I think sports fans of all ages always want to see the “best against the best” in whatever sport(s) they follow. Over 80 years ago, one such fan, who attained a high level of influence, stepped forward to make such dreams come true.
Arch Ward was the Sports Editor of the Chicago Tribune, but he stepped over from supervising the coverage of sporting events to creating them. When the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair came to Chicago in the early 1930s, he convinced baseball’s American and National Leagues to meet in the first MLB All-Star Game at Comiskey Park in 1933. Just to make it “official,” Babe Ruth hit the first home run in the All-Star Game!
With that success, baseball has continued that game to this day. The following year, Ward put together the first College All-Star Football Game at Soldier Field – pitting the collegians against the professional champions from the previous season. In the earlier years, this proved to be a fairly even match, and the game continued through 1976.
Did you know that the NHL All-Star Game, which will be staged in Nashville on Jan. 31 had its roots around that time as well?
It all happened as a way to benefit some injured players. Toronto’s Ace Bailey had to retire after a check from Bruins defenseman Eddie Shore left him with a fractured skull. To raise funds for Bailey, on Valentine’s Day in 1934 (see what Arch Ward had started), a sold-out Maple Leaf Gardens hosted the defending Stanley Cup champion Maple Leafs, who beat a team of All-Stars selected from the other eight NHL teams at the time. You may have seen the picture of Shore shaking hands with Bailey in a pregame ceremony (above).
The NHL staged two more benefit games soon thereafter. On Nov. 3, 1937, at the Forum in Montreal, the Canadiens lost to the All-Star Team. This game was to benefit the family of Montreal great Howie Morenz (the great grandfather of former Nashville Predator Blake Geoffrion). Morenz had died after suffering a broken leg early that calendar year.
The third happened on Oct. 29, 1939 – the “Babe Siebert Memorial Game.” Siebert had drowned during the summer, the summer before he was to become head coach of the Canadiens. The All-Stars beat the Canadiens 5-2 that night.
It wasn’t until 1947 that the All-Star Game became a regular part of the NHL schedule. In those early days, they stuck with the concept from the three benefit games, pitting the Stanley Cup champion against the All Stars. Rather than doing it at mid-season, they did it to open the year, and the All-Star Game opened the NHL slate through 1965! That was fine for a League that had only six teams at that point.
But, as we have found out, the NHL All-Star Game is an ever-evolving product. We will examine that in more detail soon.
The National Hockey League really is in Brooklyn now – with the move of the New York Islanders from the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
The NHL was in Brooklyn, but by name only, in the 1941-42 season. The New York Americans played that year under that moniker, but never moved from Madison Square Garden, as there was no suitable facility in the borough to house the team.
In 1925, the Americans had become the second team to call the United States home, following the Boston Bruins. Their box office success prompted Madison Square Garden to get a team of their own – the Rangers – the following season.
The Americans suspended play after that one season playing under the Brooklyn name, ostensibly to return at the conclusion of World War II. The League, however, decided not to reinstate the franchise and folded it instead. Thus, the inaccurate phrase “The Original Six” came to life and lasted through the 1966-67 season, after which came the various waves of expansion.
In reality, the NHL came from the National Hockey Association, beginning NHL play in 1917-18 with four teams: the Montreal Wanderers, the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Arenas. In its history prior to the 1940s, there were also teams in Quebec, Hamilton, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and St. Louis, so “Original Six,” really should be “Surviving Six.”
That’s the “hockey part” of the story. The other involves the location of the Barclays Center, where the Predators play Thursday night. Its address is 620 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn – at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush. It is built above a platform over the Atlantic Terminal of the Long Island Railroad. This brings us to the “baseball part” of my story.
The Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles after the 1957 season. But was Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley truly the villain here? Shortly after taking over control of the Dodgers in 1950, O’Malley realized that Ebbets Field was about to outlive its usefulness. Ebbets Field had roughly 700 parking spaces around it, and with the exodus of so many Dodger fans from the borough to Long Island and other suburban locales, O’Malley recognized that public transportation would be the key.
