I’m pleased to welcome Buddy Oakes back to the pages of All Habs Hockey Magazine. Buddy, a wealth of knowledge about hockey in Nashville, is the driving force behind Preds on the Glass, the leading new media website in Predators-country.
Many readers of All Habs Hockey Magazine are not only supporters of the Montreal Canadiens but hockey fans as well who will be looking for a team to follow once the playoffs begin. Buddy, has graciously agreed to share the following primer with you. I’m sure that he would be happy to receive your comments.
COLUMBIA, TN. — Looking for a playoff team to follow? Head south to Smashville!
For fans of the Montreal Canadiens, this year has been the season from hell. In September, there were few among the faithful that would consider that the Habs would not be in the playoffs at season’s end. Since then, with the inconsistent play on the ice, the injuries, and the circus-like atmosphere with the team’s leadership, it has become a season best forgotten.
The Canadiens have a long tradition of playoff hockey and teams are normally judged by how deep they go in the playoffs, not by merely by making the top eight in the conference. This year, Habs fans are left with a postseason where they will need to find a girfriend on the side and “adopt” other teams in order to have someone to cheer for on into June.
One Stanley Cup contender that Canadiens’ fans may find easy to like is the Nashville Predators. Few folks north of the border knew of the team’s existence prior to last year’s series with the Vancouver Canucks. Hordes of old-time hockey media swarmed to the American South and fell in love with a fan base, building, and honky-tonk entertainment district collectively known as “Smashville.”
The Predators would be an easy entry point for Montreal fans as key players include beloved ex-Habs such as Frankie Bouillon and Hal Gill, as well as the enigmatic Kostitsyn brothers, Sergei and Andrei, who’s careers have blossomed in Nashville. Throw in the most dynamic player to have ever worn the “Predator gold,” Alexander Radulov, who has to be considered a top-ten NHL forward after only a few games back from his four years as the KHL’s best player. There were questions as to how Radulov would be accepted back to the Predators after his departure four years ago, but they were answered quickly when teammates and fans saw him in action and he has quickly become a fan favorite as all has been forgiven.
The Predators are coached by Barry Trotz, the only coach the franchise has ever known, who picked up his 500th win last weekend. He is a legend in that through his tenure he has never “lost the room” or had his message “go stale.” Trotz has done more with less talent than any coach in recent history. The team is known for a “Band of Brothers” style of play where every player has to give 100% every game with a focus on team play that has come to be known as “The Predator Way.”
There has been fierce competition for playing time in recent weeks, with the Predators carrying 27 players on the roster and the ones that are producing are getting the minutes.
The team has been built from the goal out and 6-foot-5 Pekka Rinne, who leads the NHL in wins, is the anchor. Anders Lindback is the other half of Nashville’s “13 feet of goalie” checking in at 6-foot-6.
The top defensive pair is Norris Trophy candidates, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. The other four d-men slots are mostly filled with combinations of Kevin Klein, rookie Roman Josi, Gill, and Bouillon. Waiting for opportunities are Jack Hillen and rookie Ryan Ellis, who won every award available during his four years with the Windsor Spitfires.
The Predators have long been known for a lack of scoring punch, with plenty of 2-1 games peppering the season’s results. This year, the Preds are fourth in the West in scoring, and after years of struggles on the man-advantage are now ranked number one in the NHL in power-play conversion. The Predators score by committee and only have two twenty-goal scorers, but do boast of eleven players with ten or more goals for the year.
Nashville’s top line is centered by Mike Fisher, with Sergei Kostitsyn, and Marty Erat on the Wings. The second line is still a work in progress as Radulov has been added to the line centered by the original Predator draft pick, David Legwand. Patric Hornqvist and Andrei Kostitsyn are the other candidates.
From that point on the competition is fierce with a wide variety of forwards, each with a different skill set, trying to make the lineup each game.
Ex-Boston University player, and Hobey Baker finalist, Colin Wilson has found his previously lacking consistency this season and is close to becoming the player that was expected. Rookie Craig Smith who made the jump from the University of Wisconsin has struggled with the number of games played, but has shown flashes of brilliance at times.
The one player that exemplifies “Predator hockey” the best and who has become one of Trotz’s favorites, is 21-year-old, Gabriel Bourque, who hails from Rimouski. Trotz has repeatedly said that he improves any line on which he plays.
Masterton Trophy nominee, Jordin Tootoo is a player that is known for being a shift disturber but has actually gotten away from that role in the last couple of seasons. “Toots” is a much more well-rounded player than folks outside the Nashville area realize and is greeted by hundreds of “Too-Too whistles” every time he steps on the ice.
Matt Halischuk, Nick Spaling, and Brandon Yip all have similar roles, playing solid two-way, gritty hockey in the trenches and on the boards. Paul Gaustad was acquired at the trade deadline from Buffalo as a face-off and penalty-kill specialist and is guaranteed a start every night.
For toughness, Nashville brought in one of the better pugilists in the game in Brian McGrattan, who only plays when trouble is imminent.
In conclusion, there are few playoff teams out there that would be more palatable for disgruntled fans from Montreal to support than the Nashville Predators. With all the late season additions, especially with the post-deadline pickup of Radulov, most pundits see Nashville with a good chance of making the Western Conference finals and possibly even having a sniff at the Cup in the final series in June.
So if you are a Habs fan on the fence at season’s end, throw on a gold shirt, head down to the pub, and declare yourself a new resident of Smashville. You will always be welcome.