Thursday, July 28, 2011

Nashville Knights

In response to Rob's awesome article yesterday, I wanted to post this tidbit of greatness. This is the the Preds version of Jordin Tootoo,  Brock "The Rock" Kelly, in action!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The evolution of hockey: Nashville style

With news coming out that the Nashville Predators are working on a documentary of the history of hockey in Nashville, I thought it would be cool to look at a little bit of the history myself. The roots of hockey in Nashville are much deeper than many people realize. While it hasn't been home to the game for as long as other markets, it has been growing dramatically during the past 50 years.

It all started with the Nashville Dixie Flyers. The Dixie Flyers were a minor league team in the Eastern Hockey League, and spent nine seasons in Nashville from 1962-1971. Throughout their time in Nashville, the Dixie Flyers posted a 336-267-44 record. As Richard in the comments section pointed out, the Dixie Flyers brought the only hockey championships that Nashville has seen thus far. They won back to back Walker Cups in the Eastern Hockey League in the 1965-66 season and 1966-67 season. In 1967, they actually swept the playoffs, going 11-0 throughout the postseason. That record still stands.

After the Dixie Flyers, it took ten years for Nashville to have another hockey team to call their own. The Nashville South Stars came in 1981. In the 1981-82 season, the South Stars were in the Central Hockey League with a respecatble 41-35-4 record. A season later, they were moved to the Atlantic Coast Hockey League, where they finished with an abysmal 11-43-4 record. The team was then moved to Virginia.

In 1989, the Nashville Knights came to town as part of the East Coast Hockey League. It was clear that minor league hockey drew a different audience than that of an NHL audience. Nashville resident Phillip Reid, who attended the majority of home games for the Knights while growing up, said "People weren't there to see skilled players dangle and make plays....they were there for the fights and blood."

The Knights played a pivotal role in the evolution of hockey in Nashville. "The Knights introduced me, and my generation, to hockey. My parents learned the game through the South Stars and Dixie Flyers, but as a kid growing up in the 80's and 90's, I had the Knights," Reid said. The Knights went 215-210-0-22-11(OT loss and Shootout loss) from 1989-1996, before they were moved to Pensacola. However, they left behind lasting memories for people like Phillip.

"I remember running around the messanine after goals. Every kid waited to be old enough that their parents would let them do that. And I certainly remember when I finally was able to run around with the flag crew!"

The next chapter of hockey in Nashville were the Nighthawks and Ice Flyers. The Nighthawks were awful, posting a 12-52-0-0-2 record in the 1996-97 season. A year later, the Ice Flyers posted a 41-19-0-0-10 record.

Of course, Nashville finally got an NHL franchise in the 1998-99 season. The Preds came to town and they've been here ever since. Since the Preds have been here, they've enjoyed moderate success on the ice, and an equal amount of success off of the ice.

Hockey programs at the Centennial Sportsplex and A-game in Franklin have grown tremendously since the Preds have gotten here. Brad Greenfield plays hockey in the Upper C division at Centennial Sportsplex for the Yazoo Brewers, and he has seen the growth firsthand.

"It's gotten to the point now where, with the four sheets of ice we have in the Nashville area, there's no more time. Some of our games during the fall, with the youth leagues and high school leagues going, are pushed all the way until about a midnight start time, so there's just really no more ice time," he said.

According to Greenfield, people actually have to be put on the waiting list because there's not enough spots. It's clear that with the Preds' recent success, the growth of the sport is going to continue in the Nashville area. Greenfield is very confident about the continued growth of hockey in Nashville.

"I think it's just going to take care of itself. It's just that natural progression. When a franchise is set up in a city, it's 10 or 12 years before it ever really gets going."

Nashville has had a long history of hockey. While it's not as high profile as other cities like Detroit and Chicago, it's slowly becoming more and more viable. The city of Nashville will continue to embrace hockey, and will continue to grow the sport. It looks like Nashville is a hockey town after all.