At the time, Robert Moses was effectively New York emperor of all land development. Never elected to a public office, Moses nevertheless was behind numerous public authorities, which put him in charge of bridges, parks, highways and many urban renewal projects.
Moses and O’Malley were constantly on opposite sides of various arguments. In 1955 (ironically, the year that marked the only World Series championship in Brooklyn Dodgers history), Moses rejected O’Malley’s offer to build a $6 million, domed stadium at the very sight where the Barclays Center now sits. The only land that Moses was willing to give O’Malley was in Flushing Meadow, where Shea Stadium was built, adjacent to the Mets’ current home, Citi Field.
As a result of that spat, New York was without National League baseball from 1958-61 (as the Giants left the even more decrepit Polo Grounds, joining the Dodgers on the West Coast), and Brooklyn’s downtown development was delayed by almost 60 years.
In hindsight, O’Malley’s heirs are probably grateful – and that’s the rest of the story of Brooklyn and major league sports.
About a year ago at this time, there was so much doubt surrounding the Nashville Predators. The team had missed the playoffs each of the previous two seasons, though they were somehow six games above .500 the season before.
There was someone other than Barry Trotz behind the bench for the first time in team history. The Central Division was shaping up as the most difficult in all of the NHL (the maximum five teams made the playoffs in 2014-15: St. Louis, Nashville, Chicago, Minnesota and Winnipeg).
Again, a year ago at this time there were so many questions surrounding the Predators. Peter Laviolette was taking over behind the bench, bringing his long-time assistant, Kevin McCarthy with him, joining up with holdover Phil Housley. How would the team react to the change behind the bench?
After not being available for 51 games in 2013-14, would Pekka Rinne be able to bounce back? Was he healthy enough to carry the team again? Another question of health regarded Mike Fisher, who ruptured an Achilles tendon during summer workouts. Would he be able to bounce back – and if so, when?
Every team has questions heading into training camp. A year ago, there was a great deal of concern about them.
With the Predators opening the Ford Ice Center in September and hosting a prospects tournament with the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers participating, thing began to look better very quickly.
New Head Coach Peter Laviolette found a key answer to the team’s need for increased scoring in Filip Forsberg, who made the all-tournament team and took that into a spectacular first full season. Forsberg played in the 2015 NHL All-Star Game in Columbus and finished with a team-high 26 goals and 63 points.
Forsberg spent much of the season on a line with Mike Ribeiro (signed to a one-year “show me” contract during the summer) and James Neal (acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh) to give the team a legitimate first line. As it turned out, Fisher was able to return in late November and helped provide a solid second line and lead Colin Wilson to his first 20-goal season.
Pekka Rinne bounced back splendidly, playing 64 games and winning 41 of them, two shy of his career best in 2011-12, when he played in nine more games.
Who can be the answers to this season’s questions? Will Barrett Jackman add an edge to the defense? How will Seth Jones perform in his third season?
There are so many youngsters to watch as this camp begins – one caught the eye of many in the recent prospects tournament in Florida: center Yakov Trenin, an 18-year old Russian who played in the Quebec League last winter in Gatineau.
Kevin Fiala got into a bit of action with the Predators last season, and he has vowed to make the team in this camp. Free-agent signee Steve Moses, out of the University of New Hampshire, came over from the KHL where he was a dominant scorer. Cody Hodgson is getting another NHL shot after signing as a free agent from Buffalo.
Those are just some of the candidates to be “answers.” Have fun watching!
Since we last got together…
The Chicago Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six seasons and shortly thereafter the offseason began. The Toronto Maple Leafs have dominated the headlines there, bringing in Mike Babcock from Detroit to coach, convincing Lou Lamoriello to leave New Jersey to be the general manager of the Leafs and trading elite forward Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh.
Other big moves around the NHL included Colorado trading center Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo; the Kings picking up left wing Milan Lucic from the Bruins; Boston also moving defenseman Dougie Hamilton to Calgary; the Blackhawks sending Patrick Sharp to Dallas and Brandon Saad to Columbus and the Stars signing former Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya. Meanwhile, looking for Cup-winning experience, the Capitals signed free agent Justin Williams away from the Kings.
