Does the Predators Golden Age Grow Dark So Soon?
Until today, I have purposefully remained very silent about the off-season transactions. After blasting Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable,” imagining David Poile eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s while watching The Notebook, and envisioning Suter looking like a Christmas tree for the next 13 years, I personally vowed to stay silent until something happened with Shea Weber.
Now, the offer sheet has been placed, and it’s time for me to speak.
Initially, when the “Ryan Suter testing free agency” situation arose, I just had a gut feeling that he was looking elsewhere. Hence my past reality-show spoof of the whole situation. The silence before the signing and the comments afterward stung as if he had never planned it. Immediately after Suter signed with the Minnesota Wild, Preds fans craned their necks back towards captain Shea Weber. It was as if the fate of the entire franchise lay on his signing. But does Weber potentially leaving foreshadow a dark age for the Predators?
For what it’s worth, every team faces a “dark age” of sorts. It’s almost a right of passage, per se. The Predators have had the most consistent on-ice success of any of the expansion teams since the 1997 inauguration. The Minnesota Wild haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008, which is subject to change since their $196 million investments in Suter and Parise. The Columbus Blue Jackets have only seen the playoffs once in their existence, and they were swept by Detroit. The Atlanta Thrashers found success only once, clinching the Southeast Division in 2007. They were immediately swept by the New York Rangers in the first round. Now, they’re the Winnipeg Jets.
Going beyond the newly expanded, other teams have faced dark ages as well, including teams the Preds see as mortal enemies. Toward the end of Gordie Howe’s career and after his retirement, the Red Wings faced fifteen years of losing and poor performance. This is where they originally got the nickname “Dead Things” (sorry, 303.) The Chicago Blackhawks faced dark times after losing Bobby Hull, who fled to the WHA because the Blackhawks ownership wouldn’t agree to terms. It is something the Blackhawks ownership has since tried to erase, immortalizing him outside of the United Center. Though I just dropped some big, hockey god names to explain the dark ages Nashville may face, Shea Weber could show the promise to be immortalized as one of the best defensemen of this hockey generation. But does he become immortalized as a Predator or Flyer?
It isn’t the first time the Predators have faced a “dark age” before. Lest we forget May 23, 2007? Craig Leipold, former Preds owner and current Suter stealer, placed the team up for sale, intending to sell it to he who shall not be named (he did look a little like Voldemort, didn’t he?). By July 1st, there had been a massive firesale of current and prospective superstars. Franchise players Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell found themselves in Philadelphia, Tomas Vokoun was left to Florida, and players like Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg, who had one foot out the door, already took it as an opportunity to book it. Not only did we fear the team that was going to play that season, but we feared that it would, in fact, be the final season.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d take losing for a few seasons over no team at all..
Immediately after the “Hamilton Predators” showed up on ticketmaster in the summer of 2007, Nashville rallied to prove they were a hockey community. The team was sold to local investors, and fans filled the arena as much as they could. The world famous standing ovation was inaugurated on April 3rd, 2008, as the fans released their emotions for this team as a final battle cry. Revenue picked up, and now that magical “14,000” paid attendance number that resonated in all of our minds is seen as a faint memory. Nashville Predators fans have since proved that we are, in fact, a true hockey market. It seemed that the team was looking into a golden age—literally.
Now it’s the team’s turn to keep the golden age alive on the ice.
David Poile in the past has said he will match any offer sheet that comes to Shea Weber. Did he say this in a sugar high from all the break-up Suter munchies, or will he actually abide to it? The ownership says the revenue is there to sign the big players, but one of the “big guys” has already walked. The Predators do have the cap room, but do they have the money up front to sign Weber? Also, this is the first time the franchise has really faced players saying that they no longer want to play in Nashville—something the Preds organization has proudly talked about in the past.
The ball’s in your court now, Preds organization. Re-signing Paul Gaustad and Hal Gill isn’t enough. More players are leaving than staying, which means something is wrong, and I have a hard time believing it has anything to do with the atmosphere of the arena and the lack of income tax. Poile has to put on his rally cap and find a way to sign Weber for at least the untradeable one year. Even though the team signed Rinne, losing two defensive superstars is going to place a lot of pressure on him, not to mention the fact that Frankie Bouillon is gone (something everyone overlooked a little.) If this doesn’t happen, it may be time to look into changes within the Predators front office. The off-ice front office has witnessed change. Maybe it’s time for the on-ice, too.
So here’s the question that stands for the future of this team: Are the Nashville Predators just beginning a golden age, or was it all fool’s gold?