Predators Prowl with Tom Callahan

Tuesday, 06.08.2010 / 4:10 PM / Features
By Tom Callahan  - Nashville Predators
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Predators Prowl with Tom Callahan
 
Greetings Predators Fans! I would like to welcome you all to what will be come a pretty regular blog here on NashvillePredators.com as I chronicle the comings and goings of your Predators team.

I’m sure from time to time not only will you get an entertaining story from the road, but a few select beauties plucked from my own personal hockey past, dating back to the 1999-00 season when I started in the Western Professional Hockey League. When you look back over your shoulder at five teams, four leagues, and a million miles of memories, there’s bound to be a few that stand out.

So with that, I’m looking forward to keeping you all in the loop during the season, and sharing the smiles along the way. Keep your browser pointed here all season long!

Hey fans – join me on Twitter at twitter.com/predsradio. News, notes, what’s new in Preds land – as soon as it happens!

Tom Callahan
Predators Radio Voice

Blog Entries
2008-09 Season Blog Entries
June - 10 | 12 | 16 | 20 
July - 23  |  August - 18 | 27
September - 5 | 8 | 15 | 16 | 21 | 29 | 30
October - 6 | 19  |  November - 16 | 20 | 22
December - 2  |  January - 6 | 19 | 27 
February - 5 | 7 | 22 | 24
March - 1 | 2 | 3 | 5 | 10 | 15 | 17 | 23 | 31 
April - 5 | 19 | 24
May - 11 | 13 | 19 | 27 |  June - 3 | 8


June 8

Well, this series is certainly going the way of the home team, n’est pas? Chicago looked very good on home ice once again chasing Michael Leighton from the Flyers cage, and held on at the end. It’s not that Philly doesn’t have the firepower to hang with Chicago in a given game, I just don’t think they can expect results if they don’t take better care of their own end over the course of a series.

That said I’m really expecting the Flyers to come out hard on home ice in Game Six. They’ve done a great job of using the home ice advantage and provided they do get good goaltending from Leighton (who has been confirmed as the starter) they can even this series. But once again they will have to dig out of a hole to remain a team of destiny, and at this point, they have to prove they have enough in the tank to win twice.

On Chicago’s end, the best thing they can do is continue to pressure and out-hustle the Flyers. Philly will try to wear them down and grind things out, while the Hawks need to keep the engine revving all game long. At some point you would think an explosion is due from Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, but I don’t think we’re going to see it at this point. The Flyers have done a great job of containing them for the most part and refusing to let them burn the team for big games. It’s just that Chicago’s talent is so abundant that you can’t deny everyone all the time. That’s where we loop back to goaltending being a big difference maker.

Finally, the Flyers will need a few role players to have career games over the next two contests if they’re going to pull it out. Quite simply put, it’s going to take everyone on the Flyers giving a better collective effort than the Blackhawks. A tall order for sure, but one they are capable of handling. I think we’re looking at seven games, but Chicago should be skating off with Lord Stanley’s Cup this spring.



June 3

Well, the Flyers won a game. I (along with all of you, I presume) was watching with baited breath to see if Chicago was going to just run away with this one and sweep Philly. The Flyers had something to prove and I think showed by rebounding to score about a minute after the Blackhawks’ third goal of the game that they can indeed make this a series.

Now, that said, I don’t think the Flyers are going to be going home with the Cup, but stranger things have happened. As I always say, there’s a reason you have to play all the games, and all 60 (or more) minutes. Goals come at odd times, games are won and lost on split-second decisions, and there’s always the next goat/hero situation on the horizon.

I will say that Antti Niemi finally played the game I was looking for to prove he’s doing well in Game Two. Yes, it seems like a long time before I was convinced. I’m still not sure I am, just like the rest of the hockey world will continue to pile on Michael Leighton if the Flyers don’t win. But maybe, just maybe, the kid has it in him to shepherd the team past the dangerous flurries. Look at the third period in Game Three – Philly was all over, and the only goal Niemi let in was a redirect to an open man off his own defenseman’s skate. No, can’t fault him there. But a good break for the Flyers for sure.

Game Four should bring a lot of energy and excitement once again, and hockey fans who might not have a horse in the race are still enjoying the series. At some point I wonder if we’ll see Jonathan Toews really get it going, or if he’s really banged up as some are alluding to on the national broadcasts. He certainly hasn’t made his mark the way I’ve seen him do in the past, and my thoughts are also inclined towards him being slowed by injury. It will only highlight the Hawks superior depth if they are able to pick up play around their captain, who has certainly been central to the team’s success.

Also, I’m wondering if Mike Richards is going to just explode at any point or if Chicago is simply going to keep him in check all series long. Watching Wednesday I got the feeling he was close, but not quite getting over the hump of exploding into the light. Perhaps Friday night is the time and place for him to get that done.

I did say that Philly would win one at home, and they have. I’m not sure they can do it again, and I’m still looking at a Chicago win tomorrow. Barring a heroic effort from someone in orange, it could still go five games. But c’mon guys… can we get six or seven? Please? I’m not ready for summer yet…



May 27

I feel the need to share this with someone: I’m so over playoff analyses. I simply cannot stomach reading another “here’s where Chicago and Philly were in the pre-season” or “here’s how the matchup breaks down” article. I know that there are fans out there who are even more ravenous than I as far as gobbling information, and during the regular season I read MANY articles and notes. But seriously… can we just drop the puck already?

This series should be entertaining because it’s for the Stanley Cup! We know the teams have fought hard to get here, we know about Philly’s goaltending and the emergence (again) of Dustin Byfuglien for Chicago. Etc. You know it, too.

What I want to see – and why I want to watch the Final – is the emergence of the unsung hero. Or will there even be one? Who is the player who will rise above and make the difference? At this point, I think that the Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) is completely up for grabs. For Chicago, my list could include Byfuglien, Toews, Kane, Sharp, and (grudgingly) Niemi, but I’m STILL NOT CONVINCED he’s as good as everyone is making him. He’s having a J-S Giguere playoff like the year the Ducks won, just finding ways to block pucks. Yes, there’s a certain magic and an art to that, because 28 other goaltenders aren’t doing it anymore. I appreciate that. But next year, Cup or not, if he goes south I’m not surprised.

For Philly, I’ll toss out the goalies (can you just give it to all ten of them?), Briere, Richards, and even Giroux who is third on the team in points and sporting a team-leading +10 rating. I also think Chris Pronger was a good move for the Flyers, as he seems to have added just that slight bit of “we can do it” attitude they were missing. And 10 assists helps too.

What I’d like to see: a really physical, bruising series. I think it would help Philly extend things. I’m so afraid to pick against either one of these clubs because I’ve been doing it all playoffs long and they’ve burned me the whole time (although I did declare Montreal dead before the last round and looked pretty spot-on there). Doubly for Nashville fans, we’re still looking at that first round exit and going “how did those guys get there?”

What am I thinking? Chicago wins, probably five or six games. The only thing that could really kill Chicago now is goaltending. The team up front is simply too solid, the defense is firing on all cylinders. Philly would have to dent the confidence of Niemi and go from there. Either way, I’m going to be watching!



May 19

Color me surprised – I had no idea that we’d have both Philly and Chicago up by two at this point of the series.

I really did expect Montreal to pack a bit more into its game than we’ve seen in the first couple of tilts. Granted, the Flyers have a very good presence on home ice and I expect the Habs to do something to climb back into the series, but I can’t believe how poorly Montreal has handled the Philly attack. They have seemingly no answer to the net presence and heavy movement the Flyers bring into the offensive zone. Plus, it looks like someone picked apart Jaroslav Halak’s tape, and said to shoot high on him. So far, so good, Flyers up 2-0 heading back to Montreal for Game Three. I’d like to see the Canadiens do something on home ice, but I’m currently not convinced they have anything left in the tank.

Chicago has played well and is getting a great performance out of Dustin Byfuglien. He’s had a habit of showing up in big games and scoring some big goals, and this post-season is no exception. His game has been rising and those who thought he may have been a bit of a let down in the regular season are certainly seeing the player who excelled at the same time last year. Also, Chicago’s team defense has performed well in front of Antti Niemi, keeping San Jose from really being able to fluster the young goaltender. Remember, the Hawks had the best team goals against average during the regular season and they’re showing it now.

For the Sharks, they definitely need to find a way to get past that defensive blockade, and get to rebounds as well. This time of year the gritty goals get it done, not the tic-tac-toe stuff. Although you could say the same of the regular season, I think it applies doubly in the post-season. Also, they have to get that one save from Evgeny Nabokov that they currently aren’t seeing. He’s got to be able to make a difference in this series, not give up 40-foot wrist shot goals. Those are going to be the difference in winning and losing.

So who knows – right now it looks like you could make an early call on both series. But as the Flyers have already proven this year, you simply can’t count anyone out. Keep your eyes peeled, this promises to be a pretty interesting stretch of hockey!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.






May 13

Well, how about those Montreal Canadiens?

Just when you thought they were dead in the water – five times – they pull it out. Yes, the Habs have now staved off elimination five times in two rounds en route to the Eastern Conference Final. They will meet the winner of Philly/Boston’s Game Seven clash.

What is it about this team that just seems to click? For starters, they’ve truly bought into a team concept. I know it’s a cliché, but they play as a five-man unit. Up the ice, down the ice, they come at you as a wall and defend you as a wall. Patience is key to the Canadiens’ success, scoring opportunistic goals and just leaning on you when they can, driving a truck through an opening meant for a bike.

On the other hand, they block a lot of shots. They work hard in the defensive zone. They simply clear the puck out when there’s no other play and go for a line change. And on the occasions when the defense hasn’t gotten the job done, Jaroslav Halak has. He’s turned in a great goaltending performance that needs to be seen.

Honestly, Hal Gill and Josh Georges are having career playoff years. Halak might be too. Mike Cammalleri looks very good right now, as does Brian Gionta, who had five goals and eight points in the series. But let’s face it – isn’t this how Cinderella stories are written? Someone comes out of nowhere to help it all come together, and when you have may players chipping in, championships can be won. Are the Canadiens that team, and is the time now?

By the way, where did numbers 87 and 71 go for the Pens in this series? Two total goals wasn’t going to get it done for Pittsburgh, and even Marc-Andre Fleury had no magic to help them along. It takes a village and in this case, most of them were on holiday (especially last night).

It is now time to take the Habs seriously. They’ve shown they can handle the best offenses in the East and come out ahead. They’ve also shown they can stare down the end of their year and come back with wins. Boston or Philly won’t scare these guys, and neither will Chicago and San Jose. Crazy as it may seem, this scrappy little eighth seed has played their way to where I can now see them hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup this spring because as much trouble as the Sharks or Blackhawks could give them, they could also handle it and would in no way be phased. These guys are for real, and I won’t be surprised by any continued success.



May 11

Congratulations are due to David Poile and Barry Trotz for their respective nominations in the General Manager and Coach of the Year categories. Having had a chance to talk to Barry about his nomination, he said that when he goes to sit at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas this year, he feels like it will be a chance for him to represent more than just his accomplishments, but those of David Poile (before his nomination), the scouts, the hockey staff, and indeed the entire Predators organization.

The nomination for David that followed only reinforced the point that Trotz had made just a few days before: that as a whole, our organization must be doing something right in the hockey ops areas. Nashville has a reputation for signing good players at bargain salaries and raising home-grown prospects to NHL maturity better than just about any other organization (especially on anything less than a cap-maxing budget).

To see that our coach and general manager have gotten league-wide nods means the rest of the NHL is taking note. Nashville is raising players, developing them, and filling in the openings with available players who seem to step up and contribute well during the season. It’s not a perfect or idyllic system, because if every team could spend to the cap we’d be talking about a different way of going about it. The Preds have been called the NHL’s preeminent “moneyball” team by more than a few hockey observers in recent times. (For those who might not know, check out info on the book “Moneyball” that talked about the Oakland A’s and how they budgeted and evaluated players based around a numeric system. I’m not saying the Preds have some mysterious calculus behind its winning formula, just a similarity in the budgetary constraints.)

Especially for the money laid out, the Predators get a good return on investments like Francis Bouillon, Patric Hornqvist, Pekka Rinne, and Marcel Goc. Notice that we’re talking a few homegrown products, and a few who were picked up via free agency. It’s a mix that powers this Predators team, one that not only evaluates based on pure numbers but also on personality, player type, and skill set. It’s not an easy formula to come up with – and certainly one that will be continually evolving. But if the recent award nominations are any indication, Nashville is enjoying success because it is willing to stick to its guns and keep the ship pointed in the right direction… even if popular wisdom would dictate otherwise.

Congratulations to both Barry Trotz and David Poile on their nominations and indeed to the organization as a whole. Those two names would not be in the mix if it weren’t for a large support staff traveling the globe in search of and in the name of developing hockey talent. They’ve earned it.



April 24 -- Playoffs Version

Put aside for a moment the “I hate the Red Wings/Sharks/Kings/Canucks/Avs/Coyotes” thoughts, and have an objective look at the post-season. Even just the Western Conference if you’re short on time.

What we have developing here is that every single series will go at least six games. Every single series will require three home games in each building, three chances for teams to thrill the hometown faithful, and a few chances beyond that to reach Game Seven, considered the ultimate excitement in our sport (with kudos if it goes to OT).

And along the way, while you’re putting aside your emotions, look at the playoff performances developing! The Kings power play stole the show in the Vancouver series for a few games, but now the Canucks recovered to absolutely slam the Kings in Game Five 7-2. That game showed how powerful the Canucks offense can be when it gets going and what stars they have in the Sedin twins and others. Detroit worked as hard as they possibly could and came out of Phoenix with a tremendous win, getting goals from guys who should score (Zetterberg and Datsyuk) plus great goaltending from Jimmy Howard. And take nothing away from Ilya Bryzgalov, he was a big reason the desert dogs are still around.

Today, in front of a national audience, the Preds and the Blackhawks take the ice at 2 pm CST in a clash that really should be packed with emotion and zip. I have no numbers to back this up, but it seems to me that the Predators always play with more energy, more pep, and more excitement in the afternoon. I just think that games in the middle of the day, whether here or at Wrigley, just seem to have more juice. So I am definitely keen to see today’s action from the United Center!

If you have time, check out the other playoff series in the East, too. Washington couldn’t put away the scrappy Canadiens, who have gone back to Jaroslav Halak in net and the 24-year-old did not disappoint. Buffalo vs. Boston is a hockey-themed war, a battle on the ice that’s been exceedingly entertaining. And I’m still in shock over Brian Boucher leading the Flyers past the Devils, but what a fantastic story.

Yes hockey fans, for love of the game, it’s good for the soul to watch. Look at what grown men will do, and whom they will put through the boards, just for a chance to raise the Stanley Cup. You’re missing out if you’re not watching.



