03 October 2013

NHL: Expectations, Clown Shoes, and the Nashville Predators

By Spaceman
Nashville, TN

Pauly was nice enough to ask me to write about the NHL at Ocelot Sports this season. Here’s a little something I wrote in advance of my favorite team’s road opener tonight in St. Louis.

There’s a certain comfort that comes from knowing what to expect from the team you love. Jets fans expect their team to be terrible. Yankees fans expect their team to be great. Spurs fans expect Tim Duncan to be dominant again even though he’s eligible for Social Security. Blackhawks fans expect beer, beer, beer, and incessant clips of “Chelsea Dagger.” And Nashville Predators fans expect our team to make the playoffs.

Sure, they were once an expansion team, but that was a long time ago. (This is their 15th year in existence. Tempus fugit!) Starting in their sixth season, just before the 2003-04 lockout, they began their run of making the playoffs in seven out of eight seasons, coming up just three points short the one season where they didn’t make it. Even though they’ve only ever won two series, both first-rounders, the fact is that more often than not they get there and that’s what we’ve come to expect from them.

I'm not saying it's rational, just that we expect it.

During the lockout-shortened season, though, the Preds not only failed to make the playoffs but looked pretty awful along the way. It was hard to endure while it was going on, yet amazingly easy to forget once it was over. Let’s face it, a 48-game season is clown shoes (unless your team wins the Stanley Cup). The added bonus of having junior superstar defenseman Seth Jones fall to fourth in this summer’s NHL draft made the medicine go down even easier.

So going into this season I have two opposing forces tugging at me when I think of the Preds. My heart expects them to be a playoff team: They did it in ’03-’04 and that team really wasn’t very good! They don't have to play the Red Wings six times a season anymore! Playing Winnipeg five times has to be an advantage! My brain, however, says they’re not improved enough to do that: They didn’t bolster their scoring dramatically enough! Their defense isn’t that much better than last year’s porous offering! Everything depends on Pekka Rinne being superhuman and if he goes down they’re relying on a untested goalie!

Somehow the clash of these opposed forces in my head works out to me expecting the Preds to fight all season long for an eighth seed. Those seasons can be tough to take but they’re certainly never boring. If they’re better than I’m expecting, that would be great. And if they’re terrible? It’ll be a lot harder to take than the lockout season was, especially since a terrible season would probably mean injuries to key players and nobody ever wants to see that.

The one upside is that the Preds roster is filled with young talent. Forget about the weak crop of free-agent signings, aside from the currently injured Viktor Stalberg - the home-grown prospects are the main reason for fans to get excited. Swiss defenseman Roman Josi has already proven his worth to the team in two seasons, as has Patric Hornqvist, sometimes known as “Tomas Holmstrom Lite,” in his three. And with Seth Jones and Swedish forward Filip Forsberg ready to play their first full NHL seasons, there’s going to be a lot of improvement between now and April.

I’ll be keeping a weekly diary of the pain here at Ocelot Sports. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a Nashville Predators fan for a season - hell, even if you’ve never dared to dream - this will be your chance to find out. If nothing else I can tell you all about the food at Bridgestone Arena - delicacies like chicken and waffles, and bacon on a stick. Mmmmmmmmm, bacon. Game on!

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