Monday, July 25, 2011

NHL12 Preview

As the NHL hockey season nears, it’s time for most GenX hockey fans to prepare to spend an additional $60 of EA’s latest iteration of its video game franchise. (Or if you’re “lucky” like I am, then you also get to re-up your years XBL subscription, too.)
Each year, EA promises humongous changes that will make a new purchase worthwhile…but in my opinion, they seldom deliver. Like normal, EA has done the same this year. However, I think that we may see some changes that we have been yearning for for a few years.
One addition this year is increased interaction in front of the goalies. This year, skaters can get tangled up with the oddest players on the ice; you can knock them down, knock their helmets off, and push the posts off of the moorings. Also, there will be a feature that allows goalies to become involved in fights. I’ll reserve judgment to see how well this is done.

Another much needed small addition is shattering glass. Back in the days of the Sega NHL games, this was a common occurrence. Should this occur every game? Nope. And I sincerely hope that it doesn’t. However, a well-timed shatter on a Weber shot will be pretty cool.
Also, the NHL12 team has added numerous player traits that will help the AI player smarter and more realistic, such as Pinching DMen, Net Drivers, and Agitators. I think this will be one of the best changes to the game. Any time the AI can be made “smarter” and more realistic, then only great things can be expected.
The team has also announced that the physics engine has been updated; this year, skaters really hit as they should. Apparently, we will no longer see the Sullys of the league knock down the Charas. That will be a pleasant addition.

There are a few changes that I am looking for. Of course, I’d like more Preds to look like themselves. I’m tired of having 2 players who semi-resemble their actual counterparts. It’s time that Suter and Toots look like the actual players. Also, I’m tired of making breakout passes during online play, only to have the puck deflect off the stick and into the far corner. The physics don’t act like this during offline play, and it should play that way all the time. Finally, the stupid and phantom penalties that the game calls need to be gone. I’d rather online play be comprised of very few calls, as opposed to the slashes that I get called on every time I try a stick lift.
We’ll soon find out if the game delivers what it promises. I hope it does…but even if it doesn’t, I’ll buy it anyways.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Could Bergfors be 2011-12 version of Kostitsyn?

For the past few seasons in Nashville, there has been a trend of different players raising their on-ice performance to a much higher than expected level. In the 2008-09 season, Joel Ward was that guy. Ward came out of virtually nowhere, and ended the season with 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points.

In the 2009-10 season, Patric Hornqvist went from two goals in the previous season to 30 goals. Hornqvist ended up with 51 points on the season, and really came on the scene as the primary goal-scorer for the Preds.

Last season, Sergei Kostitsyn joined that list. After a very rocky road in Montreal, Kostitsyn found his fresh start in Nashville. He had 50 points at season's end, and led the Predators in goal-scoring with 23 goals.

This summer, the Predators acquired a young forward named Niclas Bergfors. At 24 years of age, Bergfors is still in the development stage of his career. Last season, Bergfors played with the Atlanta Thrashers before he was traded to the Florida Panthers. He had a combined 36 points with the two teams in 72 games played.

If Bergfors can stay healthy, he's not a bad offensive threat. In his NHL career, Bergfors has playe in 162 games, registerting 81 points in the process. He has a right-handed shot, and will be in a more offensive role in Nashville. Bergfors also has blazing speed, which will be a huge plus for the Predators.

Will Bergfors be the guy in 2011-12 that raises his game to an unexpected level? He certainly has some of the tools that suggest he has the potential to do so.

Who will replace Sullivan as Alternate Captain?

It seems as though a good portion of the discussion around the Nashville hockey landscape this summer has been about certain holes that the Predators have to fill. Add naming a new alternate captain to that category.

Now that Steve Sullivan has moved on to Pittsburgh, the Preds have a hole to fill on and off the ice. Sullivan was a great leader for the Preds during his time in Nashville. The time has now come where Nashville and Sullivan are moving into different directions.

With Sully gone, somebody has to fill the role of alternate captain alongside Ryan Suter. Throughout last year's long list of injuries, several different players wore the "A" on their jersey. Francis Bouillon and Marty Erat both flashed the "A" on their chest during the course of the season.

In my mind, there are three players who have a legitimate shot at becoming the other alternate captain. Interestingly enough, their jersey numbers are 10, 11, and 12. I believe that Erat, David Legwand, and Mike Fisher are all in the running for the alternate captain responsibility.