April 19 -- Playoffs Version

Yeah, I’m as disappointed as anyone. I’ll admit it – I was greedy. I wanted both games in Chicago! But to come home with a split and the clear (and more level) thinking that comes with a days removal from the situation, the Predators are in a good spot coming home.

If nothing else, winning the three home games will win Nashville the series over Chicago. There’s positive point number one for you. The Predators did fail to score and had a tough time generating a lot of offensive chances, but they were also missing Patric Hornqvist, whom Barry Trotz has said looks “very good” for Game Three. That will be something the Preds will welcome back with open arms… they definitely were missing his ability to get under the skin of anyone around the Blackhawks net and his jam. It’s an intangible thing, but Hornqvist plays a tough game – maybe not in the sense of hard checks and running people over, but in the sense of what he does is difficult, thankless work that pays dividends.

In Game Three the Predators will definitely need to see names like Arnott, Erat, and even Weber producing more offensive chances. Mind you, the Blackhawks aren’t dumb and know that those guys can do damage and they pay them plenty of mind. Shea Weber has been taken away (especially on the power play) by the Blackhawks and so Ryan Suter has had to increase his presence as well. Every inch of ice has to be earned in the post-season, and Nashville knows that. So I’m looking for an even better effort here in front of the home fans, a hostile and favorable Music City throng!

Plus, I want to make a mention of how well Pekka Rinne has played. He’s played so well that there’s no discussion of his play. Trust me, it’s a good thing. He’s done nothing but keep us in both games and make save after save. He hasn’t had to go nuts like Craig Anderson, and he hasn’t faced the scrutiny of Antti Niemi (who did play solid in Game Two, but I’m not sure he’s the guy for a deep run). Peks has just gone out, done his thing, and been solid. The only person I worry less about on game nights is my color guy, Stu Grimson. I know he’s going to bring it each night, too.

So, Game Three is tomorrow, and there are still seats out there. We’d love to sell the game out and get this place rocking! Pass the word, make sure people know they can still get to the game!

See you at Game Three!



April 5

Okay, the picture is getting a bit clearer now for the NHL playoffs, and to update you I’m going to throw out some pretty simple numbers. Listed by team, here are points (and total possible points) alongside wins (and total possible wins-the first playoff tiebreak).

x-4)Phoenix - 102 (108) |  48 (51)
x-5)Nashville - 98 (102) | 46 (48)
x-6)Detroit - 96 (102) | 41 (44)
x-7)Los Angeles - 95 (103) | 44 (48)
8)Colorado - 91 (99) | 42 (46)
9)Calgary - 89 (95) | 40 (43)
x denotes teams that have already clinched a playoff spot

Calgary is the most logical team still with playoff aspirations not in the post-season but the hopes are fading fast (Anaheim and St. Louis aren't fully eliminated yet, but they both need A LOT of help). While not mathematically impossible for them to make it, I nailed the Flames’ coffin shut last week in my own mind. Insert your own jokes there.

What is worth noting is that Nashville could still finish 4th if a few things go right – namely we win out and Phoenix loses out. We would tie in total wins at 48, tie the season series at 2-1-1. The next tie breaker after wins and season series is goal differential; currently Phoenix leads +20 to +2, so we have some work to do there. If those three components aren’t met, fifth place is the limit. Ah well, it’s mathematically possible, right?

Detroit cannot beat Nashville in the first tie breaker of total wins, so they actually need to win one more point than we do down the stretch to get to fifth. LA can win their way to fifth with an extra point down the stretch, but considering they have four games this week it’s going to be tough!

Finally, as I mentioned last week, Colorado is just going to stay ahead of the Flames, who are simply going to run out of time.

Keep it tuned here and watch some very intense hockey this week!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


March 31

So I’ve taken it upon myself as your intrepid radio voice to go ahead and break down what lies ahead of us Predators fans for the remaining two weeks of the NHL’s regular season.

At first glance, the easiest number to put a finger on is that LA, Detroit, and Colorado all have games in hand over the Predators. Keep that in mind as we navigate towards the post-season because it will play in to the following explanations.

Nashville as of Friday morning sits in fifth in the West with 94 points. Four games remain for Nashville and the total possible points (TPP) left for the Preds is 102. Sixth is Detroit at 93 points and 105 TPP, seventh is LA at 92 points and 104 TPP, and eighth is Colorado with 89 points and 103 TPP.

Aside: For the record, I’m concentrating on these four teams because I feel these four will be there in the end, and to keep it as uncomplicated as possible. I know that’s not really easy but I’m going to try. For the record, Calgary is ninth with 85 points, six games left and a TPP of 97 points.

What I’ve decided to do on top of all that is have a look at the schedules of the remaining teams to see who has the easier road ahead, and who may have the tougher look.

At first glance you might think Detroit has the easy route. They have Columbus three times among its remaining six games, although they do play Nashville this Saturday at noon. But hold the phone – the Blue Jackets are starting to wake up, having won three of the last four, and that “loss” was in overtime so they still got a point. Two of those wins were over the stumbling but still powerful Blackhawks and a comeback win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. Yes, these Blue Jackets could actually surprise some people and give the Wings a run for their money, especially after Edmonton erased a 4-0 lead over the Wings last night to tie the game (but lost on a last-minute deflection 5-4). They’ve got to run out of gas at some point, right? RIGHT?

LA needed the win they got in Nashville last night to counter some recent slip ups, including the game against Minnesota where they had the Wild down five-on-three in the third Monday night and couldn’t score before dropping a 3-2 decision. For the rest of the way, LA will play at home against Vancouver and Anaheim before heading to the Honda Center in a rematch with the Ducks. They finish out the year at home with Phoenix and Edmonton before going to Denver on Sunday to face the Avalanche. I was going to circle this as the toughest remaining schedule, as Vancouver, Colorado, and Phoenix are all playoff teams. But the Ducks, who usually play the Kings tough, may not have primary netminder Jonas Hiller going due to injury. Hmmm… suddenly this might be a little easier on them.

Finally, there’s Colorado, which is at Anaheim tonight and now has what I consider the toughest road to the playoffs: seven total games left (including tonight) – home to Anaheim, home to Calgary Friday (oh, the Flames need that one!), home to San Jose on Sunday. Then out on the road Tuesday at Vancouver, Wednesday at Edmonton, then back home Friday night to host the Blackhawks and Sunday ending the season against LA. They have the most games left, seem to have the least gas in the tank, and play the toughest playoff opponents. And on top if it all, dangle just four points in front of the Flames. While I’m not ready to give Calgary a playoff berth, they do merit watching if only to see what happens IF the Avalanche collapse. That possibility I’m not going to dismiss just yet. The Avs are young and haven’t proven anything yet.

To wrap it all up, just know that Nashville needs a total of three points between Calgary losing and us winning -- and a total of one point between St. Louis losing and us winning -- to secure a post-season berth. Yes, we need one more win for 45 on the season, which would enable the Preds to tie the Flames because Nashville has secured the first tiebreaker – total wins. So look for a clinching effort at some point this week! (Maybe even Thursday night if things go well.)

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice!



March 23

Okay, Preds fans. We've been here before. It's March, the team is moving toward the playoffs and appears to be in good shape. They're winning more often than not. And then – WHAM! A couple of players go down with injuries. Yes, Jason Arnott left the ice slowly against Columbus on Saturday, and Joel Ward didn't come back into the game Sunday at St. Louis. Injuries happen and are part of the game, but what matters here is that Nashville won both Saturday and Sunday, doing a great deal to separate themselves from the lower part of the playoff pack and move right into the thick of things.

In fact, as of this writing the Predators are within eight points of the Chicago Blackhawks for the division title! Incredible you say? Not so much. What has happened is that the Predators are a fully-functioning TEAM, a unit that works together and attacks in waves to undermine the opposition. There's not really one line you can focus on for Nashville, because we've seen them all register points during this winning stretch. Colin Wilson, Dustin Boyd, Patric Hornqvist – names that weren't on anyone's radar to start the season have established themselves as key parts of the Predators patchwork quilt of success down the stretch. Scoring goals has found a way to work itself out, and there's not much more you can say about the goaltending right now, with Pekka Rinne certainly meriting NHL Player of the Month consideration after finding his way to the Three Stars of the Week list two weeks in a row.

What I'm saying is take away your negative thoughts, your doubts and your worries. Things will happen, the team will lose another game at some point (maybe), and when it happens, don't break your ankle. Instead, get a better grip on the bandwagon and hold on. Get behind this team! They need you, and your very vocal support, all the way through to the final whistle. You can make a difference by being there, being loud and proud, and most important of all... believing.



March 17

AND THE WINNERS ARE…

I want to thank everyone who entered first and foremost. The entries we received were great and I know there’s a lot of fanatical passion about this franchise. To that I am extremely appreciative towards all of you.

That said, we did have to narrow things down… but not as much as you’d think! Because we received so many quality entries, we DOUBLED the winners to six! So three winners on Thursday, and three for Saturday’s game because I was just so impressed with what we got back.

All winners will have a chance to stop by the pre-game show and take a picture with me, which we’ll post on the web site. Make sure you sport your team colors. So without further ado, here is your list of winners. (Winners, you will be receiving an email/phone call from me today depending on your preferred method of contact.)

For Thursday:
Stephen H. – Murphreesboro
Why are you the perfect person to bring a newbie to Smashville?: I've been a hockey fan since watching the 1980 US hockey Miracle on Ice and had been a fan of the STL Blues whilst a young lad (in STL and later moved to Middle Tennessee to go to school at MTSU in '92) prior to Nashville getting a team. With that being said, I've seen and appreciated games with a high skill set as well as those with a grinder mentality for teams that operate on a budget and can expound in layman's terms the virtues of both w/out seeming too complicated. I also have the ability to just shut up and let them watch and come up with questions on their own; but chime in when they seem puzzled. I've been doing this to initiate my boss and his boss has expressed an interest in going; but has difficulty in deciding because the game doesn't translate necessarily well to television for the uninitiated. For this game I would bring my boss' boss.
Rachel R. – Nashville
Why are you the perfect person to bring a newbie to Smashville?: Before the start of each new season, I make it a goal of mine to recruit as many new hockey fans as possible before the end of the year. Now, most people I come in contact with already know that I enjoy the game because I am so willing to talk about it. However, it's one thing to talk to me about it and another to experience it for themselves. Taking a newbie to a game is like a parent experiencing the world through the eyes of their child. For me, going to a game is nothing new but when I can share what I love with someone else for the first time, even I fall in love with hockey all over again. My love of the game has a way of being quite infectious. And honestly, there is nothing better than helping someone new discover the best sport Nashville has to offer.
Joe V. – Clarksville
Why are you the perfect person to bring a newbie to Smashville?: I would like to take my son to the game Thursday because when I come to the games I yell for the Preds till I lose my voice. This would set an example for him to root for the Preds for years to come. I would love to have the tickets.

For Saturday:
Lori Y. – Clarksville
Why are you the perfect person to bring a newbie to Smashville?: I am the perfect person to bring a newbie to Smashville because I LOVE THE PREDS! LOL, no seriously... I would love to bring my friend Angie, she's never been to a game. Our husbands both recently deployed to Afghanistan (her husband for the 4th time in January, mine for the 3rd time 2 weeks ago) and we both need a girls' night out to relax and have some fun, and what better place to have fun in Nashville than at a Preds game??
Jason F. – Hendersonville
Why are you the perfect person to bring a newbie to Smashville?: I have fronted the band on stage many times between periods of Preds games, and over that period of time, have become an even bigger fan of the team and the sport as a whole. Now, my wife's maid of honor has moved to Nashville, and is eager to see her first ever NHL game. As a former Carolina Panters cheerleader and employee of NASCAR, she's a sports nut. Fanatic. She's the fired up fan every organization wishes they could duplicate about 17,999 times. I'm here to help start that process… That starts by introducing her to Smashville live and in person.
Lori D. – Grant, AL
Why are you the perfect person to bring a newbie to Smashville?: My husband knows nothing about hockey and I am a huge fan, hockey nights are usually girls night out. Our anniversary is St. Patricks Day and after 15 years together it’s getting harder to surprise him! I follow the Preds on TV but have never been to a Predators game! I’m a follower of our local team, SPHL's Huntsville Havoc. I would love the opportunity to let my husband experience the game I love. GO PREDS!!!


So there you have it, after much conjecture in the office and some serious back-and-forth, we have selected our winners. I want to thank everyone who entered the contest, and I would love nothing more than to run this again in the future. Who knows? Maybe we’ll have a chance to do it before the end of the season once more.

Again, thank you all - the submissions were fantastic!



As the playoffs approach we have quite a bit on our plates to keep us busy, and even on a Wednesday night there’s still a ton of playoff implications in just three games tonight. Here’s a look at what to watch tonight:

Pittsburgh vs. New Jersey – 6 pm CST
If you want to watch two very good Eastern teams clash, this is a good showcase event. Crosby vs. Kovalchuk, Malkin vs. Parise, Fleury vs. Brodeur. Seriously, there might be four or five hall of famers in that six-man listing when they’re all done. Certainly some of the top names in the game today. The Devils come into the game two points behind the Penguins for the division lead and second place in the Eastern Conference. This one should have some sizzle!

Calgary vs. Colorado – 8 pm CST
The Flames dropped a chance to leapfrog Detroit into eighth in the conference on Monday, and now want to make up some ground against an Avalanche team that continues to surprise. The Flames are getting improved goaltending from Mikka Kiprusoff, but will it be enough? Scoring is still hard to come by for the Flames. Colorado’s young players continue to play well, and did anyone see the emergence of Peter Mueller and Chris Stewart coming? Mueller has collected a point in all seven games since the trade from Phoenix and Stewart’s surprising 27 goals leads the team in that department. If only Craig Anderson can hold up they’ll be okay.

Chicago vs. Anaheim – 9 pm CST
Chicago has been struggling with its netminding lately, trying to figure out if Cristobal Huet is going to be the guy or if it’s time to take a chance on Antti Niemi. Neither one has really picked up the ball and run with it lately, and now in hindsight many question Chicago not going out and getting a goaltender at the deadline. As long as the team can score, they’ll be okay. But missing Brian Campbell for the next several weeks after getting put into the boards by Alexander Ovechkin will blunt the attack some, and Marian Hossa (upper body) and Kim Johnsson (undisclosed) were held out of the last game and may not be ready for tonight. Anaheim is in trouble and falling out of the playoff race very quickly. Despite snapping a five-game losing streak against the Sharks last time out, the fat lady is warbling in Anaheim. Too much has to go right for the Ducks and too much wrong with the rest of the west for them to make the playoffs. It doesn’t mean they can’t play the spoiler.