So the Chicago Blackhawks have now become the first team to win three Stanley Cups in the 10 seasons of the NHL’s Salary Cap Era. They have done it in a six-season span.
Next season, the Los Angeles Kings have a chance to one up the Blackhawks’ efforts. A 2016 Cup victory for the Kings would give them three championships in five seasons. Just think, a team that didn’t make the playoffs this season has a chance to accomplish that! For further consideration, if the Kings hadn’t beaten the Blackhawks on an OT goal in Game Seven of last season’s Western Final, the Blackhawks would have had their own shot at three Cups in five seasons, not to mention two straight!
Let’s keep in mind the Salary Cap part of all this. The cap is intended to even out the playing field and to make it more difficult to repeat or sustain excellence. It appears to have accomplished that, with seven different teams winning the Cup since the cap became a part of NHL life.
Today’s NHL does not feature teams winning five straight Cups, as Montreal did from 1956-60. Not to diminish their titles, but the Canadiens took those in the six-team League. Nor are we likely to see something like the New York Islanders of 1980 through 1984 (with 21 teams in the League), who won the Cup in the 1980-1983 seasons and went to the Cup Final in 1984, having established a mark of 19 consecutive playoff series victories. Picking up directly from those Islanders were the Edmonton Oilers, who won the championship five times in seven seasons.
Clearly, this is the zenith of the Blackhawks’ 89 year history, which began in 1926. Prior this run, they have hoisted the Cup three times – in 1934, 1938 and 1961. In the early years, they were defeated in the Final in 1931 and 1944. After winning in 1961, they learned that it wasn’t easy to “get there,” with losses in 1962, 1965, 1971 (with 14 NHL teams), 1973 (16 teams) and 1992 (22 teams).
That 1961 team, playing in an era when only two series victories were required to win the Cup, never recaptured the magic. Consider the Hall of Fame talent on those teams: Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote, and Glenn Hall. Hull was only 21 and Mikita, 20, while Pilote and Hall were the “old timers” at 28! Perhaps a lesson here for the Tampa Bay Lightning, as Brent Seabrook told an interviewer after the Final concluded: “We’d better keep an eye on the Lightning to see what they do over the next six years.”
The year before the Predators began play in 1998-99, the Hawks did not make the playoffs. As a matter of fact, they only made it once in 10 seasons, and that was a first-round exit for them. The United Center wasn’t always the “Madhouse on Madison II.” In those days, sometimes visiting broadcasters would hear their own words echo back at them.
As the Predators joined the NHL, the dominant pre-salary cap team was the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings’ great run began in the lockout-shortened 1995 season. They lost the Cup Final that year to New Jersey and lost the Conference Final the following season to Colorado – at the very beginning of the Red Wings/Avalanche rivalry. (Who said rivalries need time to establish themselves? They definitely hated each other from the first puck drop! The Avs – originally the Nordiques – didn’t move from Quebec City to Denver until the summer of 1995).
In that pre-cap era, if a team had the money and was willing to spend it, the only thing holding them back was their imagination. The New York Rangers spent wildly, yet did not make the playoffs for seven straight seasons (1998-2004). But it can work both ways, of course. Since the institution of the cap, the Maple Leafs have made the playoffs just once in 10 years.
By the fall of 1996, the Red Wings were ready. With Steve Yzerman and the “Russian Five,” they became the last team to win Cups in back-to-back seasons in 1997 and 1998. The 1997 championship represented the end of a 42-year drought without a Cup in Detroit, just like the 2010 Cup ended 49 years for Chicago. The Wings beat Colorado in the 1997 Conference Final, then Dallas in 1998. Colorado derailed them in both the 1999 and 2000 Conference Semis.
Examine the roster, for example, of the 2002 Red Wings: it featured nine members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, including Coach Scotty Bowman, and players Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, Nicklas Lidstrom, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov, Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek, who are already enshrined. You can make a pretty good argument that Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Datsyuk will make it as well. The payroll for that team was roughly $65 million. The cap limit this past season was $69 million!
