The Recent Evolution of Hockey in Nashville and “The Predator Way” (Buddy Oakes --

Thursday, 09.01.2011 / 11:16 AM
By Buddy Oakes (

The Nashville Predators made major strides in 2010-11 by winning their first playoff series in franchise history and then gave the eventual Stanley Cup runners up more than they wanted before eventually losing in six games to Vancouver.

In April of 2010, every Predator fan that watched Marion Hossa come out of the penalty box in game five of the Predators' 2010 first round series with Chicago and score the game winning goal remembers the gut wrenching feeling in their stomach that was generated.

It was far more devastating for the players on the ice and the coaches on the bench. To a man, they all described the loss as the worst that they had ever experienced.

After the series, Predators’ General Manager David Poile explained, "The loss to Chicago was more difficult than anything we have been through. This year (2009-10) there was something special about the team and we didn't take advantage of the opportunity. We really thought to a man that we could do it."

Head coach Barry Trotz echoed similar feelings, "We have gone to the playoffs five times and it may seem like the same result but this was different. We will get to the next level. It could have happened this year. We had no one to blame but ourselves."

In training camp last September, players and coaches alike pointed to that game five in Chicago as the motivation to not make an early exit again in 2011. Everyone had moved past losing the series but the feeling was one that they wanted to remember.

Jerred Smithson voiced the last lament of the prior season on the first day of camp. "We thought we had what it took to go deep and it was a major disappointment." The team was ready to move forward.

The 2010-11 season would be different in many ways.

Barry Trotz saw the difference in last year's team on opening night. "To me, a defining moment, just in our evolution as a team was in game one. We didn't flinch when Pekka Rinne went down and we made no excuses and then we went 5-0-3 to start the season. (Laughs) Then we lost five in a row and came back to reality."

The Predators fought through the adversity of losing player after player to injuries during the regular season and were within a tie-breaker of having home ice advantage as they accumulated 99 points in the tough Western Conference and managed to finish in fifth place.

"This team just got stronger and stronger and never flinched," explained Trotz. "As a coach, it was good to see. When some guys go out, others go 'I don't know how we are going to win now,' but that was never the case, or even uttered by the team or the coaching staff."

"It was just, 'This guy's got to fill in and we'll find a way.' That was the DNA of this team." That also defines “Predator Hockey.”

The Preds did move past the first round for the first time in franchise history, as they devastated the star-studded Anaheim Ducks in six games to move to the second round against Vancouver.

In game one against Vancouver, the team, as a whole failed to show up. They rallied in the second game to steal a win on the road and came home tied 1-1. Fans were convinced that surely with home ice advantage, they would win a pair and go back to the west coast with a chance to wrap up the series in game five.

Ryan Kesler had other ideas as he took over the series to have the Canucks take both games in Nashville. The Preds came alive in game five and won another tough road game. Their third home loss in a row sent Vancouver to the conference finals and sent the Preds home for the summer.

The end of the Predator season in 2011 was different than the prior year. There was no collapse or shocking finishes. They simply got beat by a highly skilled team with the hottest player in the playoffs to that point.

David Legwand saw little difference between the two seasons, “We lost in game six in both series and it sucks. You never want to lose the last game of the year.”

When pressed, he did admit to some progress, “We learned how to play in certain situations. The further you go the bigger the games get and that’s something that is good for us.”

Pekka Rinne saw similarities in the end result, “Obviously it is the same disappointment, the empty feeling. It’s like, that’s it for the season. You play a long season and work so hard and then it is done.”

“It’s a little different feeling than last year, Rinne continued. “Last year I thought losing in the first round we kind of did it to ourselves. We made some mistakes and it ended up costing us.”

“This year I thought we did everything we could. We played hard every single night and did our best and it wasn’t enough. Vancouver was just that much better. It’s still hard to accept but it’s way easier when you give everything you have.”

Shea Weber pointed out the missed opportunity of 2010, “Last year we saw that we could have done some damage. We had the Stanley Cup Champions where we wanted them and we knew we were good enough to win. We found out how to do that and this year we got past the first round and it will only get better from there.”

Weber continued, “Against Vancouver, it was a different feeling. Chicago is something we’ll never forget. It was the most devastating loss in franchise history. I think we learned a lot from that and found the way to win a round this year. We still need to learn from that and hopefully we learned from what we did wrong in the second round and do better than that next year.”

Barry Trotz really saw a long-term evolution in the Predators at the end of the year. "It's not the same. In some ways we wanted to validate that we were making strides and we were. It's not taking anything away from previous groups but it has been baby steps."

"This group got through the threshold. There were some teams that went into the payoffs that were great regular season teams but were way too light and didn't have the DNA that you need in the playoffs. This team had more of that DNA that you need and it started with the leadership group and then grabbing a guy like 'Fish'."

"If anyone had an idea of the injuries and how banged up some of the guys were and never uttered a word, it's pretty phenomenal. Some guys shouldn't have even been playing hockey but were competing at the highest level against the best in the world and not shying away from contact. It was incredible what some of the guys like Fisher and Spaling and others went through."

In summary, Rinne added a key point that was learned by the team in the series against the Canucks, “Just the fact that the differences are so small. Any team in the league can go all the way. The team just has to truly believe that, and stick together and believe in what you have in your locker room and with that, you have a chance.”

That belief in each other in the locker room is a key principal of “The Predator Way” and gives hope to the players and their fans of better things to come in the 2011-2012 season.

Buddy Oakes was a member of the Preds Bloggers Row in 2010-11 and oversees, one of the leading blogs dedicated to all things Predators hockey.

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1 z - ANA 82 54 20 8 266 209 116
2 y - COL 82 52 22 8 250 220 112
3 x - STL 82 52 23 7 248 191 111
4 x - SJS 82 51 22 9 249 200 111
5 x - CHI 82 46 21 15 267 220 107
6 x - LAK 82 46 28 8 206 174 100
7 x - MIN 82 43 27 12 207 206 98
8 x - DAL 82 40 31 11 235 228 91
9 PHX 82 37 30 15 216 231 89
10 NSH 82 38 32 12 216 242 88
11 WPG 82 37 35 10 227 237 84
12 VAN 82 36 35 11 196 223 83
13 CGY 82 35 40 7 209 241 77
14 EDM 82 29 44 9 203 270 67


S. Weber 79 23 33 -2 56
P. Hornqvist 76 22 31 1 53
C. Smith 79 24 28 16 52
M. Fisher 75 20 29 -4 49
R. Josi 72 13 27 -2 40
M. Cullen 77 10 29 4 39
C. Wilson 81 11 22 -1 33
N. Spaling 71 13 19 2 32
R. Ellis 80 6 21 9 27
G. Bourque 74 9 17 -5 26
C. Hutton 20 11 4 .910 2.62
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