March 15

Hey, let’s run a little contest! I’m going to give away three pairs of tickets to this Thursday’s game, but the catch is this: the person coming with you has to be a hockey newbie. First game is preferable! I figure you, the educated hockey fan, the fanatic, would be a perfect person to initiate the novice into the Preds family. So follow the link below and sharpen those keyboards! (or something…)

click here to enter contest



March 10

Barry Trotz joined a rare club last night in Atlanta, notching his 400th win with one club as an NHL head coach. In doing so he is now just the sixth person in league history to accomplish the feat.

The 400 Club
Al Arbour (NY Islanders) - 739
Lindy Ruff (Buffalo) - 473*
Glen Sather (Edmonton) - 464
Dick Irvin (Montreal) - 431
Scotty Bowman (Montreal) - 419
Scotty Bowman (Detroit) - 410
Barry Trotz (Nashville) - 400*
* denotes coaches still with team

A look at Trotz's milestone wins
1 - Oct. 13, 1998 (3-2 vs. Carolina)
100 - Dec. 6, 2001 (4-2 vs. Ottawa)
200 - Dec. 3, 2005 (4-3 SO vs. Philadelphia)
300 - Dec. 27, 2007 (4-3 vs. Columbus)
400 - Mar. 9, 2010 (2-1 at Atlanta)

Much like the man himself, the feat was not celebrated or even touted and passed with classic understatement. And if you know anything about Barry Trotz, it’s that he is a humble person who puts team and organization far ahead of personal accomplishment. Since he’s not going to toot his own horn, I’ll do it for him.

I know Predators fans know the answer to this question because it keeps coming up: name the only NHL head coach who has a longer current tenure than Trotz. The answer is Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, who is just one season ahead of our own bench boss. They’ve been around for the past 12 years or so, and have watched every other team in the league turn over the head post at least once. In fact, 107 different men have held the title of NHL head coach since Trotz was appointed to the helm prior to Nashville’s inaugural season.

Not only does he stress team concepts on the ice, Trotz is also very involved off the ice with various Nashville-area charities and does a wonderful job representing the organization. I’m very proud to work for this club in no small part due to the effort he puts forth in making an impact in as many lives as possible. Recently he told me in an interview he felt that since he was one of the “fortunate” ones who had done well in life, it was his responsibility to help others in whatever way possible. There’s no pretense in that statement, it’s simply who he is.

So Predators fans, and hockey fans, take note. We have a very special person for a head coach – not only by his winning ways and exemplary deeds on the bench, but also off it as well. Congratulations to Coach Trotz!


March 5

Boston’s Marc Savard last night became the most recent victim of a blow to the head, knocked out of the game by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke.

Now, I had mentioned in a blog during the Olympics that I would love to see the adoption of the international rule that immediately doles out a penalty for any hit to the head, no matter how minor in nature. The hope is that you teach players to keep things down like sticks and elbows. I’m not saying it will eliminate everything, as automatic high sticking calls haven’t gotten rid of the act itself. Heck, sometimes the high sticks that are inadvertent don’t get called anyway.

But I’ve finally had enough. I’ve had enough of watching players get hit, hurt, and knocked out. I’m tired of seeing someone’s son, brother, father, uncle hurt to the point where in years to come he won’t be able to lift up the kids to play with them because of headaches or dizziness. I’m tired of seeing medical personnel on the ice trying to tend to a player who has taken an elbow to the head, a shoulder, or has been recklessly driven into the end boards from behind. We’re not talking doling out a punishing hit or sending a message, we’re talking about destroying the life of an otherwise healthy athlete.

I don’t think fines matter to guys making as much money as they do. Not unless they begin to get into the somewhat absurd level. I also don’t think five or even ten games is enough of a suspension to be a deterrent anymore, either. I think players have to be held accountable for their actions on a much higher level, and to me that means the player who levels a measured blow to the head is suspended (without pay) until the hurt player returns. No questions asked. You put a guy out, that’s how long you’re sitting. If his career is over (and I would never wish that on anyone) yours should be too. Plain and simple.

Now, this would never get past the players association or the league. Let’s face it, the association would decry the notion as ludicrous and they are there to protect the players. That said, if you’re there to protect the players, aren’t you a bit concerned when your ranks thin by one or two or three at a time due to questionable hits? Are the players simply viewed as commodities that can be replaced? What are we waiting for, an unconscious Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin? Or are we waiting for someone to actually die on the ice?

If you want to radically alter player behavior on the ice, then you have to levy punishment with a heavy gavel. Otherwise I fear the message simply won’t get through. And worse yet, we’ll be reacting to a tragic situation rather than preventing the problem in the first place.

What would you do? Share your thoughts here.


March 3

The just-passed trade deadline is being panned by pundits as “boring” or having a “lack of big names” on the move.

Actually, I completely disagree. The point that seems to be missed is that Ilya Kovalchuk is a rare top sniper on the move in today’s game, and that the “big” trades are the one that solidify the contenders into bona fide winners.

The fact that so many teams traded moving parts today amounts to a very big trade deadline that saw teams shore up either for the remainder of this season or with an eye to the future. Nashville did one thing that might have surprised some people in keeping Dan Hamhuis, but the Preds did not feel whatever deals were there made up for where the defense would be without him on it. That’s a very big decision that can actually prove to be as beneficial as any trade for a scorer.

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Also, getting Dustin Boyd from the Flames for a fourth round pick almost seems like a steal even before he puts on a uniform. This is going to be the Jan Hlavac trade of 2009-10 for the Predators. No, Boyd isn’t going to suddenly bury 10 from now until year’s end, but he will give the Preds a versatile forward who plays with energy and determination, brings grit, can kill penalties, and will be able to plug himself into almost any situation when needed. Boyd’s 19 points is three short of his career high, and perhaps with roughly 20 games left this year he might eclipse that mark. At 23, he has a lot of upside.

Getting the 26-year-old Denis Grebeshkov from Edmonton for a second round draft pick looks very good even without the Russian Olympian’s goal and assist last night. Getting a defenseman who still has time to develop and learn and has the offensive instincts for the game will fit in well for the Predators. Our club bases its attack from the defensive zone on either a good first pass from the D or a quickly skated breakout rush, and Grebeshkov can do both. While you will see him make the occasional turnover from pressing offensively, that’s the double-edged sword of any offensive defenseman. Those points don’t come without a price.

So looking at what the Predators did at the deadline, they do lose Ryan Jones on waivers to Edmonton, and give up 2nd and 4th round picks to get a proven offensive d-man and two-way forward who can help our laboring PK unit. It’s going to be the little things that make teams evolve into winners down the stretch, and the Predators may have just added two of those little pieces that can mean so much.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice!



March 2
Denis Grebeshkov coming in for a second round draft pick marks what could be a busy 36 hours for the Nashville Predators, or it may be the high water mark. Either way, the Preds have definitely improved the team with the 26-year-old blueliner who is fresh off an Olympic tournament with Team Russia.

First of all, don’t let the plus-minus get to you – Grebeshkov (greh-behsh-KAHV) roamed the ice for a team that is -59 in goals for and ranks dead last in team goals against (3.39) and 29th out of 30 in goals-for (2.43). So I’m not too focused on his -16 rating. And let’s face it, the first game or two I expect him to find his footing and try to get comfortable with the team, so odds are he’s either going to play pretty conservative or try to make some big plays, either way you might want to rush to judge the new guy. Don’t do that.

What I do like is that he’s young, has tremendous upside (coming off a year where he set career highs in pretty much every category and finished with 32 assists and 39 points), and was second on the Oilers in TOI at 21:49. He was also able to experience the international play of the Olympics for two weeks and compete for Russia in several high-pressure games, invaluable experience for the playoffs.

There’s still going to be a bit of a learning curve in place for Grebeshkov, but I also think the Predators’ system allows defensemen to come in and play a bit easier than other places. Nashville will look for Grebeshkov to make a good first pass out of the zone, or perhaps headman the puck a bit. Gone are the days of a Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey-style rushing defenseman… perhaps Brian Leetch was the last of the dying breed… but in a game where speed moving the puck matters as much as moving your feet, look for the new guy to make a good impact.

***

After talking with Barry Trotz a bit in regards to the second round pick that goes to Edmonton, he explained a bit more about drafting and the philosophy behind it. In any given draft, you look at the top two or three players and know they can be something special most years. After that, Trotz said, you feel the pool evens out a bit for the next 50 or so players. So if the Predators have say eight or ten players they rate as being available between picks five and 50, if those players go before Nashville picks they may opt to trade backwards out of their first round pick (if it were low, say maybe in the 20s) to get a second round pick or two since the guys they want aren’t there anymore. Or if the player(s) they want are there, they make their selections. It can also be the case where a team feels comfortable if three of those guys are still there, they may trade backwards anyway to get two or three of the eight even if a few go. Gamble? Sure it is, but so is drafting any player. And that’s what homework is for!

On the other hand, I think it’s pretty obvious that if you are 100% sold on a player you don’t think will be there in later rounds, you would move up to get him earlier, which we’ve seen dozens of times over the years. But when you talk about a player who has some proven experience, it seems that a second round pick is the “going rate” if you will. While you can definitely mine some gems beyond the first round as we see year after year, to know you’re getting a proven commodity is important as well. So if you wondered about the value of a second round pick, I hope I’ve helped a bit there.



March 1

I sincerely hope that everyone who wanted to watch yesterday’s gold medal game between Canada and the United States had a chance to do so. I also hope that many accidental hockey folks tuned in to what was one of the most intense games in any sport I’ve ever seen.

Looking back on it, it almost seems like a shame someone had to take the silver medal as a consolation prize. Many teams played hard throughout the tournament, but at the end of the day the US and Canada overcame all opposition to make the final match. Take nothing away from teams like Switzerland, Slovakia, and Russia, all going home empty-handed but giving amazing efforts and scaring quite a few teams along the way.

Even though our US team took silver, I still feel very excited about the future of America on ice. Having the youngest men’s ice hockey team at the Olympics, it was obvious that the Americans carried energy and enthusiasm everywhere they went. A tenacious forecheck, high-tempo style, and physical play defined our style of play, and it was very exciting to watch. It was also great to see the younger players being handed bigger roles – and on top of that, how they excelled in those spots.

Ryan Miller showed the US will be solid in goal for quite some time, and Jon Quick’s experience as the third netminder will parlay itself into perhaps a backup and/or starting role some day. Zach Parise had an excellent tournament and showed great leadership potential. Several other players deserve mention for the way they played: Brian Rafalski, Jamie Langenbrunner, Dustin Brown, Ryan Kesler and so many more… but probably the biggest standout for the US was our very own Ryan Suter.

Suter ended up playing 31:31 (a game-high ice total) in the gold medal game and 11:38 in the third period alone! He was the go-to player in a one-goal game, meaning that not only is Suter respected for his defensive game, but his ability to generate offense as well. He might have been the best defenseman in the tournament, with all due respect to Rafalski and of course, Nashville’s Shea Weber. Weber also ate monster minutes for Team Canada and has assured himself a place among the media darlings north of the border come time for the NHL’s post-season awards. Even though we’re talking USA Hockey here, his performance and time on ice definitely merited a mention.

I definitely think the experience will contribute to Suter’s growth as a player, as it will for all of Nashville’s Olympians. The time on the national stage (and playing at such a consistently high level) will have a tremendous impact for all the players who were a part of it, and for players like Weber and Suter who were key cogs in the wheel, likely even more so. Wouldn’t it be something if the games propelled one or the other into Norris Trophy contention? We can only hope, and realize how fortunate we are in Nashville to watch them every single night.

Keep an eye on the Americans as they come back to the NHL – for a team that wasn’t very highly regarded entering the tournament, they definitely showed the hockey world that we belong on the stage in a big way.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



February 24

Yesterday was a pretty good day to be a hockey fan in general, with three Olympic grudge
Shhhhhh!

The Swedes are very quietly moseying along through this Olympic tournament, unmolested by the media and their opponents. Henrik Lundqvist has two donuts and 41 saves to show for it, and no one has noticed. Why?

Honestly, I’m not sure. The focus is completely on the USA as #1 seed, and the pending Canada/Russia quarterfinal match. Otherwise, Sweden is just quietly roaming the ice and destroying teams methodically. Part of the lack of noise has to be due to three scoreless games from Fopa – trust me, if this guy was scoring, Sweden would be front-page news. Really the biggest noise made by the Swedish team was the comeuppance around Patric Hornqvist getting elbowed in the head and knocked out against Finland. By the way, Patric is said to be okay and should play today.

So while all the focus is on today’s action for the North American teams, the Swedes continue to slide along quietly. Keep an eye out for these guys. I can’t remember the last time a defending goal medal team received so little hype.



February 22

Yesterday was a pretty good day to be a hockey fan in general, with three Olympic grudge matches taking place back to back (and causing yours truly to loose a bit of sleep). The Russians handed the Czech republic all they could handle, the USA really out-hustled Canada, and Sweden proved to be just too much for Finland.

Out of those games came a surprising result: Team USA is the first seed after the preliminary rounds! Probably not what was expected, but now the USA is going to be in the crosshairs for everyone they play. I’m not buying the “they snuck up on everyone” logic, but certainly they may have been underestimated. There’s no way Canada didn’t come out with intensity or a real sense of how important the game was just like the US did, but of course our northern cousins ended up on the short end of a 5-3 stick.

I do think the USA has what it takes to medal, and Ryan Miller will be key to that. I’m really going to enjoy the medal round of this tournament, especially the possibility of the Canada/Russia quarterfinal game. That will be intense!

So in watching the Olympics, here’s a few things I’d like to adopt from the international game:
  • No Touch Icing – Let’s face it, even if it saves 5-10 injuries a year from races and countless dangerous collisions, I’m for it. It makes you think more on breakouts and long passes by adding risk to reward. An idea for which the time has come.
  • Automatic Penalties for Hits to the Head – How do we not have this? Accidental or not, high sticking is called. It’s time to extent that to every part of the player, be it elbow, fist, or what have you. Two minutes minimum. Off you go, no questions asked.
  • Removal of the “Trapezoid” for goalies – Even Marty Brodeur showed against Team USA that handling the puck as a goalie is not always the best option. If you have a goaltender who can play it, they should be able to do so. They can also end up with turnovers caused by their own miscues. Adding this with no touch icing might minimize whatever impact you think it might have. Also, I’m up in the air about making goalies fair game outside of the crease/privileged area. Part of me says tee off, part of me says no, that’s opening a bad can of worms.
  • Mandatory Visors – Juniors, ECHL, AHL, all of these leagues have mandatory visors. Studies have shown that eye and significant facial injuries are cut down quite a bit by wearing them. And yes, I know sometimes a visor hurts more than it helps. But that’s the exception, not the rule. Please don’t give me the “it should be my choice” macho crap. Wear the visor. Protect yourself. And get a mouth guard while you’re at it.
Anyone else? What would you import, or what do you NOT want to see brought in? Give us your thoughts here. And keep your stick on the ice!