Following a first-round upset at the hands of Los Angeles in 2001, the Wings beat Colorado in another Western Final, then took out the Carolina Hurricanes to win the 2002 Cup, equaling the Blackhawks’ feat of three titles in six seasons. In 2007, Detroit lost the Western Final to the eventual champion Anaheim Ducks, followed directly by a Cup triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins, then a loss in the 2009 rematch with Pittsburgh. Since then, they have lost three Western Semifinals and have been eliminated three times in the first round (including 2012 versus the Predators).
Great teams can drive other great teams to success. The Avs and Red Wings were good for each other. Colorado got through Detroit to win their first Cup in 1996. Detroit beat Colorado in 1997, 2002 and 2008 enroute to championships.
The Kings and Chicago have been good for each other as well. After winning their first Cup in 2012, the Kings lost in the Western Final to Chicago the following season. Los Angeles prevailed over the Rangers in that seven-game extravaganza in 2014, on the overtime goal by Alec Martinez. This season, 95 points were not enough to gain a playoff berth for the Kings. That left them three points behind Calgary in the division and four points back of Winnipeg in the Wild Card race.
So, what happens next? With the summer months upon us, we know rosters will be juggled, that’s for certain!
In my mind, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the best “sports theatre” available. The atmosphere, the intensity, the drama is all there. Now, the National Hockey League has been blessed with two Conference Finals that will go seven games for the first time since the year 2000. This is really something special.
The Nashville Predators have not been involved in a Game Seven yet. In my three seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, we did not have that experience either. In Buffalo, where I spent most of my time prior to my move to Nashville in September of 1998, there were but a relative few. In 45 years, the Sabres are 1-6 all-time in series that go the distance:
- 1983 L, 2-3 OT at Boston (Bruins led series, 3-2)
- 1992 L, 2-3 at Boston (Bruins led series, 3-1)
- 1994 L, 1-2 at New Jersey (Sabres won Game 6 in 4 OT)
- 1997 W, 3-2 OT vs. Ottawa (Ottawa led series, 3-2)
- 2001 L, 2-3 OT vs. Pittsburgh (Sabres led series, 3-2)
- 2006 L, 2-4 at Carolina (Sabres took Game 6 in OT)
- 2011 L, 2-5 at Philadelphia (Sabres led series, 3-2)
Each one of those series has special story lines as noted. The 1997 series with Ottawa was special to me – as I was calling the games on radio and it included my one and only Game Seven.
The drama was all there. Goaltender Dominik Hasek quit on his team in Game Three, sprinting off the ice after a goalmouth collision, turning things over to Steve Shields, who had all of 15 games of NHL experience at that point in his career. Shields finished with a 3-2 win in that contest, but then the Senators (in their first playoff series since the NHL’s return to Ottawa), took the next two games, 1-0 in overtime at Ottawa and 4-1 at Buffalo. Andrei Trefilov finished Game Five for Shields.
The pressure was on for Game Six at Ottawa. The Sabres had won the Northeast Division Title that season and would eventually take home a lot of postseason hardware from the NHL Awards Show that June in Toronto.
In that sixth game, Shields turned in a masterpiece – a 3-0 shutout of the Senators, setting up the fourth Game Seven in Sabres history. The Sabres tied the game on a face-off play involving Derek Plante and Alexei Yashin. Trying to pull the draw to the end boards, Plante tied up Yashin’s stick and the puck ended up blooping over goaltender Ron Tugnutt into the Ottawa net.
That eventually helped the game into overtime and here/”hear” is how it ended.
Game Seven is truly special – enjoy the wealth of them that has been bestowed upon us this weekend!
With their victory in Washington on March 28, the Nashville Predators clinched a playoff berth, the eighth time they have managed to do so in 11 seasons. That’s a record of consistency interrupted by the previous two campaigns.
The interesting thing to consider here is: What caused them to fall out of the playoff picture during those two seasons?
2012-13 Nashville Predators:
The abbreviated 2012-13 team (the lockout-shortened season started on Jan. 19) never had a chance when you examine the stats. The previous season, when the Preds went two playoff rounds (knocking off Detroit in Nicklas Lidstrom’s last go-round, before losing to the Coyotes in the second), they were fifth overall in the League. That success was built on having the top power play in the NHL, which gave them the eighth-best offensive numbers overall. The 2011-12 team was also 10th in goals-against. All of those are great indicators of success, and they proved to be just that.
