the turnaround of the defense has been one of the main reasons why the Predators were able to turn their season around. Not just from already-established veteran leaders but also the young players as well. Fans will already know about Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi, who once again led the team in points in 2020-21, but what about his excellent supporting cast?
Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm might be two of the more underrated or underappreciated defencemen in the league; Ekholm might no longer fit into that category since he was regarded as the number one tradeable asset for several weeks before the trade deadline. Despite the speculation, Ekholm has been dynamite at both ends of the ice, and Ellis has seemed to have great chemistry with any number of defensive partners he has had this season.
The youngsters have looked great as well, from Dante Fabbro to Alex Carrier, and even Matt Benning has experienced some good growth this season. Fabbro and Carrier, in particular, are quite fun to watch carrying the puck up the ice, so naturally, if offense is what you enjoy, you’ll love the fact that you’ve thrown your support behind the Predators this season.
Pekka Rinne is “The Old Guy Who Hasn’t Won the Cup”
Veteran goaltender Pekka Rinne is one of the most likable players in hockey, from his humble nature to his charity work, to his charming good looks. Oh, and there’s his solid play between the pipes for the last number of years as well. He’s this year’s “old guy who hasn’t won a Cup yet” on the Predators, and while I understand many other teams have their version of this player, Rinne offers up a story a bit different from the rest.
Rinne has played his entire 15-year career in Nashville, finishing first in several NHL goalie statistics multiple times, and ranks first all-time in virtually every goalie statistic in Predators’ history. He’s the type of goaltender with a magnetic likability, even amongst enemy players, fans, and social media accounts.
It’s obvious that his teammates love him, and fans around the league love Rinne as well. It’s unlikely he will see much action, if any, this playoff season since Juuse Saros has taken over the mantle as the number one goaltender thanks to a hot run to finish the regular season. Rinne will probably watch from the bench, but what better image can you conjure in your mind than captain Roman Josi handing the Stanley Cup to Rinne first? Fans love a sentimental story, what better way for Rinne to potentially finish his career than with a Stanley Cup victory!
It should also be noted that general manager David Poile could also fit into this conversation, and the category of “old guy who hasn’t won the Cup yet.” His longevity as the Predators’ top executive for 24 years deserves to be rewarded, and a championship would be the best reward possible.
Nashville Deserves a Champion
When you look at the cities in which the sixteen playoff teams play, many of them have experienced the excitement of a championship before, including many Stanley Cup Champion cities. The Florida Panthers, Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Vegas Golden Knights, and the Predators are the only five who have never hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup. When you factor in all of the major sports leagues, the list of championship-less cities is smaller. Really, it comes down to Vegas and Nashville (I am counting NCAA hockey as a major sport in Minnesota, mainly for argument’s sake).
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Think about the history of the Tennessee Titans and their falling one yard short in Super Bowl XXXIV against the St. Louis Rams. More recently, their defeats at the hands of Baltimore and Kansas City in the last two playoff seasons. Tennessee is a state starving for a champion, and I can’t think of a better city than Nashville at a better time than now to bring home a championship.
Full disclosure, I have never been to Nashville, but literally, everyone I know who has been there has raved about how incredible a city it is. From the nightlife to the music to the scenery, Nashville sounds and looks like a city that could throw one great celebratory party; in what appears to be the final stages (hopefully) of the pandemic, is Nashville not the city that would have the best Stanley Cup celebrations?
From Rinne to Josi, from the catfish being thrown on the ice pre-game to the plethora of musical surprises that could be planned by the Predators’ entertainment staff, there are plenty of reasons to want Nashville to make a deep playoff run. Nashville winning the Stanley Cup is something I absolutely want to see, and you should as well. So, if you’ve been convinced, welcome to the official 2020-21 Nashville Predators’ bandwagon!
Still not convinced? Need more convincing? Leave a comment in the comments section or reach out on Twitter if more of a case needs to be made!
Wray has been an NHL fan long enough to remember when Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne were linemates, as well as when Colorado and Detroit had a brutal rivalry.
Wray has seven years’ experience serving as the Sports Writer for Mount Allison University’s student newspaper, The Argosy, as well as two years as the Sackville Tribune-Post’s student reporter. After covering football, basketball, and hockey at the university level, Wray worked for four years with the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks in a behind-the-scenes capacity, and while currently living in New Brunswick (Canada), is doing lots of writing and podcasting for various topics, including CFL football, movies and television.