February 7

The trade deadline is fast approaching and with a freeze over the Olympic break, many teams are thinking a little ahead this year. The biggest domino has fallen, that being Ilya Kovalchuk to the Devils. Now I have a feeling that teams that were waiting on that deal are going to move on Plans B, C, and D.

Do I expect a lot of activity at the deadline this year? Perhaps. I think we’ll see a lot of guys change hands depending on cap issues and space. Some teams are dying to move salaries, some can take on cap hits. Keep in mind that the teams who can afford a high cap hit can for a reason: they’re on a budget already. It makes moving a player a bit tougher when your options for the deal don’t want to shell out the money to pay the player. Don’t be surprised if there are only one or two major names left on the go at this point, and many secondary scorers or defensemen changing hands.

I do think the Maple Leafs have just begun to retool under Brian Burke. Already making a splash by landing J-S Giguere and Dion Phaneuf, Burke is not afraid to shuffle the deck – multiple times if need be. He will get players into T.O. that want to be there and play the style of game he’s looking for. They’re not quite done yet, I don’t think.

Carolina is another interesting team. They have players who are rumored to be going anywhere, including Ray Whitney and Niclas Wallin among others. At this point, Carolina might be able to retool its blue line and stockpile some draft picks and prospects with an eye towards next year. The Edmonton Oilers are in the same boat, as obviously they are not finding success with the current lineup and discontent is growing in the market.

What about Nashville, you say? Well, the Predators do have a history of making a move if it looks like it will help. Peter Forsberg was imported at the deadline a few years ago, and even though the Sharks knocked the Preds out of the post-season, it showed that GM David Poile is willing to take a risk if he thinks the rewards balance it out. Nashville does have good organizational depth that can be useful in trade deals if the club gets active. But you can be sure of this: no deal will be made if it does not make sense. Any team could have had Kovalchuk, but at what price? Teams must always consider what comes for what goes, and change for its own sake is not really a good policy.

So let me put you behind the desk – who do you bring in? Don’t just throw names out there, work out a package deal, see if it makes sense for both sides. Look at it from the standpoint of both GM’s and see if you can make something work. The more you get into the variables, the more you understand the nature of a general manager’s job – especially in a salary cap world.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



February 5

It’s a topic Barry Trotz will address from time to time, that of why after a clean, hard body check, there’s a fight to be had. It baffles the Predators’ head coach, and to be honest, me too.

I’ve been following the game almost 30 years, and started paying attention in an era when players stood up for themselves. If a guy thought he was taken advantage of, for the most part he stood up for himself and challenged his aggressor. And get this… that was only if the hit was questionable!

Now, the moment any player takes a clean but powerful hit, there’s a reaction from teammates that includes going after the player who threw the check and challenging them to a fight. This makes absolutely no sense to me.

What we’re saying about the game is this: fighting is okay, body checks are not. The strategy and timing of throwing a good hit at the right time is trumped by throwing punches. Believe me, I love fights as much as the next guy. But if you asked me to ban either fighting or checking, fighting goes first. Nothing can change the momentum of a game or of a season like checks. Think of it: if you win a big fight, you can grab the momentum for your team. I understand that point. A big check can do the very same, and if you apply those hits repeatedly over time, you physically wear out your opponent, you spend no time in the box, and you put the crowd in/out of the game (depending on your home or away status). Seems like the better alternative!

So why do teammates feel compelled to jump in right away and avenge a hit? I’m not really sure when this came into vogue, but a lot of people point at Wayne Gretzky suddenly becoming “untouchable” when his star was brightest. Adding Marty McSorely to his line as a protector certainly cemented that image. But I enjoyed it more when star players answered their own bell, or at least took a number and got back to the offending player. Hey, if you throw a big hit, expect to be lined up later. That I’m okay with – more hitting in the game would be great!

It just seems to me we’re sending the message that you can’t hit anymore, and that “keeping your head up” isn’t as important as it used to be. One of the great things about this game was a respect factor that was in place between opponents, and even for the game itself. There’s speed and violent collisions, and players have to be accountable for that. Nowadays there are fewer scraps for running the goaltender than for legal body checks! That to me says there’s something wrong.

So what do you think? How do you fix this problem? Can you keep big hits in the game while alleviating the “must-fight” scenario? I’m interested to hear your thoughts!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice!



January 27

When Marcel Goc signed with the Nashville Predators in the summer, only a few hockey people even seemed to notice. A first-round pick for the San Jose Sharks, Goc never quite developed to the level of offensive production it seemed the Sharks wanted from him, and was deemed expendable. Well, Predators' GM David Poile saw in Goc a solid two-way forward who could be counted on in many key situations - including big faceoffs. With the loss of Radek Bonk and Vernon Fiddler, there was a gap in the middle for a key big draw player. Goc became that player.

Since turning pro, the German Olympic selection hadn't posted more than eight goals or 22 points in a season... until now. Already at 10 goals for the year and 18 points, Goc has set a career high in the former and will soon eclipse the latter. And how has he been so successful? Oddly enough, by not asking him to score!

See, what Nashville does so well with players who fly under the radar is find someone like Goc who has plenty of talent, skill, and desire, and place that player in a role in which he can succeed. By taking Marcel and telling him to play a solid two-way game, win draws, and worry about his own end first, it has freed the Calw, Germany native from the expectations of being a first round pick (whether it's 20 goals, 50 points, whatever). Instead he now concentrates on being an effective player, and before you know it pucks find the net! It's not that Goc doesn't have the talent. He obviously does. But it seems that being placed in a role in which he can excel has really made his game shine.

I don't think it's any surprise that during Martin Erat's resurgence he's seen time with Goc. When you know as a winger your center has that first player back and covers you defensively, you can take chances, create opportunities, and make plays. Erat is most effective in a creative role, and he is allowed more freedom with more help, if you will.

Now as he prepares to compete along with Alexander Sulzer on the world stage at the Olympics, Goc will likely be responsible for many of Germany's key draws and see time on both ends of the special teams coin. This experience will no doubt be of tremendous benefit for him down the stretch, and I'm excited to see how it will translate down the stretch for the Predators.

With his contract extension now firmly in hand, Goc can see the results of his hard work in concrete and measured appreciation. Not to mention the piece of mind that comes with being able to play your game, and have it appreciated.



January 19

First of all, Happy Birthday to Pete Weber. I think he’s turning 30 today. Again.

Last night’s game against the Leafs is an example of how things can turn around in the middle of a game, let alone a season, for any NHL team. Toronto came in needing to jump out hard on the Predators, who had done precisely that to opponents in the last several outings. A team that had only scored the first goal 14 of a possible 49 times, the Leafs grabbed a 3-0 lead just nine minutes into the game and looked like world beaters.

Then, they sat back and played like a team too confident in its three-goal lead. So the Predators took advantage and jumped right back into the fray to tie the game.

The excitement level was great in the building when Ryan Jones tipped home the tying goal, everyone was on their feet and fired up. Things looked lost for Toronto, and Nashville appeared sure to grab the lead. So as fate would have it, Phil Kessel ends up scoring with just under six minutes left in regulation to break the tie and Toronto hangs on for the win.

This could be the beginning of something good for the Leafs, who have languished as one of the NHL’s worst teams all season long. And Nashville knows it can’t play just 30 or 40 minutes, even at home where they’ve been one of the league’s best teams for several years, and come out with a win. Even against the Leafs. There are no nights off, no easy opponents. Every game is a struggle for two points.

I liked that the Predators didn’t quit, that they were able to look up and down the bench and find some answers. Jason Arnott and Jerred Smithson are back in the lineup, and Jordin Tootoo is due back against Phoenix Thursday. (Memo to anyone else whose first name starts with a “J”: stay healthy!) The younger players and call-ups provided some much-needed energy on the western road swing, but now the aforementioned veterans need to step back in and contribute. Arnott fired five shots on net and looked stronger every period. Smithson showed little if any discomfort when called upon to take draws – if anything his issues will be related to timing as he gets back into the swing of game speed.

Baby steps were taken in a hurry for those two during the game Monday, and here’s hoping it leads to even more good things on Thursday against Phoenix.

Of course, with all that said, it would have been nice to come out with the two points at home. Battling back showed tenacity, but falling behind 3-0 to start is no way to win games. Arnott talked about the need to figure out why the team has started so slowly at home the last few games, and do it quickly. The effort needs to be stronger in our building – the reputation of being a tough barn to play in really helps.

At the end of the day, however, this is still a team on pace for its third-best season ever points-wise. Just one win shy of 30, only the post-lockout powerhouses were better at this point of the year. Realize that this team has been getting wins when no one except perhaps the guys in the room gave them a chance, and that this team has rebounded from a 2-6 start to climb within striking distance of Chicago. So there are bound to be some bad games tucked in there. Everyone has them during a season. It’s too bad that Nashville couldn’t complete the comeback last night, but this is definitely a team that now believes in itself and feels they’re not out of any contest. That confidence will be worth points down the stretch of this season. Of all the things you could ask for, that belief in the team is worth the most.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



January 6

Since we’re roughly at the mid-point of the season, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at where we are and where we’ve been as a team.

First of all, it’s easy to start with the national predictions for this club, which had the Predators finishing out of the playoffs and near dead last. I think it’s safe to say those were a bit off the mark! Right now Barry Trotz is once again coaxing an amazing season from his team, and when they play hard and give a solid effort, most nights they’re going to win the game. Consider too, that the Preds have managed this while special teams has been ranked in the bottom five most of the season, and that the club doesn’t have any one scorer who has more than 27 points through 43 games.

That translates into a few things if you’re looking to break it down. The first is the five-on-five play of the team. Operating at what is currently a +2 margin (and a margin that was in double digits just a short time ago) Nashville has managed to keep its collective head above water. What keeps this number from being higher is that tough stretch in October that saw the Preds struggle to put things together early. Right now, the team is playing well against other clubs’ top lines and not only keeping them off the score sheet or limiting production, but also staying out of the penalty box. That has been a big part of why the Predators are successful. To me a lack of penalties against translates into moving your feet, hustling, and not giving up on the play. You tend to take hooking, holding, and penalties of that ilk when you stop skating and rely on other means of slowing your check down.

Another idea stemming from the above stats is the distribution of points across the board. Yes, we’d love to see a few names flirting with 75-80 points seasons or even better. The talent is definitely there. But for whatever reason, as one scorer gets hot another might tail off. The strange thing about it is that the Predators have seemed to cover the gaps by having different players step up and jump in to fill the void. Martin Erat’s recent tear is the most obvious example, but it helped cover a period when both Shea Weber and Jason Arnott were struggling to find answers offensively. Plus when you consider both Arnott and Dumont (and now Erat) are missing chunks of the season here and there, it becomes tougher to keep everyone firing at the same pace. Let’s face it, when you’re out two weeks, because of this year’s schedule you’re missing six or seven games instead of four or five as in previous seasons. That can be a substantial difference in terms of won-loss records when we reach April.

One other thing Nashville has done is collect 17 of 20 possible points past regulation. Those are major points at the end of the day in the standings, compared to a team like Dallas that has 11 OT/SO points (and therefore missing out on 11 extra points!) or Vancouver which has only gone past regulation four times this year (and has been accused of not being able to tie games late or win them outright). Conversely in the three “non-wins” past regulation, the Preds had to come from behind at some point in each game, never leading after one or two periods in all three cases. Earning points like these in games where you might ordinarily have gone without will be the difference down the stretch for the Predators, and they’ll need to remind themselves that keeping opponents from doing likewise is just as important!

Yes, we’ve seen some ups and downs from our squad, and we’ll se more. But at this point there’s no reason to think that this team is not good enough to make the playoffs. As Barry Trotz pointed out the other day, he thinks we still haven’t seen the best efforts out of many players yet, at least consistently. If Nashville can get the production ramped up, the defense to play consistently solid, and the goalies to take care of the routine with an occasional “did you see that” save thrown in, the opportunity exists to really make something of a post-season run.

But there’s a lot of hockey left to go before we get to that point.
***
I also wanted to say thanks to everyone who has jumped on board with rooting for Team USA at the World Junior Championships these past few weeks. Not only did our U-17 team take gold from Team Ontario, but the U-20 US National team beat Canada in a stirring overtime contest that pretty much had everyone on the edge of their seats from start to finish. The 6-5 win gave the US its first gold medal in the competition since 2004 and snap Canada’s string of five straight gold medals. This one is definitely worth watching the replay of if you didn’t see it live. Heck, even if you did, it’s worth watching again! Now let’s cheer on Team USA at the Olympics in Vancouver!




December 2

The boys are stretching in front of me here in the “State of Hockey” as it dawns on me that we’re already done with the Wild in Minnesota after tonight, lest we should meet in the post-season.

Interesting how the compacted NHL schedule has rushed us through some places already (thought I’m sure the Olympics didn’t have much to do with it, honestly) such as Dallas, Minnesota, and before long, Chicago, which we won’t play at all in the 2010 calendar portion of the year.

So with that as my little backdrop for today’s blog, a limited set of skaters and two goalies are out on the ice warming up for tonight’s game against the Wild, eager to put behind them a rough outing against Calgary two nights ago that ended what was actually a very good November.

At the beginning of the home stand, Willy Daunic and I pegged the Preds to be good to go at about 12 points. Well, we bagged 14 and jumped up into the Western Conference race with a rush. Coming off our October struggles, the reinvigorated play from the Predators was a welcome and warming sign. Yes, this club can work hard and compete with anyone. Yes, we do have a power play. And yes, once again this year you can count on some pretty good goaltending.

I can see where it might be tough to lose the overall lesson of November on the Calgary game. After all, we did come out flat and not put forth our best effort. But the team gelled more in November, and found ways to win games against tough opponents. They found success against varying styles like those of San Jose and New Jersey – can you get any farther apart? And most importantly, they’ve put behind them some early injuries to start cranking the output up offensively.

Now don’t take that to mean this team is suddenly going to be able to churn out an amazing offensive output. As Barry Trotz has said himself, the team isn’t known as an offensive juggernaut. Scoring by committee is still how things will get done. That said, with the defense playing well and the goaltending taking care of what the defense doesn’t, you will only need a few goals a night to produce results.

One more point to be left out there is the fact that the Flames played one whale of a hockey game. They started to put things together against Detroit in their previous game, and then really had it going on against Nashville. Take nothing away from the Flames, there’s a reason why they’re a part of the playoffs every year and are always in that “is this the year?” conversation.