The following season, in 48 games, the Predators had all the negative indicators: tied for last offensively (the power play dropped off to 17th), defensively, they fell from 10th to 20th and their penalty kill was next-to-last. David Legwand led the team with 12 goals. Gabriel Bourque was next, with 11 in 34 games played, and Mike Fisher had 10 in 38; Shea Weber and Nick Spaling were next with nine. Patric Hornqvist was only able to play in half the schedule.
The 2012-13 Predators began the season 7-3-4, but finished 9-20-5 for a 16-23-9 final mark. They rallied to a 15-14-8 record, but then lost 10 of their final 11 (1-9-1).
2013-14 Nashville Predators:
Gone from the team when training camp began in September of 2013 were: goaltender Chris Mason (to Europe); forwards Martin Erat (traded with Michael Latta to Washington in the Filip Forsberg deal at the 2013 trade deadline), Sergei Kostitsyn (to the Kontinental Hockey League), Matt Halischuk (free agent signee by Winnipeg), Bobby Butler (traded to Florida), Brandon Yip (free agent with the Coyotes) and Chris Mueller (free agent with Dallas). Defensemen Hal Gill (free agent to Philadelphia) and Jon Blum (signed by Minnesota) were also gone.
The structure for making the playoffs changed for the full season following that shortened schedule. The League was split into two divisions in each conference. The Eastern Conference had two eight-team divisions, the Western Conference two seven-team divisions. The top three teams in each division made the playoffs, along with two Wild Card teams in each conference. Previously, with three divisions in each conference, it was simply the best eight records that made it and they were seeded accordingly.
The Predators had to overcome a lot in 2013-14 – most notably the infection that hit goaltender Pekka Rinne after their second trip to Minnesota. He underwent surgery and was not available for the next 51 games. Somehow, they managed to go 21-21-9 without him and stayed in the race.
Nashville used four goaltenders during Rinne’s absence: Carter Hutton, Magnus Hellberg, Marek Mazanec and Devan Dubnyk. Hutton had only played in one NHL game before the season, but he fared well, going 13-10-4 with Rinne unavailable (and 20-11-4 overall). 22-year-old Magnus Hellberg played just a portion of one period. Mazanec, also 22 that season, was a very competitive 8-10-4 with 2.80 goals-against and .902 save percentage.
Dubnyk, acquired in a January trade with Edmonton (for summer free-agent signee forward, Matt Hendricks), bore no resemblance to the goaltender he has been this season with Arizona and (especially) Minnesota. In 124 minutes, he only stopped 85 percent of the shots he faced.
After Rinne returned, the Preds went 12-7-2, taking six of their final seven games to fall three points behind the Dallas Stars for the last playoff spot (with the Coyotes in-between). In circumstances like that, you realize that two more wins would have done the job.
The team was not offensively robust; finishing tied for 18th in goals, but did have four 20-goal men (Craig Smith 24, Shea Weber 23, Patric Hornqvist 22 and Mike Fisher with 20). Eric Nystrom was next with 15 (including the first four-goal game in team history, at Calgary).
That frustrating season brought about another rebuild, some of which included the maturation of the team’s younger players.
Hornqvist and Spaling were dealt to Pittsburgh at the Draft for sniper James Neal. Olli Jokinen was signed to help out at center. Shortly thereafter came the news that Fisher had ruptured his Achilles tendon; that resulted in a search for even more depth at center.
On July 15, Derek Roy signed a free-agent deal after his time with Buffalo, Dallas, Vancouver and St. Louis. On the same day, Mike Ribeiro was signed to a one-year contract after the Coyotes had bought him out.
Ribeiro remains, and he has been a key to the Predators offensive success, centering the first line. His smooth passing skills and poise have been a great help to his former Dallas teammate James Neal, along with the rookie sensation Forsberg and Craig Smith.
Fisher’s late-November (ahead of schedule) return to the lineup also provided a spark to both the powerplay and penalty kill. He centers the second line and should be credited a great deal for Colin Wilson’s first 20-goal season. On a per-game basis, this is Fisher’s best goal-scoring season (he previously had 25 for the Ottawa Senators in 2009-2010).