Based on the way Barry Trotz and his staff have talked since acquiring him, it looks like Fisher is going to be the guy. The coaches haven't been shy about the value of Fisher's leadership. They have made it quite clear that he's a natural-born leader.

With a core leadership group of Shea Weber, Suter, and Fisher, the Preds will be in good hands. While it's unlikely that the decision will be made until training camp, I'd feel pretty safe betting that Fisher wears the "A" this coming season.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What does hockey mean to you?

What does hockey mean to you? It's an interesting and complicated question. For some, it's a chance to be a kid again. Maybe it's a chance to feel as though you're a part of something bigger than yourself. The personal connection with hockey is different from person to person.

For me, hockey has always been a part of who I am. Although I've actually never played an organized game of hockey in my life, it has always been something that has fascinated me. As I have grown, the Nashville Predators have as well. Hard-core hockey fans in Nashville have watched this team develop into a perennial playoff team, while riding through all of the ups and downs on an emotional roller coaster.

Hockey brings jubilation and sorrow. Pride and disgust. Confidence and fear. All of these feelings have shown up during the course of Nashville Predators history. Winning a playoff series and seeing the city taken over by hockey fever during an extended playoff run shows how hockey can unite a town.

One of the most fond memories that hockey has ever provided me with was just before Game 6 against Anaheim. The fans could feel what was about to happen. During the warmups, the crowd rose in unison to cheer while the Preds were finishing up their drills. The amount of excitement and anticipation in the building was palpable. You just knew that was the day that Nashville would finally get over the hump, and win their first ever playoff series.

Family is probably one of the best words to use when describing why hockey is so important to me. It's provided me with a second family. I've built strong relationships with people through hockey. Going to Bridgestone Arena really feels as if I'm walking into my own home.

There are days when watching a Preds' game makes me want to take a 6-iron to my wall. Joy, hatred, fear, togetherness. To me, hockey is all of this and more. It's why I do this. It's a part of what defines me. It's my passion. What does hockey mean to you?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Skate of the Union recap; Home jerseys revealed

The 3rd annual "Skate of the Union" held by the Nashville Predators was a huge success. Hundreds of fans showed up to Bridgestone Arena to participate in a number of events that took place throughout the day.

One of the major attractions of the day was the used equipment sale. Game-used sticks, gloves, and a host of other items were on sale for season ticket holders and the general public. Several interesting items from current and former Preds were found in the sale. New merchandise, with the new team logo, went on sale at the event.

Fans were also given the opportunity to take a tour of the locker room, and to have autographs signed by Blake Geoffrion, Ryan Suter, Wade Belak, Stu Grimson, and Scott Walker. All of this led up to the main event, which was the town hall style meeting and the unveiling of the new home jersey.

The panel, which consisted of David Poile, Jeff Cogen, Tom Cigarran, Barry Trotz, and Sean Henry, made several interesting statements regarding the Preds. According to Poile, negotiations with Shea Weber are still ongoing. Poile is very confident that a deal will be done.

There will be a huge effort by the Nashville Predators organization to invest in Bridgestone Arena. A particular emphasis will be made in making sure that the arena is updated, and that it will continue to function at the highest level. Cogen and Henry hinted at several possible new changes to the arena that might take place.

In my view from hearing Poile speak, I wouldn't expect a major deal involving the Predators for the remainder of the off-season. It looks like the Preds are going to stick with the roster they currently have until the trade deadline. Having said that, it really seems as if Poile is very serious about being a buyer when the deadline comes.

After several questions from fans were answered, the party moved outside on the concourse. A banner of the new home jersey was revealed on the side of the AT&T building in downtown Nashville. Geoffrion, Suter, and a host of other individuals modeled the jersey after the original banner was seen. I loved the jersey. Several people who didn't like the idea of a gold jersey going into the night were pleasantly surprised. It really looks good.

Random notes:

There's not an official count, but this was by far the most people who have ever been to the Skate of the Union. It truly was a fantastic crowd for a hot summer day in the middle of July.

Poile plans on tackling Suter and Pekka Rinne's contract after a deal is made with Weber.