So the team embarks on December tonight with a game against the Wild. It should be a very competitive game as both clubs have really turned it up since the last meeting of the two teams back on October 28, a 4-3 Predators win. I can’t wait to see what the Wild have evolved into under Todd Richards now that the style has sunk in a bit. Plus, it’s a chance to get back on the winning side of the ledger!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


November 22
There is now talk of the NHL mandating soft shoulder caps for player pads in 2010-11, hoping they will cut down on the current rash of injuries on hits that the sport is experiencing. I for one am happy to support anything that keeps our superstars on the ice longer and healthier, and know that the guys who are going to hit will continue to do so regardless of the caps on their shoulders.

I remember when I was going from junior high to high school is when there was suddenly an influx of shoulder pads that look alarmingly like football linebacker pads. They had full hard plastic shoulder caps, etc. and tons of padding. Of course, that made you feel invincible and the guys on our team began to try to hit more. I also think they hindered your movement quite a bit, but no one seemed to mind.

Nowadays the trend has been to go back towards the more mobile set of shoulder pads that have smaller caps, but some guys still have the hard shoulder caps in place. Heck, Marty McSorely used to sew just shoulder caps onto his pants suspenders (remember those?) and not wear anything else on his upper body except elbow pads! Each player has his own comfort level of what he’ll wear, but if soft caps can help reduce the immediate impact being imparted to vulnerable parts of the human body, I’m all for it.

Now, this doesn’t mean everything will be okay. Guys are still going to put their heads down, and there are still guys out there who will hit like a train and would hurt people with just their bare shoulders if that’s all they had to hit with. So when the new equipment does come in, the first time someone gets hurt we’re going to have screaming that we need to do more. Well, players also need to realize that when extending for a stretch pass they have to respect the defenseman who may be timing the closing gap between themselves, player, and puck. I don’t know that David Booth turns out any different with soft shoulder caps. He was just leading in a vulnerable way and got clocked.

Oh, one last thing. For the love of hockey, please cinch your chinstrap and wear your helmet so it will stay on your head!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



November 20
The game continues to change and evolve night in and night out. Somewhere, somehow, someone is innovating in the game of hockey. Roles are changing, equipment is changing, coverage is changing. I’m sure even fans are changing! Well, maybe not you guys, but other people…

Speaking of roles changing, there’s a good side-by-side coming up for Saturday’s game in that Jared Boll for Columbus and Jordin Tootoo for Nashville are both seeing a change in their responsibilities. Tootoo said during the game on Thursday that he’s more effective on the ice, pestering everyone else and getting under the skin of the opposing team. He’s definitely right.

Boll was told not to fight by Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock the other day against Edmonton, keeping his mitts on and resisting the urge to drop them with possible dance partners. Boll was instructed to stay on the ice and to “affect” an unnamed Oilers player. He did so, and therefore was able to bring a different sort of edge and advantage to the game for Columbus.

Tootoo can also be that same type of player, as he showed by annoying Patrik Elias and David Clarkson enough that he was challenged by Andrew Peters shortly thereafter, but refused the invitation. It was so obvious Jordin was under the skin of the Devils that they spent an entire shift chasing him around the ice at one point in the second period!

Jim MacKenzie, who was in the booth with me on Thursday and no stranger to the rough stuff in his NHL career, summed it up this way: If you’re not thinking about hockey and you’re thinking more about getting Tootoo, then that’s exactly what the Predators want. Tootoo was smart not to go with Peters because he has more value and sees more ice time. If he wants to trade off with a pretty good player like Clarkson, then that’s his decision to make.

It also was a good conversation topic with Barry Trotz prior to Thursday’s game, when I asked him if Tootoo was more effective because he hadn’t fought yet this season. Trotz responded that in a way, yes he is. When the opposing team starts to worry about him being on the ice and delivering big hits on a regular basis, then the focus becomes knowing where he is on the ice and looking over your shoulder.

Not to single out one player, but the Predators did a good job of finishing their checks in the first and second period against the Devils, paving the way for hurries and turnovers later in the game. It really does have an effect on the opposition when they know they’re going to get banged constantly. Boll is charged with bringing that for the Blue Jackets, and Tootoo for the Predators. It will be interesting to see if they happen to go head to head on Saturday night.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



November 16
"Okay, I’m working on it!"

That’s been my response when I’ve been asked about my blog lately. Sorry I haven’t written, but it’s been a hectic few weeks. Bought a condo and moved during the middle of the season, had some oral surgery done, road trips, etc. So it’s been a busy time, but now I’m settled back down a bit and am looking forward to getting this thing fired up again.

I do have a longer installment coming on goaltending, so be prepared for that. But in the meantime, let’s talk some Preds hockey!

Seven of the last ten sounds good to me after a pretty slow start to the year. Right now Nashville’s objective is to get lots of traffic and lots of shots, and it worked to a “T” against Montreal. Steve Sullivan said he could see it happening against St. Louis as well, it just took a little while longer to get the puck in against the Blues.

Basically, the theology is this: when you’re in the offensive zone and shooting the puck, a few things are working for you. 1) You’re tiring out the other team’s goalie. Even if he’s not making saves, he’s still moving, still dealing with traffic, still having to work with the puck in his zone while Pekka plugs in his iPod at the other end of the ice. 2) You’re running down the other team’s defense as well. They have to play harder in their own end, continue battles on the boards, and don’t get appropriate shift changes when you bottle the play up in the offensive zone. 3) Some of those are bound to go in. Goals happen.

So the Preds are firing pucks at the net, and that’s encouraging given the return of the Sullivan/Arnott/Dumont troika. I like that Patric Hornqvist continues to evolve as a player and seems much more relaxed this season with his game and his role. Jerred Smithson has quietly had a solid season and is playing well. Francis Bouillon has been a tremendous pick up for the Predators and is taking on some very big minutes, in both quantity and quality. It’s almost hard to understate how strong on the wall he is and what his presence has meant for the Preds, especially when they missed Hamhuis and Weber for a few games each.

At this point you have to hope the Preds are past the early season rash of injuries that hampered them and that things mellow out a bit as we approach the Christmas season. It will be nice to get Colin Wilson back in the lineup, but at this point it also begs the question of where do you put him? It’s a nice problem to have when you’re going well and have to figure out how to reinsert someone, but one the Predators will deal with in the near future.

Oh, almost forgot. Number four for my above points is that your goaltender and defense don’t have to work as hard and therefore when opposing clubs make inevitable forays into your end, you can be stronger both on and off the puck and have more in the tank. That truly helps a team down the road and over the course of 82 games. The more pressure you exert on other teams, the more you can grind them down late and make a difference in the contest. One mental mistake can prove to be a game-winner for the other team, and Nashville wants to be the team that forces those errors.

This week will be pretty good for opponents. San Jose is one of the best teams in the West, followed by future Hockey Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. If you haven’t seen Brodeur play in person, I highly suggest you do so. He is one of the best ever. Then Columbus Saturday and Detroit Monday to put some divisional fire into the bellies! I’m going to enjoy this home stand, and I hope you are too. Come down and check us out! By the way, with Thanksgiving right around the corner, it’s a great excuse to get out of the house and away from relatives visiting. Or you can choose to drag them with you, your call. But get away from the pie just long enough to take in three or more periods of hockey.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



October 19
A trip to Washington seemed to do the club some good there. I like what we’ve seen as far as game-over-game improvement from the Predators. Cody Fransen looked comfortable and capable on the blue line, and I think some of our best power play chances came with him out there helping to move the puck around. I like what I see from Patric Hornqvist more and more this season – hard work, attacking the puck, battling in the corners. Colin Wilson is finding his way into corners as well, and with time and getting settled, he’s going to start connecting. You can see something in his game that shies away from the traditional, worn-out playbook. He’s going to have some assists (and for that matter some goals) where you clearly see him defy conventional thinking and playmaking with the puck. He thinks the game just a little different and as a result, when he finds himself comfortable with linemates and they know his tendencies, will result in points.

I like that our youth is leading the way, and that will start to kick in. The veterans have the job of keeping the younger players on track, teaching them the pacing of an NHL season, and how to always moderate yourself – the highs can’t be too high, and the lows can’t be too low. Over the course of 80+ or 100+ games in a season, simply can’t ride emotion the whole time without losing your marbles. Arm them with the knowledge to succeed, and they will do just that.

Around the league, it seems that there are “surprise” teams everywhere. The L.A. Kings, Colorado Avalanche, and Buffalo Sabres are among the early examples. So are the New York Rangers. True, these teams did not have fantasic years last year, but they have embraced some of their younger players as the Predators are now doing, and the results are coming. Colorado has the advantage that they had their clunker last season with a full lineup of the guys now leading the way. It certainly was a year of growing pains. The Rangers and Sabres also have younger players making impacts with the help of the established stars they’ve kept over the years and some solid goaltending. The Kings are hoping that Quick becomes the starter they’ve envisioned him to be while playing with a solid defensive corps and reinvigorated forwards. L.A. has been unafraid to say they were rebuilding and going after certain types of players. GM Dean Lombardi took some heat for it, but this year may be the year it finally starts to pan out for them.

The Predators are in a similar situation now. The handoff from veteran to youthful player is never easy. There’s always a gap in experience and knowledge. Player contracts almost require GMs to gamble on futures at every turn if they want to lock up anticipated stars for a long time. If you guess wrong, you’ll get burned. If you guess right, you look fantastic. But largely, it’s a guess. As they always tell you when you invest in stocks, past performance is not an indication of future returns.

So Nashville does find itself trying to figure in some pieces to the puzzle. We are heavy up the middle – where do all the centers go? Some will shift to wing, and hopefully when placed there they are comfortable and capable. We do have a lot of defensemen, and depth is always good to have. You can leverage depth in deals, and rely on it through injuries. It also gives you the luxury of being able to move on if need be in certain situations and rotate chances among the deserving.

The long and short of it is that our team is a talented one. We do need to see some future returns on players for the remainder of the season. Likewise, the youth who may be frustrated by a lack of opportunity or playing time will have to earn it, demonstrating that they belong here full-time. I like that we have two solid netminders, a deep blue line, and forwards who can (and have) shown offensive ability on par with some of the league’s top players. At this point of the season, it’s way too early to tell where the lineup will fall, and who will have the best season.

What I do ask, Preds fans, is that we stay supportive of those finding their way. How can you do that? Take notes, watch games a shift at a time. Pay attention to individual players on a shift – isolate them. See where Jason Arnott or Shea Weber goes without the puck, and then compare their play to our younger players as well. Find out how JP Dumont puts himself in position to make that pass for the goal, and then watch Wilson look to do the same. Or compare Ryan Suter to Laakso, or Fransen. See how they set up and play similarly or entirely differently! This will also help your understanding of the game long-term, because positional play is done 90% without the puck. Keep an eye on that and you’ll find yourself really understanding hockey.

That’s about it for now, as I’ve got a week to catch up on for the podcast ( Tom Callahan's Weekly Podcast: Oct. 19). Until next time, keep your stick on the ice!



October 6
You just can’t figure sports, can you? Who would have thought the Predators would have one more win than the Titans at this point? I’ll be honest with you, not me. I figured that the Titans were poised for a pretty good season on the heels of last year’s success, just like everyone else. Which is why I think there is a valuable lesson for us to carry over into hockey, too.

Looking around the league, several teams that were expected to come out cold have been hot, and vice versa. The Canucks are 0-3? Detroit 0-2? The Avalanche (our opponent this Thursday night) is 2-0, led by a young corps of players most people haven’t heard of yet and a career backup goaltender in Craig Anderson. Break up the Avs!

But seriously, what I’m talking about is the danger of expectations, and moreover, reading into them far too much. If you were a Predators player you could be forgiven for coming into camp full of gloom and doom. Many national media outlets have predicted this team to finish out of the playoff picture, and in one ignominious example, practically dead last league-wide. Really? This for a team with many unknowns despite keeping its core intact from last year. And I think those unknowns fed into a general “dump on Nashville” culture that tends to exist in some hockey circles. While that’s not fine with me, it does add some extra delight to shoving it back at some folks around the league who predict massive victories and make grandiose promises they have no intention of keeping at our expense.

Steve Sullivan coming back remains an unsolved issue for many league-wide, despite Steve himself telling me his back is a “non-issue” and he feels just fine, thank you. Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont still know how to make plays and score goals. Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, and Dan Hamhuis did not forget how to play D over the summer, and Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne still have the ability to stop pucks. That’s a pretty solid foundation to build on.

But today’s game requires depth! David Legwand and Martin Erat no doubt have the pressure on them to raise their games this winter. Both are very talented players who show flashes of brilliance from time to time. It’s just executing at that level far more often that concerns Predators brass. The addition of Mike Santorelli is going to take some time to judge. I would like to see his shootout goal provide him with a good shot of confidence and have him boost his linemates at the same time. Much is being made of the youthful exuberance in the Colorado locker room right now, and I think there’s something to that. Even Jason Arnott said that when you have the young players in the room who are excited about coming every day, it gives the older players a lift. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

It seems like everywhere I look on this team, there’s a good balance of youthful exuberance against age and treachery. Marcel Goc has over 250 NHL games to his credit and will help Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Jones on that line. Francis Boullion will be a great compliment to Teemu Laakso in the learning department both on and off the ice. Ben Guite brings some serious jam to the fourth unit and has that leadership quality to him resulting from surviving in the NHL this long. So yes, I like the mix, and I think it bodes well for this franchise now and as the season wears on.

Of course you’ll have injuries, and surprising play both good and bad. Some guys will come from out of nowhere to have career years. Some will quietly fade. It’s up to them which path they take. Will they go to the “hard areas” (as Barry Trotz calls them) to score goals when time is ticking down and we’re trailing by a goal? Will they take the hit to make the pass or the clear? Give up the body to block a shot with the game on the line? Those are question that need to be answered as the year grinds on. And how committed are they to earning two points in October, November, and December… because those matter as much as those in March.

Right now, I’m not going to topple Detroit or Chicago from the top of the division. Not just yet. But I also refuse to say it can’t be done. It is a matter of being prepared for every single game over the course of an 82 game season and executing your game plan. It comes from knowing your role and accepting it. And it comes from within the culture in the room, the attitudes of the players, and the lift given by the fans. Don’t stop cheering. You never know when you’re the one person who gets up out of your seat and suddenly leads 17,000 more behind you to get it going. Don’t lean on expectations. Instead aim for victories.



September 30
Okay, I know you, Preds fan. You want positives. You want something to go on, something to give you a reason to believe we’re going to whomp some butt come the drop of the puck. Well, I’m going to take a run at that for you.