While the team’s offensive production has fallen off from a fast start, one thing that hasn’t changed over the course of the year is the team’s resilience. They have been particularly strong in games decided by one goal and there have been quite a few of those. As of this writing, 57.7 percent of their games have been decided by the slimmest of margins.
If anything became absolutely clear in this season’s success, it’s how important Pekka Rinne is. With apologies to the late Marvin (“The Human Eraser”) Webster of ABA/NBA fame, Rinne has been able to correct a number of mistakes and kept the team in the Top Five in goals-against all season.
And there are the reasons why this team made the playoffs!
Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile arrived in Nashville in 1997 to begin preparing the Predators to start play in the fall of 1998. By that time, he had already been established as a man who built his teams from the back (defense) to the front.
He brought Hockey Hall of Famers Rod Langway and Larry Murphy to Washington by trades and drafted Scott Stevens. Later, he traded for Calle Johansson and Al Iafrate. Those Washington Capitals teams got a lot of offense from their defense.
The same has happened in Nashville, almost from the start. However, this season’s Predators top six on defense is extra special in that they were all drafted (granted, one was reacquired in a trade) by the Predators.
Not many teams can make that claim. The breakthrough after the team’s expansion era came in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, held in Nashville. The Predators selected four defensemen in that draft that have played for them.
Ryan Suter (first round, seventh overall) played 542 games for the Preds before his free agent departure to Minnesota. In the second round, the Predators harvested Kevin Klein (37th overall) and Captain Shea Weber (49th overall). Klein played 403 games for Nashville before his (Jan. 22, 2014) trade to the New York Rangers, while Weber has notched 682 and counting. Also taken in the third round was Alex Sulzer (92nd overall), who played in 53 games for the Predators. Weber, Suter and Klein were the core of the Predators’ defense from 2006 through 2012.
Cody Franson, boyhood friend of Weber in British Columbia, was drafted two years later, taken in the third round, 79th overall, in 2005. He joined the other three on the blueline from 2009 through 2011, before he was traded to Toronto in July of 2011.
In 2009, the Predators selected two more members of the current defensemen. Ryan Ellis was a first rounder, (11th overall), taken from the Windsor Spitfires, where his coach was original Predator defenseman Bob Boughner.
Ellis spent two more award-winning seasons at Windsor after his selection, then made his first tentative steps as a pro in 2011-12, split between Milwaukee and Nashville. Last season, the light bulb seemed to fully illuminate for him, and from January 2014 going forward, he has begun to realize his potential.
Mattias Ekholm did not immediately come to North America after he was drafted by the Preds in 2009. He remained two more seasons in Sweden, had a difficult two-game trial with the Predators in 2011-12, and then finished back in Sweden. However, a strong 2012-13 season in Milwaukee prepared him for the transition and he has spent the past two seasons as a regular with the Predators. He has made a very large step forward this season.
At the 2013 Draft, it appeared the Predators were going to draft a forward. Heading into that selection meeting, the Predators had Seth Jones tabbed as the best player available. Poile thought there was no chance to land Jones, as the Preds were picking fourth. However, Colorado took center Nathan MacKinnon; Florida went for center Alexander Barkov, and Tampa Bay nabbed winger Jonathan Drouin.
It was at that point that Poile sprinted to the podium and took Seth Jones with the fourth pick. Poile had told reporters in a pre-draft meeting that he would indeed take Jones if such a scenario worked out, he also said he didn’t think there was anyway that it would.
When the Predators made their mid-February trade with Toronto to reacquire Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli, that gave the Predators six “homegrown” starters on defense. This group of defensemen, along with the play of Pekka Rinne and Carter Hutton, have the Predators in the Top Five defensively in the NHL this season. But as important as they are in their own zone, they are almost as important on the attack.
Since the team started, the defensemen have contributed as little as just over 12 percent of the team’s goals to 23.6 percent last season and 23.2 percent (through March 29) this time around.