The Nashville Predators' organization has set a goal to sell out 25 home games in the regular season of next year.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Skate of the Union takes place today

The Nashville Predator's annual summer get together, known as the Skate of the Union, will take place today. Officially, the event begins at 10 a.m. and lasts until 9 p.m.

There will be numerous activities taking place throughout the day, starting with the opening of the pro shop and the beginning of the sidewalk sale. Several other events, like tours of the locker room and autograph signings, will take place throughout the day.

At 6:00 p.m., the Skate of the Union address will take place, and the new home jerseys will be revealed to the public. Several different members from the Nashville Predators organization will be taking questions from fans, and will be discussing several additional topics regarding the team.

Each year, the Skate of the Union is a fun place to be. There's usually not anything major that takes place, but it's a great time to interact with other fans and members of the organization. It also makes you realize that training camp is only another two months away.

Come on down to Bridgestone Arena today and see for yourself. It's a fun time that will give you hockey lovers something to do, and also will provide you with something to look forward to this fall.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pieces still in place for Preds

In an off-season of turmoil and uncertainty, the Nashville Predators have faced hard criticism from their fan base. From new jerseys to criticism over certain players being traded away, it hasn't been the easiest summer for David Poile and his staff. However, if you look closely, you'll find that the current roster for the Preds isn't that much different than last year's team.

Nashville's roster for Game 6 of last year's playoffs against Vancouver is as follows:

Forwards: Blake Geoffrion, Martin Erat, David Legwand, Mike Fisher, Nick Spaling, Jordin Tootoo, Matt Halischuk, Jerred Smithson, Patric Hornqvist, Joel Ward, Colin Wilson, and Sergei Kostitsyn.

Defenseman: Cody Franson, Shea Weber, Jon Blum, Kevin Klein, Ryan Suter, and Shane O'Brien. Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback were the goaltenders.

Out of all of the forwards who played in Nashville's last playoff game, only Joel Ward is gone. On defense, Franson and O'Brien are the ones who won't be returning next year. Franson and O'Brien made up Nashville's 3rd defensive pair.

After looking at the situation, Nashville hasn't made any drastic changes. Poile has acquired other players, like Nicolas Bergfors, who will add to the lineup in the 2011-12 season. Younger defenseman will get their opportunity to shine on Nashville's 3rd defensive pairing. While another scorer is certainly needed, things aren't as bad as they have been made out to be.

There is still a lot of off-season left for moves to be made, and for negotiations to continue with Shea Weber. Make no mistake about it, Nashville is still a playoff team. The rest of the off-season is about forming a team that can contend for a Stanley Cup championship.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Kostitsyn signs

The Nashville Predators and Sergei Kostitsyn have reportedly agreed to a deal for one year. The deal is worth $2.5 million.

This is great news for the Preds, who can now focus on signing Shea Weber, and putting offensive production around the current talent. This also should ease some of the tension around Prednation.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Preds sign 4 of 5 RFA's; Kostitsyn still to undergo hearing

After a period of questionable and uncertain news, the Nashville Predators finally have some good news to announce. Nashville has signed Matt Halischuk, Chris Mueller, Cal O'Reilly, and Nick Spaling.

Each of these players were expected to be in the arbitration hearing, which will take place tomorrow. Sergei Kostitsyn will still have his arbitration hearing tomorrow.

This is great news for the Preds. Now they have to worry about the Kostitsyn situation.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Method to madness

Every year it seems that David Poile does something to infuriate a good portion of Preds' fans. Standing pat on July 1st, not making a trade at the deadline, or getting rid of certain players always seems to stir up the pot in Nashville.

Poile is a professional. He's considered one of the best general mangers in the NHL because he always seems to pull the right strings and get the best out of his players. These days, Poile is receiving more criticism than he ever has before.

Fans on Twitter and Facebook are ripping into Poile at every move he makes. The trade of Matthew Lombardi and Cody Franson to Toronto for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney has been blasted by Prednation. On paper, that is a really dumb trade if it was just a straight up trade. However, you've got to remember that there is a much better reason to make that trade. By dumping Lombardi's salary, and getting rid of Franson, money has been cleared up for Shea Weber and potentially a high-scoring forward.