Here are five solid reasons to believe in the team for this season:

1) A healthy Steve Sullivan
Not bad for a ninth round draft pick, eh? Steve Sullivan is now 35 years old and has played all or part of 12 NHL seasons. Returning to the ice after serious back injury that saw him miss almost two calendar years, Sullivan collected 11 goals and 32 points in 41 games en route to winning the Masterton Memorial Trophy for his comeback efforts. His revitalization of the offense down the stretch gave some jump to others as well, and who knows what might have been if not for late-season injuries to David Legwand and Martin Erat, among others.

The year Sullivan went down with his injury, he was ahead of a point-per-game pace (60 points in 57 games). Previous full seasons netted him 68 in 69 games (05-06), and 73 points in 80 games (03-04). I know those seasons were a few years ago, but you can’t deny the impact that Sullivan has whether he’s scoring or not. He forces defenses to take notice, and if the line of Sullivan, Arnott and Dumont is checked closely, it opens up chances for others to score, too.

2) Goaltending
Whether you go with Dan Ellis or Pekka Rinne, the Nashville Predators are solid in net. Watching games last year I never got the impression that Ellis wasn’t giving the Predators a chance to win, but for a stretch he was coming out on the losing end of things more often than not. Remember in the very beginning of last year when we scored goals by the bucket but allowed them too? The defense got tighter and so did the goaltending. Ellis’ 57-save (or whatever it was) performance against San Jose was a ridiculous win, and was a very good reflection of his talent.

Rinne stepped in when called upon and used his big frame to block a lot of pucks and keep the Predators competitive down the stretch. His previous playoff experience with Milwaukee in the AHL paid dividends and helped keep him cool, calm and composed. Mitch Korn has worked with both goaltenders to stress positioning, quickness, shot blocking, rebound control and a myriad of other important characteristics. The improvement shows throughout the season as each finds their groove.

And one other thing – Predators netminders are among the best in the NHL at handling the puck, serving as yet another weapon to help the offense make quick work of line changes and breakouts.

3) Solid Defense
As far as a trio of defenders around the league, you would be hard-pressed to find one as talented (and as young) as that of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, and Dan Hamhuis. All three are pretty young and very capable of handling lots of minutes and responsibilities. Kevin Klein is also coming into his own and could very soon be considered a fourth element to that young defensive corps after emerging last year.

The addition of Francis Boullion as a steadying veteran presence for the young defense also provides a bit of offensive capability, perhaps he can become the blueline quarterback the second PP unit hoped Ville Koistinen would be come last season.

Finally, with Teemu Laakso set to make his debut in Dallas as a top-six defender, yet another talented Preds draft pick prepares to embark on his NHL career after an impressive training camp. Consider that the team still has Jon Blum, Alexander Sulzer and Cody Franson still in the wings and you realize how much depth exists for this team on D.

4) Stability/Home Ice/Fans
Much has been written about the Predators going here, doing this, moving that. Face it, hockey world, we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere. I know that there are people who feel like Nashville shouldn’t have a hockey team. Those people haven’t been to a game here, haven’t seen the passion of the fans, and obviously don’t realize that over the course of 12 years, anyone can learn hockey! Just because you didn’t put on skates at age three doesn’t make you less of a fan.

One of the reasons a national columnist gave recently for Nashville not having a team was “no home ice advantage”. Talk about showing your lack of research! Not only do players around the league credit this building with being one of the toughest and loudest to play in when the crowd is going, but look at our home record! The Predators have been of the best teams in the NHL since the lockout (seems to be a pretty good measure of time, right?) with 107 home wins. Only Detroit (112) and Calgary (108) have won more at home. In 2005-06, Nashville’s 32 wins were tops in the NHL. So you can’t tell me on or off the ice this team has no home-ice advantage.

5) Expectations
This year, it feels slightly like we’re the Indians in Major League: every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last. (Well, not really, but they’re not showing us up top in the Central Division, either). There are a lot of other teams with question marks as well, including the four in Columbus, St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago. Expectations are high to build on seasons that saw those other four make the playoffs and the Red Wings lose in the Stanley Cup Final. But for the Predators, there’s a hunger, maybe even anger, at not making the post-season last year. At putting it together just a bit too late. At knowing what might have been. And that encourages me because any team taking this one too lightly or looking ahead to another opponent will be surprised. Plus, you can’t discount any breakdowns or injuries that may occur elsewhere in the division. The Predators can sneak up on just about anyone.

Well, there’s something for you to chew on today. Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



September 29
The cuts are beginning to rain down across the tickers, a veritable downpour of movement. It’s easy to reduce the ticker to mere numbers, guys going down to the AHL, juniors, or even getting their outright release. Names that ring familiar like Legace, Kostitsyn, and Delmore are out, looking to work their way back somehow.

On the broadcast side, we’ve been catching up with player movement from the off-season and the current round of cuts as the season approaches. Yes, even into October there will still be a fair amount of “when did he go there?” For the most part there’s not much to getting back into the saddle when you’ve done it for ten years, other than player recognition, and perhaps the occasional moment where you forget how to time the anthem to the puck drop (I’ve been back late both games I’ve done it this year, but last time I only missed six seconds after the drop of the puck.)

A bit more excitement tends to trickle in now, mixed with anticipation. The momentum that is the snowball of the season builds. And suddenly we’ll be in Dallas for the game on Saturday night – off we go!

It looks like the battle for starts between the goaltenders will continue into the regular season. Dan Ellis made a statement this summer about wanting to earn his job back, and he’s come out playing very well. Pekka Rinne ended last season at the starter, and will have to fend off Ellis’ challenge to keep the role. Either way, both netminders are solid and capable, leaving Nashville with a leg up on teams that have question marks in arguably the most important position in all of sports.

Defensively I’m looking forward to yet another year of improvement from Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis, and Kevin Klein. Just looking at how young those four are, and what they can bring to the table now and in the future, you get a glimpse of how special the blueline is here. Adding Francois Boullion to the club does a lot for veteran impact, and the possibility of youngsters like Teemu Laakso, Cody Franson, and Alexander Sulzer leaves much hope for this season. Beyond those three, there’s also the prospect of Jonathan Blum down the road as he continues to grow and mature in Milwaukee.

Up front, probably the biggest and most obvious story is Steve Sullivan, but a few surprises could lie in wait. There’s been much talk of the Erat/Legwand combo needing to come to life, and it will be interesting to see if Mike Santorelli is the answer to the oft-shuffled wing position alongside those two. Legwand did a great job in the second half of last season on both ends of the ice, raising hopes and expectations for this season.

Of course, the biggest question mark will be the development process for Colin Wilson. Will he go to Milwaukee or won’t he? How much time would he need if he did go there? Can he develop as well in a third line role for the Predators as opposed to a first line role for the Admirals? Those are all questions the Predators hockey operations staff get paid to answer, and at the end of the day they must choose the path they believe provides the best education and assimilation for the player. I don’t think there are questions that Wilson will one day be an NHL impact player, it’s just how do you get to point B from point A with him.

Among the players who have headed to Milwaukee already, I think that Blum, Ben Eaves, Andreas Thuresson, Nick Spaling, and Mark Dekanich are pretty exciting prospects who showed they will have great days ahead of them. Yes, the future is bright, and despite a tough division and conference, the Predators do have what it takes to compete for the post-season again.

Make no mistake, I’m not saying it’s automatic. There’s a long schedule lined with tough teams, and if this squad wants to make the playoffs, they’re going to have to work for it. Vancouver, Calgary, Detroit, Chicago… heck, even L.A. all have legitimate shots at deep playoff runs this season. I’m looking forward to what will be an even tougher Western Conference this season. If you make it someplace this year, you’ve done a great job. This will be a very difficult season to gain ground, and could actually be one of those where with a few exceptions, the standings remain jammed for most of the year.

Well, the countdown is on. Five days, four days…

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



September 21
Nashville has sent ten players down to Milwaukee as of Sunday, and there are no real surprises on the list. At most, I might have liked to see Chet Pickard play a game to see what he can bring to the table, but obviously it’s more important for the Predators to get Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis going so that they’re in game mode come the drop of the puck in Dallas October 3rd.

And honestly, with the struggle of the starting netminder that has plagued this team early in the season from years past, it’s understandable. Both Ellis and Rinne have split games so far, with neither one playing a full contest yet neither one looking in any way awkward or off. Both had a few shaky moments early in their first appearance, and skated quickly away from them. It’s nice to see that between Mitch Korn working them hard in practice and drilling them on the basics plus game action that both seem pretty comfortable with a week of pre-season left to go.

Barry Trotz said in The Tennessean that he wasn’t worried about being “fair” to Pickard and Jeremy Smith, another Predators goaltending prospect, because the team is set in net. Indeed it is, with Ellis and Rinne having proven they are both capable as starters. Plus Mark Dekanich is still in camp, and has shown himself capable thus far in the pre-season as well. It’s nice to know your third goaltender has a few games under his belt and some confidence to go with it.

Make no mistake, whether the Predators find ways to score buckets of goals or not, you can still loose 8-6 or 2-1 and it counts the same. Goaltending (and therefore also defense) will be a major part of the team’s success this year. Keeping pucks out always gives you the best chance to win, and with Ellis and Rinne in net the Predators will give themselves a chance to win every night. Bring on the regular season!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



September 16
I am saddened to hear of the passing of Fred Cusick, who served as the voice of the Boston Bruins for almost five decades. Mr. Cusick lost a battle with cancer. He was 90 years old.

I caught on late to announcers like Cusick, but am familiar enough with his famous highlight-reel calls to understand the excitement, knowledge and enthusiasm he brought to the game. He and several other broadcast pioneers like Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan took hockey to the airwaves both on the radio and eventually on television.

Cusick started in the early 50s on radio with Boston. He was a pioneer who saw the impact television could have for the Bruins and the sport itself, and managed to convince local television to air games just in time for the arrival of #4, Bobby Orr. As the Bruins raised the Stanley Cup twice in the early 70s, Cusick covered the games and became the unmistakable audio track behind the team. He would continue on with the club until 1997 when he retired, shepherding the Bruins to the team’s new home at the then-Fleet Center after Boston Garden was no more.

When you talk about someone being able to have a broadcasting career that spans decades, such as Cusick, Hewitt, and Gallivan, it boggles the mind. To be that sharp for that long, and to keep the fire burning for fans night in and night out isn’t a small task. I also could point out several other titans of the airwaves like Bob Chase in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who has broadcast Komets hockey for over 55 years, Chuck Kaiton in Carolina, or even our very own Pete Weber, who has been broadcasting professional sports of one flavor or another for 30 years! Sorry Pete, didn’t mean to make you feel too old… but I did grow up listening to Pete do Bisons baseball in Buffalo back in the day.

We know as broadcasters that we are the connection to the game for fans that can’t be there in person. We all have our own approach to the game and our own personalities on the air. One can’t help but hear the enthusiasm and excitement in Cusick’s voice, the genuine emotion that was there when the Bruins would “scccoooooooooorrrrrreeeeeeee!” We all hope to convey that to the fans. But some, like Fred, rise above and become legends.

I think he said it for all of us when he said that sitting among the fans, calling the game, you never feel like it’s work. Amen to that. His voice will live on.



September 15
The second team we’ll take a look at will be the Columbus Blue Jackets courtesy of TV color commentator Bill Davidge. Bill moves to the TV booth after spending several seasons on the radio side, and provides us with his commentary of what appears to be a team on its way up. Take note, Preds fans. This is a young team just like ours, and both organizations are focused on doing things in an old-school manner – talk of the “right” way of doing things – to mature its talent and produce wins.

“On the Rise”
The Motto for training camp is simple, yet pointed. A playoff berth a year ago is the building block for the CBJ’s goal for this year. Continue the spiral forward as a team, success on and off the ice as a team and an organization, and the methodology on how this will be done should be constant, but how?

Do it the right way!

Formerly familiar faces will be in new places, while new faces take on those roles. Manny Malhotra is looking for work... Sami Paulson is in as a 3rd line center. Wade Dubliewiecz is in Minnesota, but Mathieu Garon mirrors Steve Mason in the twine as a legitimate backup. Michael Peca has his career winding down and is looking for a job outside of Columbus.

The task for training camp will be the evaluation of the young crop of players looking for the opportunity to prove their worth. The line combinations may best explain where the CBJ’s are today:

Huselius Brassard Nash
Umberger Vermette Voracek
Filatov/Chimera Pahlsson Modin
Torres/Murray/Picard Dorsett/Blunden Boll/Sestito/Mayorov

Russell Commodore
Tyutin Methot
Hejda Klesla
Holden/Clitsome Sigalet

Mason/Garon/Lalande/ Lacosta

What will be the concerns?

#1 A right shot on the PP has been an issue for the past few years, but Derrick Brassard has been penciled in to the right point as a playmaker. This will be a special teams key.

#2 How will the growth of the young players transpire? Steve Mason won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year... Derrick Brassard is back and healthy after shoulder surgery... Jakub Voracek put on 15+ pounds and is showing some great playmaking skills in training camp... and can Nikita Filatov fulfill his wants and desires to remain in the NHL as a 19 year old?

There is a good feeling and sense of “Being on the Rise!” The goal now is to prove it!


September 8
Well, the season is almost upon us. Training camp opens this weekend. And I, your fearless intrepid radio reporter, have decided to enlist some help in covering the other Central Division teams for my pre-season preview.

Yeah, basically I thought to myself “well, they’re always listening to me (or reading me, I guess). Why not try to get some thoughts from around the division that aren’t mine?”

Starting with the first installment from Ken Kal of the Detroit Red Wings, I’ve asked various folks around the division to send over their thoughts on their particular off-season, and give three key points for the 2009-10 Season.

Of course, I’ll be providing some fodder on the hometown boys, but you’ve already heard a lot of that. I’ll do more of the reporting-type of blogging as training camp goes on. But for now, we’ll catch up with teams around the league.

Ken Kal, Radio Play-By-Play - Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings have played quite a bit of hockey lately. They won the Stanley Cup in 2008 and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 in 2009. That's 209 games played in the past two seasons.

The Red Wings plan on playing quite a bit of hockey again this season as well. There will be another 82 regular season games on the slate in 2009-10, plus many of the current Red Wings players will also be competing in the Olympics in February. The team has qualified for the NHL playoffs 18 straight times and wants to keep that streak alive again this season as well.

The Red Wings may be singing that old Willie Nelson tune, "One The Road Again" quite a bit in the second half of the season.

The team will travel to Sweden to open their campaign against the St. Louis Blues on October 2nd and 3rd. Detroit also has a tough travel schedule from January 1st to February 10th, where they will be on the road for 29 out of 40 days.