Shea Weber has been the top goal-scoring defenseman each of the past six years and seven of the last eight. He and Roman Josi are currently tied for this season’s lead following Sunday's game. Last season, Weber (23) and Josi (13) combined for a team-record 36 goals by a tandem. This season with six games left, they have 30.
Weber has been his steady self, and Josi’s offense is on the upswing. And it’s all homegrown!
It’s a typical question when I meet with students: “What is your day like on a game day?” The next is: “How much time do you spend preparing for each game?”
The answer to the second question is very complicated for me, because just before a road trip, I may be preparing for several games at once, so it’s difficult to allocate time across the individual games. So let’s skip the second and concentrate on the first here.
(I will use a home game as my example here. Understand that on the road, there are busses to catch, bags to pack, etc. There are a number of variables always at play, so there is no real “typical” game day.)
On the day of a game, the first thing we have is a production meeting for the telecasts. This year they have been held at 9:45 a.m., before the team’s morning skate at Bridgestone Arena. In that meeting are producer David White, analyst Stu Grimson and reporter Lyndsay Rowley. At that point in time, we concentrate on our broadcast open, usually spending as much as 30 minutes to plan the opening four and a half minutes you see before the commercial prior to puck drop.
The topics may include a recap of the previous game, a look at where the team stands going down the stretch and a quick look at that night’s opponent. Usually, we choose one or two players to feature from both sides. Rowley may have an interview with one of the players that we incorporate as well.
Normally, I have recorded a “tease” the night before that runs at the top of the telecast. Thanks to today’s technology, I email that in to David White.
Sometimes, we aren’t so sure what approach we will take on the broadcast on a particular night, and then I record the tease following the meeting. (After we find a location with acceptable acoustics, of course.)
When that meeting (and possible recording) concludes, we work the hallways and/or go upstairs to catch a bit of the skate and see if there are any lineup changes in the works.
Back down in the hallways outside the dressing rooms, we trade information with the visiting broadcasters, make sure we have all of our game notes and start arranging our information in a format that makes each of us most comfortable as individuals. We get the chance to go into the dressing rooms to check in with some of the players and meet with the head coaches afterward as well.
For a 7 p.m. game, the latest we are done with this is usually around 12:30 – 1 O’clock.
That means time for lunch, and to go over my information, concentrating on refreshing my memory (and adding to it) of the visiting team. For a recent game with Buffalo on March 21, that meant going over my various spreadsheets:
Game day preparation sheets for viewing:
- New Jersey vs. Buffalo Lineups
- Nashville lineup from practice prior to Buffalo game
- Nashville year-by-year data
After I have gone over those, I can then begin filling in the updated information on my scoresheet, which was formulated many years ago in collaboration with Los Angeles Kings radio voice Nick Nickson.
At 5:30 p.m., Grimson and I record the “Ford Keys to the Game” for the Megatron (usually played around 6:45 – 6:50 p.m.). Around 6 O’clock, we get to see the video we will work with on the game open, then we clear the way for the pregame show and wait for our cue at 7 O’clock!
So many times during this season with the Nashville Predators, I have been asked to make comparisons of this year’s team to others.
First off, the most valid Predators team to use as a measuring stick would be the 2006-07 edition, which finished with 110 points. That team finished third overall in the NHL, scored a club-record 272 goals, was eighth in goals-against and third on the penalty kill.
With Peter Laviolette coaching the Preds, our study also has to include the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes. That was his first full season with Carolina, coming out of the lockout. Those Hurricanes also had the third-best record in the regular season, 112 points. They were third in the League in offense, but 17th on defense.
This season’s Predators have flirted with the best record in the League, and have a good balance between offense and defense, with Top Ten rankings in both areas.
Nashville had six 20-goal scorers in 2006-07: David Legwand and Jason Arnott tallied 27, Paul Kariya had 24, Steve Sullivan and Scott Hartnell each scored 22, and J-P Dumont had 21. We should note here that Nashville had a Hall of Famer nearing the end of his career in that lineup also, in Peter (no relation to Filip) Forsberg.
However, Steve Sullivan missed the last 25 games of that season with a back injury and did not return to the lineup until midway through the 2008-09 season. Martin Erat and Hartnell both had late season injuries as well. However, Alexander Radulov had 18 goals in 64 games after his promotion from the Milwaukee Admirals and then added three more in the playoffs.
