Grand Ole Irony in Nashville
The Nashville Predators are ignoring off-ice controversies and
have the Stanley Cup in their claws, writes TFP's Greg
(WASHINGTON, DC) -- As a writer, I don't like to traffic
in irony because, honestly, I'm just not sure how to
I'm one of those lunkheads who thought Alanis
Morissette's song "Ironic" was actually filled with
ironies; turns out, being in a traffic jam when you're
already late or having it rain on your wedding day are
just really annoying.
I suppose there may be something ironic about the
inability to label things as "ironic" because of
"Ironic," but I'm uncomfortable making that leap like
Dave Coulier, I've been irreversibly damaged by Ms.
Morissette, and I didn't even get a date in the theater
out of it.
So keep that in mind as I make the following
proclamation: There would be something very ironic about
the Nashville Predators winning the Stanley Cup this
Here's the scenario: The Predators are atop the Western
Conference standings with the most talented team in the
franchise's brief history. Yet, most of the conversation this
season about Nashville has been focused off the ice: On empty
seats in the arena, on city businesses that aren't financially
committed to the franchise... heck, even on apathetic,
unsupportive local restaurants that are being added to an
ever-growing enemies' list among Predators fans.
Owner Craig Leipold told The Tennessean that he's
looking to sell 40 percent of the team to local ownership in
the hopes that it will ignite interest from a fickle Nashville
business community. The same publication has reported that the
Preds' final attendance figures the team was averaging
14,620 per home date as of Feb. 7 could impact everything
from its portion of league-wide revenue sharing to triggering
a potential escape clause in its contract with the city in
All of this off-ice strife has led to Nashville becoming the
poster-child for critics of Gary Bettman's expansion into
non-traditional U.S. hockey markets and, with the Penguins
apparently staying in Pittsburgh, the franchise du jour for
relocation speculators that have the Predators bound for
Winnipeg, Kansas City, and Las Vegas (or Philadelphia, a city
in desperate need of an NHL team these days).
That a team playing with the Sword of Damocles hanging over
its head might win the Stanley Cup this season seems, to my
admittedly untrained eye, ironic enough.
But it gets better.
Do you remember the last team that made a successful run at
the Stanley Cup while surrounded by rumors about its imminent
departure to another city?
would be the New Jersey Devils in 1995.
And where were they headed?
Nashville, of course.
I think for Dr. McMullen's Devils and Mr. Leipold's
Predators, it's more about savvy owners using
apocalyptic bombast to get what they want out of local
businesses, government and fans than an actual desire
to leave town. Maybe the players sense that, too;
because in both cases, the teams exhibited unwavering
focus and unprecedented success during times of
In Nashville's situation, I believe that fortitude comes from
the top. General Manager David Poile is, for my money, one of
the best hockey men in the business. For 15 years, he ran the
Washington Capitals as a consistent playoff team, despite
facing many of the same off-ice issues as the Predators are
today. Outside of Brian Bellows and Esa Tikkanen, Poile was
responsible for every member of the only Washington team to
ever play for the Stanley Cup in 1998. Poile wasn't
universally adored by the fans, the majority of whom slammed
him for trading players like Dino Ciccarelli and failing to
secure that last piece of a championship puzzle during the
Yet today, I have Caps fans telling me he'd make a great
Poile's made some shrewd decisions in the last two years that
have cemented the Predators as a Cup contender.
Paul Kariya is still as dangerous an offensive talent as there
is in the Western Conference. J.P. Dumont was a free-agent
coup who's solidified the team's scoring depth; and if last
year showed anything, plays like a man possessed in the
Speaking of the post-season, Jason Arnott is a center that the
San Jose Sharks won't push around, and who is one of the few
players in the league that can attest to literally having won
the Stanley Cup for his team.
To Poile's credit, he's the one who sold some of the veterans
(and more importantly, their agents) on the Predators as a
contender and on Nashville as an attractive home.
Poile and his staff have also excelled with younger talent.
Homegrown draft picks like Martin Erat, Shea Weber and Ryan
Suter are prime contributors. Suter's a 22-year-old kid who's
about a plus-13 while playing the fourth-most minutes on the
roster on a conference-leading team, that's just
And when everyone in hockey was ready to "Daigle" David
Legwand, Poile holds onto him and watches him blossom into the
kind of complete, two-way talent for which Legwand's idol
Stevie Yzerman was the prototype.
Poile's best move? That came back in 1997, when he brought
Barry Trotz with him after nine years together in the Capitals
organization to be the Predators' first head coach.
Without any NHL experience as a bench boss, Trotz was
immediately labeled by some as the kind of
lamb-to-the-slaughter stop-gap that most first-season
expansion coaches become. But that characterization undermined
what is one of Poile's greatest attributes just ask Legwand
which is loyalty. Trotz was going to grow with the team, as
much a teacher of young players as a student of how to win in
the National Hockey League. His head may have been in the
gallows a few times, like near the start of the 2003-04 season
after the team had regressed a bit. Yet by 2004, the Predators
were a playoff team and Trotz was a Jack Adams candidate.
I love this guy, from the seven memorable years he spent
toiling in the AHL to that Smylex gas grin of his. I love the
way he coaches, and I love the fact that he's dedicated
himself to growing hockey in one of the most non-traditional
of non-traditional markets. I'm not a big believer of East
Coast bias, but the disparity in platitudes handed out to
Trotz and Lindy Ruff is staggering; it's like comparing the
ratings for the NHL's YoungStars Game and "American Idol."
I think that all changes this year if the Predators are who I
think they are. They have that magical mix of veterans who act
like they've been there and young players who are desperate to
know how it feels. Their quick, mobile defensive game is
light-years beyond where its experience level tells you it
should be. Goalie Tomas Vokoun fragile as he is has been
waiting for the chance to Khabibulin his team to a Cup. If he
falters, Nashville has what Edmonton and Carolina showed us is
essential last season: Option B, in a talented kid named Chris
The powerplay needs to be better than middle of the pack,
especially with the respect Kariya, Arnott and Kimmo Timonen
seem to earn from opposing penalty kills. And Nashville still
feels one veteran center and/or defenseman away
unfortunately, Poile isn't known for his last-minute shopping.
That said, I haven't seen many teams in the NHL this season
with the total package the Predators have. They are
undoubtedly a contender for the Stanley Cup Finals, an
accomplishment that could break down more barriers with the
Nashville community than 1,000 marketing pamphlets could.
Hey maybe they'll meet the New Jersey Devils there.
That'd be ironic, don'cha think?
Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is
a columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com, and the Senior Editor and Washington
Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.
His book, "Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports
is now on sale.