There are a few new faces on the team this season. Former Red Wings Todd Bertuzzi and Jason Williams are back in the fold. Detroit also signed Patrick Eaves as well. Youngsters Darren Helm, Jonathan Ericsson, Ville Leino and Justin Abdelkader all got valuable playing time both during the regular season and in the playoffs. They are expected to take on a bigger role in 2009-10.

Despite losing Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson, the Red Wings are still strong up front. They are led by two of the most creative players in the game Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Johan Franzen has proven that he is one of the premier power forwards in the game. Tomas Holmstrom and Dan Cleary can create havoc in front of the net. Valtteri Filppula is a terrific set up man, however, he may be asked to shoot the puck more. Veterans Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper are very effective role players. Both can kill penalties, and Draper is one of the top face-off men in the league.

Perhaps the Red Wings biggest strength will be on the blueline. Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski are Detroit's top defenders. Nick Kronwall and Brad Stuart are a solid 3 and 4. Brett Lebda, Andreas Lilja and Derek Meech are experienced as well. Jonathan Ericsson was the final player selected in the 2002 draft and was stellar on the blueline in the playoffs.

Chris Osgood, who was spectacular in the playoffs last season, will be Detroit's number one goalie. Jim Howard will get his opportunity to turn heads as the back-up to Osgood.

3 Keys to the 2009-10 Season
1. Get Off To A Good Start
The Red Wings have posted 9 straight 100-plus point seasons and they have posted four straight 50-plus win campaigns as well. Detroit has been able to bank away points early all because of terrific starts. That will be the game plan again this season, however, it won't be easy because the team must travel overseas to begin the year, then get back to the grind five days later to play five games in 10 days. Add to that a compact schedule plus the Olympics and a lot of hockey played over the past 2 seasons and the Red Wings have quite the challenge on their hands.

2. Win The Division
The Central Division is much better than it has been in the past. Last season every team in the division could have qualified for post-season play. Chicago made it to the Western Conference Final and should be better with the additions of Marian Hossa and John Madden. Andy Murray did a fantastic job guiding St. Louis to the playoffs despite so many injuries to key players. The Blues had the best record in the NHL in the second half of the season. Columbus qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and that experience will only make them better. Barry Trotz always has the Preditors in the mix. The Sommet Center is a tough place for visitors to pick up points. Winning the division will insure home ice in the first round of the playoffs, which is a huge advantage.

3. Improve Defensively
Detroit did not sparkle in the goals against column or the penalty kill department last season. The Red Wings lost some offense when Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson left town so Mike Babcock will really put an emphasis on better defensive play. Puck possession is Detroit's bread and butter. When you combine that with a strong defensive game you have a team that's hard to beat.

Things are still looking good in Hockeytown!



September 5
I’ve been reading an article lately that focuses on the history of the Rochester Red Wings’ play-by-play men throughout the team’s history. For those who don’t know, the Red Wings are a Triple-A baseball team that plays in the city where I went to college, Rochester, NY. Even our own Pete Weber has his ties to this amazing lineage of broadcasting, so feel free to read both parts of the series when you have time.

It makes you think a bit about how lucky you can be in any given market to listen to the men and women who becomes your personal favorite voices on the radio. As I’ve said many times, growing up in Buffalo, NY I consider myself very fortunate to have listened to a great litany of broadcasters. I keenly remember listening not only to my now-colleague Pete Weber (who is an amazing baseball play-by-play guy) doing Buffalo Bisons baseball; Van Miller as the voice of Bills football – now ably followed by John Murphy; and of course voices of the Buffalo Sabres including Ted Darling (late father of our very own Tim Darling) and Rick Jeanneret.

But my memories go beyond specific calls of just these giants of my youth, whether it be “The Comeback” for the Bills, Gilbert Perrault’s 500th NHL goal, or any number of other highlights. I also had the good fortune to be within range of CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada, listening to several talented broadcasters ply their trade like Bob Cole, Harry Neale, Chris Cuthbert (who may be the best hockey guy you haven’t heard), and when things worked out right, the late Danny Gallivan. Small trivia bit for those who might have seen “The Raccoons on Ice” – that’s Mr. Gallivan doing the commentary for the match that keeps the pond away from Cyrill Sneer.

Even local Buffalo morning show host Bill Lacy captured my imagination, coming through my dad’s old paint-spattered yellow transistor radio in the kitchen. Mornings were always special, eating breakfast with my dad and having another friendly voice there with us over cereal and toast while my mom urged me not to dawdle.

In the end, what I managed to take away from all of these voices was that they felt familiar, friendly, and warm. It’s something I’ll never forget the feeling of, how radio made me feel connected to whatever was going on. To that end, I’ve always made it a priority to make sure I impart that across the airwaves, reaching out to everyone listening no matter how far away. It’s an odd sort of security blanket, isn’t it? You just know when you get on the air that voice will be there.

I confess I still have those moments now, listening to the Bills on satellite radio, or catching Sabres highlights with Jeanneret’s call in the background. I listen to the morning show on KFWB-AM in Los Angeles on which a more recent acquaintance of mine, Phil Hulett, co-hosts. Phil also works as the Anaheim Ducks’ PA guy, but beyond knowing him through hockey, the show there seems oddly personal in the country’s #2 market.

Heck, I still even try to chase down stray AM signals from across the country, seeing if I can pick up summer baseball games on cloudless, moonlit nights, or looking to drag in a stray hockey game on the way home from the airport late at night. It’s a great slice-of-life from a place you may never have been, may never go, or might have fond memories of. We’re actually pretty fortunate to have the internet and satellite bring us even closer to our faraway teams and passions thanks to streaming audio. Gotta love progress.

So who or what left that indelible radio impression on your youth? There’s been so many talented broadcasters out there, and so many lives are touched by a single, remarkable broadcast. Share with us your favorite memories!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



August 27
Anybody else out there getting excited like I am?

Right about this time every year I got excited for various things throughout my life. It will always be my birthday, which is in late September. I’m a celebrater of birthdays, I think it’s a good chance to reflect on the past, smile about your future, and it gives you one built-in day a year to do whatever the heck you want. So I look forward to that.

As I turned maybe five or six, I began to look forward to school. Yes, we all hated to see summer go, but Labor Day weekend meant shopping for new supplies and clothes, and the epic decision of which lunch box graphics to go with this year? He-Man? G.I. Joe? Garfield? Transformers? And what did I want on the front of my Trapper Keeper? (My favorite ever: a red Ferrari Testarossa)

Moving along, it became football season. The Buffalo Bills would kick off in mid-September and play a 16-game schedule that included rivals like the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and the hated Miami Dolphins! It meant wearing a light jacket when the leaves turned colors, like the Maple tree that went deep crimson on our front lawn. Diving in those leaf piles, and knowing that soon it was also time to put on skates.

Ah yes, hockey season started in October. There was probably no more anticipated event of my fall once my birthday had gone by. It was all about putting on skates. Getting out on the ice in chilly, frost-bitten air during early-morning hours on open-ended rinks. Figuring out which player I wanted to carry over from street hockey matches that summer, be it Gretzky, Bossy, Kurri, or Perrault. And since I played goal all but my first half season on the ice, it meant choosing between Bob Sauve, Don Edwards, Mike Palmateer, Pete Peters, Murray Bannerman, Gilles Meloche, Ron Hextall, Patrick Roy, Steve Penny, Al Jensen, Pat Riggin, Reggie Lemelin, Richard Brodeur (one of my all-time favorites) and many others. Yeah, I was into the goalies, and I can still picture the cards of my favorite pad men from across the years.

But once I got high school and college, college football took on more importance, and of course hockey was always #1 in my heart. Suddenly the seasons were starting earlier, the Bills were wearing red helments to celebrate their 25th anniversary (and now it’s 50 years this season!) and the puck seemed to be dropping earlier and earlier in the fall.

Now as an adult in pro hockey, it used to be my birthday and then camp, but now the order is reversed. So I get to smell that cold, crisp air just a little earlier. I get to see the settled fog on the ice just a bit sooner. And I get that little tingle in my neck just in time for the temperature to start dropping in Nashville. Well, actually it hits before the temps start dropping. But you have to romanticize someplace!

What does fall mean to you, and how do you measure the onset of hockey season? We all have our pre-season rituals, like buying periodicals, reading up on everyone, and looking into our own personal crystal ball. Share with us your experiences, won’t you?

And on top of that… who had the best goalie mask in the 80s? I gave you a pretty good bunch of names up there, but a lot wore helmets as the full face mask phased out and the new hybrid cage/helmet style now favored entered the fray. For me, I have to think Murray Bannerman’s was tops, but there were so many good ones. What do you think?

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


August 18
Okay, it’s been a little while since I’ve put something out there, so it’s probably time. First, some housekeeping for you all. We are hosting a small, informal Tweetup tonight (Tuesday, August 18) at Riverfront Tavern at 6:30 pm. It has been brought to my attention that Riverfront is 21+ only, so we’re looking at hosting a bigger, more formal and family-friendly Tweetup next week some time, and I’ll get that date out to you as soon as possible. No, you don’t have to be on Twitter to be there, just be a hockey fan! We’ll chat some off-season stuff and I’ll throw darts with whoever wants to throw. One of my favorite activities!

Moving on, then. Right now, there are still some big names out there on the free agent market, and when Jay Levin and I get together and chat up names floating about, one seems to continually resurface - Boston’s Phil Kessel. What is going on in Beantown? Will they be able to clear enough cap space to bring him on board? Or is he heading someplace else?

Now, anyone in the Bruins camp will say Kessel isn’t going anywhere. But if someone comes along with a high-priced offer sheet, that may handcuff Boston. They don’t have a ton of room under the cap. Someone would have to move and they obviously say they’d match any offer. Let me tell you, you could burn a bridge with that organization if you tendered a sheet to Phil. And… you could end up with a bona fide player on your roster for a year! This situation will merit watching as training camp moves on… the more Boston lags in getting something done, the more chance there could be last-minute movement. Stay tuned on that one.

Sampling Of Other Remaining Notable Free Agents

Forwards: Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang, Mike Comrie, Miroslav Satan, Petr Sykora, Rob Niedermayer, Todd Bertuzzi (possibly linked to Detroit in reports today)

Defensemen:
Mat Schneider, Darryl Sydor, Martin Skoula, Marek Malik (remember his
shootout move a few years back with the Rangers?), Dennis Seidenberg

-- full free agent list --

Another guy out there is former Ranger Brandon Dubinsky. Coming off back-to-back 40 point seasons with the Rangers, the 6-1, 210 lb. center is looking for a new home. Now, I know the Predators have a boatload of centers laying around, but that doesn’t mean you don’t look into switching someone to wing. If you remember, David Legwand was moved over to the wing last season for a few games and excelled, so don’t think a guy is stuck in the middle! At just 23, Dubinsky has plenty of upside and time to grow even more as a pro. He could add some scoring to a second or third line unit, and with a total of 191 PIMs spread over his last two years, he brings a physical element to the ice as well. Could be interesting…

So what do you think? Who would you bring in if you could pick up one of the remaining free agents, and why? Let’s just assume we’d all bring in Kessel and pick someone else!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice!



July 23
So what have you done with your summer? I’ve tried to follow everyone heading to their new teams, and it hasn’t been all that easy. There’s a lot of changes going on in the hockey world and I know come September you and I are still going to be saying “when did he go there?” in regards to a million players.

The Predators made bold moves in re-signing Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward, both of whom are going to be key contributors to the club this season. I think with Sullivan back in the fold, David Poile has clearly sent a message to the rest of the team that he is serious about winning and having a competitive club despite not having the huge wallet of a Detroit or Chicago to throw around. Don’t underestimate what this will do for the rest of the team as far as confidence in management. They saw Sullivan’s re-signing as a key cog in the machine for this year, and now that it has become reality, those players have exactly what they asked for.

Ward is a player who can’t be overlooked. Not only does he have some great hands (as he put on display once or twice this year) but works hard and plays both ends of the ice. In talks with Jay Levin about Ward the other day, we both noted how you expected the first-year NHLer to have a significant drop at some point, to “hit the wall”. Well, there were a few times Joel’s performance went down a bit and he may have sat a game, but he’d come back just as good as before and at times, better. He never really saw that letdown over the course of a season, which I consider very encouraging. His solid PK minutes are also going to be even more valuable with the departure of Scott Nichol to San Jose.

Speaking of which, we have lost a few guys this summer. Scott went to the Sharks and more than anything, I’ll just miss seeing him on a daily basis. Always an upbeat guy, always able to speak in any situation, he’s a great role model for younger players for determination and how to carry yourself as a professional. I wish him luck, but not too much!

Vernon Fiddler has gone to Phoenix, and I hope for him it’s a chance to play more quality minutes and make an impact on a team that can use more help for the younger, talented players. He should see some quality ice out in the desert.

Jed Ortmeyer followed Nichol to the Sharks where he’ll look to try and make an impact on a team that has really retooled some of its depth players. It could be a good opportunity for Ortmeyer.

On the other hand, the Predators have picked up a few new names like Ben Guite (GEE-tay) and Peter Olvecky (ol-VET-skee). Watching Olvecky play in Minnesota towards the end of last year I really felt like he was a player who could fill some quality minutes and contribute on a work-ethic based team much like the Predators. At just 23, the 6-2, 195 lb. winger could be a welcome addition with plenty of upside in an organization already deep down the middle.

Speaking of depth at center, Guite is listed as a natural one, playing a total of 169 games at the NHL level. After splitting the 2006-07 season between Albany in the AHL and the Colorado Avalanche, Guite found his niche with the Avs in 07-08, appearing in 79 games with 22 points during the regular season. At 31 years old, he gives the club a good veteran presence while the younger skaters develop and can play minutes all over the rink for the Preds given the departures of Nichol and Fiddler.

There’s still some big names floating around in the market, and it will be interesting to see who ends up where. Nashville isn’t going to throw money at players, and that can definitely be a good thing with the salary cap projected to trend downward in the next few seasons. Some teams seem to almost set themselves up for failure in that area since they’re already packed against the ceiling! That alone may necessitate some movement of bigger names as the year goes on, especially if teams find themselves off to a poor start or in need of a jump.

Given the remaining free agents out there, if you could only pick one (and let’s say money/contract/etc is not an issue) who would you pick, and why? Let me know here. I’m interested to see where you think the needs are for this club entering 2009-10!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



June 20

Steve Sullivan became the first player in Nashville Predators history to collect some post-season NHL hardware last night, winning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. He was chosen as the winner by the Professional Hockey Writers Association over fellow nominees Richard Zednik and Chris Chelios.

After missing nearly two years after suffering a back injury during the 2006-07 Season, Sullivan returned triumphantly to the Predators this season and posted nearly a point-per-game as Nashville made a late charge towards the playoffs. Despite barely missing out, Sullivan showed Predators fans some of the brilliance he had prior to his injury down the stretch.