There's always a reason for everything that Poile does. Does that mean that he's perfect? No. Does that mean none of his decisions should ever be questioned, and Preds' fans should blindly follow his lead? Of course not. But, there's no reason to think that he's just blowing up the team.

Next year's roster is going to look different than last year's roster. We knew that going into the off-season. Change isn't always bad. Yes, the Preds made it farther in the playoffs than they ever had before. However, there's only one stat that matters in the NHL: Stanley Cups. Last time I checked, the Preds don't have any.

While the 2010-11 version of the Nashville Predators was certainly a good team, it was not a Stanley Cup caliber team. The Preds simply didn't have enough offense to win. I think Nashville fans will find that during the next few months, the Predators are going to start looking better and better when Poile makes his move. There's no question in my mind that a move to acquire offense is coming. The money is there. The need is there.

The point of all of this? Don't hit the panic button every time David Poile makes a move. There is always a method to his madness.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Will Qualifying Offer dispute influence Weber's contract?

On July 8th, the free agent status of the four players(Cal O'Reilly, Nick Spaling, Matt Halischuk, and Sergei Kostitsyn) will be decided when the grievance case that was filed by the NHLPA against the Nashville Predators will be heard. It's an extremely important day for the Predators because, if the NHLPA wins, the four players in question will become unrestricted free agents.

There is another issue that could possibly be created here if the NHLPA gets their way. If the worst possible situation occurs, and the players in question become unrestricted and leave Nashville, how will that go over with Shea Weber?

Think about it. If Halischuk, Kostitsyn, O'Reilly and Spaling leave, Nashville will become almost a completely different team. By my count, nine players that were a part of Nashville's playoff run last year will be gone. Nashville has already lost Goc, Ward, Dumont, Sullivan and O'Brien. To a certain degree, all of those players were expected to leave. However, none of the players that are a part of the NHLPA grievance situation were expected to leave.

Depending on what the Preds do between now and that point, they might become a less attractive option for Weber to make a longer-term deal with. As it stands, the Preds are currently a contender in the Western Conference. However, if those players are lost, they become a much weaker team. Weber isn't interested on taking steps backwards.

Weber is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after next year. If this mess ends up making Nashville a much worse team on paper, you can bet that Weber will have second thoughts about a long-term contract. Assuming the arbitration is only for one year, Weber could be interested in testing the free agent market next summer if Nashville is taking steps in the wrong direction.

Of course, there are many things that would have to happen for this to take place. For one, Nashville's four players in question would all have to become unrestricted free agents. After that, they would have to leave Nashville, leaving them with only three lines of players that have been in the NHL before. There are several ways to prevent this nightmare situation from happening.

It's no secret that the Predators need scoring. While this year's free agent market doesn't have a huge star, there are several players still out there who can put points on the board. Regardless of what happens with the Qualifying Offer case, the Predators still have to address their lack of scoring.

Like I said before, every one that Nashville has lost so far was expected to be gone. One possible exception to that is Joel Ward, but there was never a 100% guarantee that he would remain in Nashville. That part isn't a big deal. The bigger deal is on July 8th, when the fate of Nashville's RFA's are decided.

July 8th is a very important day for the future of the Predators. Prednation will be hoping that Nashville's RFA's will remain RFAs. Weber will also be watching that day very closely. Because of that, I wouldn't expect any news on Weber negotiations until the grievance case is decided upon. David Poile better hope that nothing comes of out of the RFA situation, or he might have an entirely new issue on his hands.

Ward signs with Washington

Joel Ward signed with the Washington Capitals for a 4 year 12 million dollar deal. It's a good deal for Ward, but I think that is crazy. In my opinion, that's way too much for Ward, and I'm glad David Poile didn't dish out that kind of money for him.

Sully is a Penguin

Steve Sullivan is now a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins according to his Twitter account. The deal is a one year, $1.5 million deal.

Goc goes to Florida

Marcel Goc has signed a three year deal with the Florida Panthers, which is good for $1.7 million a year.

Goc is a valuable player, and is a great pickup for the Panthers. So far, the Preds have not made any moves in the first two hours of free agency.