The 2005-06 Hurricanes had six players score 20 goals or more, as 20-year-old Eric Staal led the way with 45 (and 100 points). Justin Williams and Rod Brind’Amour each added 31, Erik Cole had 30. Matt Cullen (you recognize that name) scored 25 and Cory Stillman pitched in 21. Late that season, the Hurricanes added veterans Doug Weight and Mark Recchi. That would be Weight’s first (and only) Stanley Cup and the second of three for Recchi - just another part of an incredible career for him. (He also won in 1991 with Pittsburgh and in 2011 with Boston).
The current edition of the Predators features four 20-goal men as of this writing. James Neal has 22, Filip Forsberg and Craig Smith have tallied 21, and Colin Wilson has 20. With over 10 games remaining, both Mike Fisher and Shea Weber have a shot at joining that group.
In 2006-07, Buffalo won the President’s Trophy with 113 points. Detroit also had 113, but had three fewer victories. With 51 wins, the Predators had the tiebreaker over Anaheim, also at 110 points. However, the three division winners in each conference had the top three playoff spots in order of points. Thus, second-place in the Central meant the Preds were the fourth seed in the West, setting up their ill-fated first-round series against fifth-seeded San Jose.
With two divisions in each conference now, the playoff set-up differs, in that they are based more on divisional standings. The two division winners in each conference are ranked first and second by points, and they face the eighth and seventh (respectively) finishers in the conference. Then the second and third teams in each division meet in the first round. That way, it is conceivable that one division in a conference could end up with five teams in the playoffs with just three from the other division making it.
There is a major difference in goal among the three teams in this study. The 2006-07 Predators had Tomas Vokoun leading the way until blood clots shortened his season after a 27-12-4 start with a 2.40 goals-against average. Chris Mason stepped in and went 24-11-4 with a 2.38 GAA. The Stanley-Cup champion ‘Canes had Martin Gerber in net for 38 regular season wins, but 21-year-old Cam Ward carried the load in the playoffs, playing 23 of the 25 games and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the postseason.
This season, Pekka Rinne has been dominant in goal, near the top of the NHL in wins, goals-against average, and save percentage.
Backing up the offensive firepower of the 2006 ‘Canes were Frantisek Kaberle (then 32) and Oleg Tverdovsky (29); Bret Hedican (35) and Mike Commodore (26), plus Niclas Wallin (30) and 1999 Preds draftee Andrew Hutchinson (the youngster of the group at 25). Veterans Glen Wesley (36) and Aaron Ward (32) were slowed by injuries in the middle of the season.
See: Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators lineups (Jan. 13, 2006)
This season’s Nashville defense has one returnee from 2007: Captain Shea Weber (now 29). Cody Franson is 27, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis are all 24. Seth Jones is 20. The depth players on defense are Anton Volchenkov (33) and Victor Bartley (27).
In the 2006 playoffs, the Hurricanes beat Montreal in six games, New Jersey in five, and needed seven games to dispose of Buffalo in the Eastern Conference Final. They took a 3-1 series lead in the Cup Final over Edmonton, but then lost in overtime in Raleigh, then were shutout in Game 6 in Edmonton. They then came back to take the Cup on home ice, 3-1 in Game 7.
The Predators’ 2007 postseason was almost over before anyone realized it. San Jose blew a two-goal lead in the first game, but then won in the second OT on a goal by Patrick Rismiller.
The Predators received two goals each from J-P Dumont and Peter Forsberg in Game 2’s 5-2 win and headed to San Jose tied at a victory apiece. Two wins in San Jose set up the Sharks to clinch in Nashville, and that’s what they did in Game 5.
The Sharks lost in six games against Detroit in the second round, then Detroit lost in the Western Conference Final to Anaheim. The Ducks went on to defeat Ottawa for the first Stanley Cup in California history.
What happens this time around for the Predators?
There’s only so much analytics and history can tell us, and I don’t think we can rely on them to accurately predict playoff outcomes. So just get set to take in the most intensely enjoyable time of the hockey season!