It’s hard to measure his exact impact on his teammates as well, but suffice to say that his mere presence on the ice and in the room seemed to not only be welcome but uplifting. It definitely took him some time to get over what might have been shaky confidence initially – how can you not have doubts about how your back would hold up? – but once he felt comfortable again, Sullivan literally led by example. Scoring big goals, making big plays, and in effect making sure the team followed him closely as they forged ahead. Down the stretch Jason Arnott played well after returning from injury, and it definitely helped the captain to have #26 out there to attract attention as well.

It’s hard to ignore what coming back after 687 days meant to everyone around the organization: players, coaches, fans, even the front office. It meant a palpable buzz and excitement around the team in the area and even across the league. Some pundits had written Sullivan off, thinking his career was over. But he proved them wrong and returned to the ice to play his 724th NHL game this past January. Six months later, he was collecting the Masterton Trophy.

The entire Predators organization would like to congratulate Steve Sullivan for his perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey being recognized by the NHL. It is well-deserved!

Well, that wraps it up from Nashville. Next week finds me in Montreal at the broadcast meetings, and then staying to cover the NHL Entry Draft. Did you attend the draft last time it was held in Nashville? What was your favorite part of the event? And finally, would you like to see the draft come here again? Let me know over in our message boards.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



June 16
So I’ve heard a lot of derision directed towards Marian Hossa for his decision to sign with the Wings and therefore miss out on a Stanley Cup this year with the Penguins. People are saying Hossa made the wrong decision. I disagree completely.

You see, in order to correctly set the stage for his decision, we need to relive 07-08 events. The Penguins had made it into the playoffs and were chugging along to the Stanley Cup Final, only to be dispatched by what in hindsight was a pretty powerful (and superior) Detroit team. Entering the off-season, with Michel Therrien at the helm, Hossa felt that the team as-assembled and as-coached was not going to win a Stanley Cup.

He was right.

The Penguins would miss his scoring, definitely, and they suffered in the standings. Therrien was removed from the bench February 15th, the only thing people seemed to know about Dan Bylsma was that his Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins team had won nine of its last ten games. Obviously Hossa left that summer feeling/knowing somewhere in his mind that a team led by Therrien, who had recently signed a three-year contract extension, was not going to win the Stanley Cup. And indeed, on that mid-February day, they were mired in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

Here’s a few quotes from Ray Shero, Penguins GM, at the time of Byslma’s promotion:

"We believe we need a change in direction and, with 25 games remaining in the regular season, our goal remains to finish strong and qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs," Shero said. "Dan Bylsma is one of the bright young coaches in the game and has done an exceptional job as the head coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season.

On why he made a change:

"I didn't part like the way, the direction the team was headed," Shero said. "I've watched for a number of weeks and, at the end of the day, the direction is not that I wanted to have here. I wasn't comfortable, and that's why the change was made."

"I'm not sure where it went wrong, to be honest. It's been a tough year, we're all disappointed with the results, and our expectations were higher."

In the end, I firmly believe the leadership of Bylsma behind the bench and how he handled not only the third and fourth line guys but also the big names like Crosby, Malkin and Fleurry down the stretch enabled that team to put it together for the playoffs. The talent was obviously there, but as Hossa saw the summer before, it wasn’t going to come together under Therrien for whatever reason. Under Bylsma, not only did they get contributions from the big names, but guys like Talbot, Kennedy, and Staal showed up big-time. That’s great coaching when you can coax the max out of every single guy on your roster. That is what wins you titles.

So in the end, I think Hossa did do it right. He took a number of chances like a one-year deal and less money to sign with the Red Wings. What it shows me is that Marian Hossa is not self-centered when it comes to this game – it tells me he values winning the Stanley Cup above all else. He figured Detroit was his best bet, and when he put pen to paper, I believe he was right. Unfortunately, fate has a way of being just a bit cruel sometimes, and Hossa once again only has a hat with “Conference Champs” on it.

Thoughts? Do you think he made the right choice, and where will he end up next season?

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.



June 12

GAME SEVEN!

Isn’t this what every major professional sport that has a “best-of” series craves? One game, winner-take-all after a grueling series and playoff run. We’ve got one tonight, and it comes in the form of Detroit vs. Pittsburgh for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

So having never played in the NHL or coached there… who could I turn to for guidance? Who in our office has won three Cups, two as a player and one as a coach? Terry Crisp you say? I say you’re right! He’s a co-holder of an impressive NHL record: only two players are 6-0 in career Game Sevens. Terry Crisp, and Alexei Kovalev, who tied the mark with Montreal’s 2008 first round win over the Boston Bruins.

I was struck, btw, about how even though Terry and I have known each other for months how quickly he slipped into “interview mode”. By this, I mean the old player/coach dies hard and he told stories like he was talking to a reporter. I enjoyed that, it was fun. Especially since I’m no John Glennon.

That said, the conversation opened with Terry picking the ball up and running with it:

“You don’t even realize it until later, you know.”

ME: Realize what, Terry?

“That it’s a Game Seven, or how important it will become. Not until later. Then it will hit you.”

With that we began to talk about his most memorable Game Seven. Chalk that one up to the then-North Stars of Minnesota when he played for the St. Louis Blues.

“We were playing under odd circumstances. Because of a glitch in the schedule, the seven-game series started with the first two games in Minnesota, and then we played five straight in St. Louis! That series stands out in my mind because you would figure with home ice for five straight, it would be no contest. But the North Stars ran us to the limit, they pushed us to a full seven games.

“I remember Ron Schock in overtime scoring a breakaway goal on Cesare Maniago to win the series. Minnesota took us to the wall in that series, and they gave us every bit we could handle in our own barn for seven games. That’s why it sticks out in my mind.”

Terry also pointed out the 1974 win over the Rangers and 1975 victory against the New York Islanders as two particularly tough games while he was with the Flyers, describing them as “bloodbath” or “brawl fest”. Of course, Philly won the cup both years following these stiff challenges.

At which point, Terry goes on a tangent:

“You know, I think we (the Flyers) were misunderstood. Even though we were referred to as the Broad Street Bullies, we didn’t just beat teams with toughness, we were a very good hockey team.”

To make his point, he references the 1976 game against the Soviet Red Army team. Philly won that game 4-1, one of only two teams to beat the Russian clubs touring North America that winter (can you name the other? Answer at the end of this article).

“Everybody said the Russians wouldn’t come out of the locker room because we were too physical and beat them up too much. That wasn’t it. Believe me, that Russian team was as physical and as tough as they come. It had nothing to do with the Eddie Van Impe check, none of that. Fred Shero, our coach, read their systems so well that they couldn’t break us on defense or offense. They were totally confused and confounded, and they wanted to leave! Fortunately they weren’t getting paid until the end of the tour, so faced with the prospect of not getting any money, they returned to the ice,” he says with a laugh.

So back to Game Seven – what is it like as a player or as a coach?

“In the morning, you get up. Probably earlier than usual. This game, tonight, is everything you’ve worked for all season. It hinges on 60 minutes, maybe 60 minutes-plus, of hockey. Especially if you’ve never won it before to be this close and on the cusp is thrilling. You spend most of the day wondering how it’s going to go, knowing there’s no tomorrow. Because tomorrow, you’re either celebrating as champions or you’re crying in your coffee.”

Getting back to what he intoned earlier, Terry moved quickly into the game.

“Once the puck is dropped, you just go. You don’t think about it being Game Seven. You just play hard and keep going. It doesn’t really sink in… until there’s about four or five minutes left in the third period. Then it hits home! If you’re behind, you’re wondering how you can get that goal to tie it up or get back in it, and the clock is moving way too fast. If you’re ahead, you’re wondering how you can hold onto the lead and shut things down, and the clock runs way too slow.

“The playoffs slip by so quickly. You’re playing the same team night in and night out, and you play every other night. It goes so quickly you don’t often have time to take any of it in. You play the same team again and again so preparation is easier. It becomes more tweaking here and there if anything, but there’s no new systems, no new special teams, nothing. You say by Game Seven there’s no secrets? By Game Four!

“When I was coaching, the thought in my head was this: will my goalie out-duel the other guy? Will he make the big saves and play the big game? That’s the team that’s going to win. It’s no coincidence that teams that win the Stanley Cup more often than not have a great goaltender who makes the difference. You don’t really see a team win with an average guy in net.”

ON WINNING THE CUP
“You know, when you win it’s a sense of relief! When I went to the Final three straight seasons with the Blues, we weren’t expected to win and went 0-12. We were swept by Montreal, and then Boston twice. But when you’re favored, it’s tough. When I was coaching Calgary we were expected to win, and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that. That’s why I’m expecting such a good game tonight, because both Detroit and Pittsburgh are good teams that deserve to be here. No one “should” win it, but if there’s any advantage it’s Detroit’s because they’re at home.”

ON BIG GAME PLAYERS
“Probably the best big-game player I ever played with was Bernie Parent in Philly. Almost every time you win in the playoffs you can point to the goalie and the playoffs he had, and Parent was no exception. He made a save against Boston one Sunday afternoon, we were up 1-0 after two. Esposito and Hodge came down on him, and Espo made a great pass to get Hodge wide open. Everyone on the bench though ‘well, we’re tied up 1-1 now, that’s a goal’. But Parent somehow got over and made that save. To this day I have no idea how he did it. But we held on to win and he was outstanding.”

Terry was also quick to credit a few other Hall Of Fame netminders in St. Louis.

“I was fortunate enough to play with Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall in St. Louis. Here’s what kind of difference-maker Hall was in the playoffs our first season: we got swept out by Montreal in the Final, but three of those games were overtime losses, and the fourth was a one-goal game in regulation. And even though we were swept, Hall was named the Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP that year. Can you imagine what else he did during the playoffs to earn that?”

So what about this year’s teams?

“Well, I think Osgood is that goaltender this year. He had a rough regular season, many of us (the media) saying he’s done, his run is over, Detroit needs to trade for a goaltender… and look at who is getting it done for them now. You could almost say the same with Marc-Andre Fleury, too. He was on his way out of town, traded, demoted, whatever. But he stayed strong and is now a big reason the Penguins are where they are.

“But if I’m picking a guy who is not in net, it’s definitely Evgeny Malkin. He’s my Conn Smythe pick for this year. He just keeps jumping out at me. I know Crosby gets a lot of attention and what have you, but he’s been the difference-maker for the Penguins this playoffs, without a doubt.”

Game Seven is in Detroit tonight, and Terry expects that many of the guys might already be at the rink.

“It’s an awesome day for the guys who are playing. This is it, the season ends today. You can bet everyone gets to the rink early today. They want to get it going. As a coach, there’s nothing you can say at this point. I think the less said, the better. What could I possibly add that they haven’t already thought about, already prepared for, already studied? Here, I’ll tell you a quick story:

“Fred Shero was coaching us against Boston that Sunday afternoon in 1974. We were leading 1-0 after two periods. So at intermission, we all go into the room and wait for him to come in. Well, time is ticking down… ten minutes left in the intermission, no Shero. Eight minutes, no Shero. Six… five… four… now we’re thinking ‘Jeez, where is he? We’ve gotta get ready to go back on the ice!’ Three-and-a-half minutes left in the intermission, he walks into the room. He walks over to the black board, picks up the chalk, and then turned around without saying a word and looked us all in the eye. Then he put the chalk down and walked out. It was the best speech I never heard! Let me tell you, we didn’t walk down that ramp to the ice, we flew down it. We were ready to go! He just told us, without saying a word, that I’ve taken you as far as I can take you. It’s yours now. If you want it, go get it.

The Parent robbed Hodge… and the rest is history.

PS: The Buffalo Sabres were the only other team to beat the Soviets in the 1975 Super Series, thrashing the Soviet Wings 12-6 at the Auditorium in Buffalo on January 4, 1976.



June 10

Are you ready for digital TV yet?

Okay, it occurs to me that when even tech-inclined people I know are confused about the switch, I need to try to help out as best as I can. If you want to watch Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final Friday night, here’s what you need to do (or not do).

IF YOU ALREADY HAVE CABLE/SATELLITE
Do nothing. Put your feet up, the game will be there for you as it was Tuesday.

IF YOU HAVE OVER-THE-AIR SIGNAL/RABBIT EARS/OUTDOOR ANTENNA
I don’t have cable either, don’t worry. I live on my rabbit ears because I seldom watch TV. BUT I am able to watch the game with the bunnies just fine. Why? Because my TV has a digital tuner inside already. If you don’t have a TV with a built-in digital tuner (most late-model flat panel TVs already have them built in) you will need a converter box from your favorite retail store. I have a flat-panel with a built in digital tuner.

HOW CAN I TELL IF I HAVE A DIGITAL TUNER IN MY TV?
First off, you can search HERE to see if your TV is on the list of those with a built in tuner. If it has one, you’re fine. Plug in the rabbit ears and off you go.

There are two types of TV signals as of today: analog (NTSC) and digital (ATSC). Analog (NTSC) dies tomorrow. Your TV may include the words “Integrated Digital Tuner”, “Digital Receiver”, “DTV”, “ATSC”, or “HDTV” on the packaging. These all count.

Also, here’s a good indicator: your TV remote has a dash button “-“ on it. Digital channels are split up into segments, so there’s actually more than one channel at a given location. For instance, Fox would be 17-1 for the primary channel. Any additional channels are labeled 17-2, 17-3, and so on. In fact, Fox 17 already went all-digital, so if you can see Fox on 17-1, you’re fine.

If you have a digital tuner, you’re fine.

WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE A DIGITAL TUNER?
You basically now have three options:

Get cable/satellite
Buy a converter box
Buy a new TV

Converter boxes range from $40-$70 each, and is the cheapest option. There are coupons available from the government that cover $40 of the cost of your switch, but it takes a while to get one. They’re also dated and do expire, so watch out for that. It’s basically a rebate form. There’s not much difference in the low and high end converter boxes, btw.

If you subscribe to cable or satellite, you’ll be fine once it’s installed.

If you buy a new TV, make sure you get one with a digital tuner in it, otherwise you’re pretty much hosed without a converter box or cable.

PLEASE NOTE:
Digital TV is not the same as high definition (HD)TV. Digital refers to the way the signal is encoded. High definition is the resolution of the picture. Think of analog and digital TV as being different like AM and FM radio is different. You can still see digital TV without a hi-def TV. But if you have an HDTV, you can get hi-def over the air with just your rabbit ears! If the program is broadcast in hi-def and your TV is hi-def, you will see it that way, even with an aerial.

I hope this helps, and if you still need help, try the following:

DTV.gov
ABC News Article
DTV Transition.org
CNet Article

Author: Tom Callahan | Nashville Predators

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