Thursday, May 10, 2012
The expectations for the Nashville Predators had never been higher than they were heading into the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It seemed like the Predators finally had the necessary talent and depth that it takes to win a Stanley Cup, and Nashville was a popular pick to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.
For the second year in a row, however, the Predators were ousted in the second round of the playoffs. The Phoenix Coyotes made short work of a shell shocked Nashville team in five games, and now another long off-season awaits a Predators team that is facing a lot of unanswered questions and potential roster turnover.
Nashville isn't happy with the way their season ended. They believe they had a team that could legitimately compete for the Stanley Cup and they simply weren't able to get the job done. However, some of the Predators' players are still able to take some positives away from the 2011-2012 season as a whole.
"Two years in a row we've made it to the second round. Obviously, we would trade it in for a Stanley Cup, but I think we battled hard. I think the amount of growth we showed from the beginning of the year to the end of the year is something that's very positive. I think at the beginning of the year there were some people who were really worried about us, and we turned into a fourth place Western Conference team so there are definitely some positives to take away," said Predators forward Colin Wilson.
The 2011-2012 season was a bit of a roller coaster ride for the Predators. Nashville began the season as the youngest team in the NHL, but were able to survive the first 20 games of the regular season with a 10-6-4 record due in large part to the stellar play of Pekka Rinne.
After that stretch, the Predators evolved into one of the most consistent teams in the league throughout the regular season. They posted an incredible 11-2-0 record in the month of January, and seemed to be in really good shape when they added Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad at the trading deadline.
Things seemed to be looking even better for the Predators when Alexander Radulov returned to Nashville after leaving nearly four years before to go play in the KHL. Radulov was supposed to be the final piece for a Predators team that suddenly had more depth than ever before.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Predators found themselves staring their longtime nemesis squarely in the face. Nashville had never beaten the Detroit Red Wings in a playoff series before, losing the series in both of the two prior postseason meetings between the two respective organizations. Nashville was finally able to beat the Red Wings in the playoffs, however, and things seemed to be looking up for them.
Before the series started, most of the hockey world was picking the Predators to get past Phoenix and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Somebody just forgot to tell Phoenix how the series was supposed to unfold. The Coyotes played a strong defensive series and got incredible goaltending from Mike Smith. Phoenix was able to get timely goals and that proved to be the difference in the series.
"We started building at the beginning of the season with some young guys and matched up with good veterans, too. In my book, the real season is always the playoffs. You have to prepare yourself to get in the playoffs. We did that well. We got in the playoffs and we were ready. We faced Detroit in the first round and we did a great job. Obviously, we lost in the second round, but we played hard and gave it everything we had," said Predators defenseman Francis Bouillon.
Now the attention turns to one of the most unpredictable summers in the history of the Nashville Predators franchise. Ryan Suter is an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and it's unclear whether or not he has any intention of staying in Nashville.
"Right away after (Game 5), someone asked me and it kind of made me mad and that's why I've kind of been avoiding you guys," Suter explained to reporters on Wednesday afternoon. "After the game, a guy asked it and I got kind of caught off guard. You're in playoff mode, and you lose, and you don't think about it. Now, all of a sudden, it's brought up. I haven't had time to really sit back and talk with my family and figure out what we want to do."
With the uncertain future of Suter, and how his decision may or may not impact other free agents like Shea Weber, the Predators find themselves in an uncomfortable position. The 2011-2012 season was supposed to be the season that Nashville really made a deep run in the playoffs toward the ultimate goal of the Stanley Cup. They failed to accomplish that goal. Now, they have to wait and see how that failure will impact the long-term makeup of the roster.
(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)