Nashville hones ‘The Predator Way’

At first glance, an NHL team with a 410-372-60-60 record over the past 12 seasons may not seem like anything special on paper, unless that team started from scratch with nothing but an expansion franchise’s framework.

The Nashville Predators entered the league in time for the 1998-99 season with a brand new roster, brand new coaching staff and management and, most noticeably, without a culture.  Things have changed.

Well-respected Predators blogger Buddy Oakes from Preds on the Glass has been an avid follower of Tennessee’s entry in the NHL since its inception. Needless to say, he understands the team’s core mentality.

“Together, David Poile and Barry Trotz have developed a system that has come to be known as ‘The Predator Way’,” Oakes told The Good Point. “There are no real stars on the team, but 20 equal [players] each night that have to play together with a ‘Band of Brothers’ mentality in order to succeed since skill-wise they are often out matched by the opposition.”

How is that for culture? The Predators have evolved into a perennial playoff franchise and, after getting a taste of the Conference Semifinals in 2010-11, are destined to make an even greater push for the Stanley Cup this season.

Head coach Trotz clearly understands the franchise’s blueprint; it’s layout for continued yet gradual success. Now in his 15th season with the club, Trotz’s tenure is reaching unimaginable heights. To think that rarely-jobless, future Hall of Fame coach Ken Hitchcock has been with three different teams during this span really illustrates how special the situation is in Nashville for both the team and the man behind the bench.

“At times when fans have become impatient, neither Poile nor Trotz have considered any changes in the coaching area. Trotz is able to coach for the long-term without fear of paying for short-term inadequacies,” Oakes explained.

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Oakes added that Nashville has also been very careful in the formation of their teams year after year, focusing on “goaltending and defense first, and all players on the ice putting defense first to create opportunities at the offensive end of the ice.”

The three main components of the abovementioned formula – Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter – will all become free agents within the next two fiscal years. All will be in line for exceptional contracts, too, based on the fact that they are among the upper-echelon in the league at their respective positions. Oakes, for one, is optimistic about the potential of signing the trio.

“The Preds are in line to have the best season ever in ticket sales as well as ad revenues so there should be additional money to get the deals done,” he said. “They lost Steve Sullivan, Joel Ward, Marcel Goc and several others [from last year’s team] and have reloaded with players that appear to have more upside than the ones that they replaced.”

Part of this upside comes in the form of cap space, making it easier for the franchise to to afford its core threesome. As well, last year’s strong playoff showing may help Nashville’s fortunes, according to Oakes.

“[Last spring was] the first time that Nashville, as a city and as a team, was widely showcased. Facing the President’s Trophy winner Vancouver Canucks in the second round allowed Predators fans to be noticed,” the long-time Predators follower described. “It’s not so much of a non-traditional hockey market anymore. ”

In general, one of the only tangible ways of judging the success of an NHL franchise is by examining its ability to make it out of the regular season and into the May and June playoffs – it’s a plain and simple method. Tennessee’s team has made the playoffs in six of the last seven NHL seasons. To put this success into context, two other expansion teams of the same era, the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets, have combined for less playoff appearances than the Predators.

It looks like, when starting an expansion team from scratch, The Predator Way is the way to go.

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