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Minnesota vs. Nashville: Behind the Bitterness

By: Miranda Martin

Upon Minnesota’s first trip to Nashville this year, it will certainly be an interesting atmosphere at Bridgestone Arena.

Of course, the main headline is Ryan Suter’s return to Nashville after deciding to sign with Minnesota in July. So far, the reception of former Predators on Bridgestone ice has been fairly mixed this season. On February 14, when Steve Sullivan first visited town as a Coyote, he was met with a standing ovation, followed by a small attempt to get “Sully” echoing through the arena. On February 19, when Jordin Tootoo returned as the enemy—I mean Red Wing, there was certainly a mixed review from the crowd. His first shift on the ice, Tootoo was immediately booed by a majority of the crowd. However, when the Predators chose to do a tribute on the megatron, the video showed not only Tootoo’s highlights on the ice but his involvement in the community as well. Several Preds fans began to cheer, and he received a standing ovation… only to once again be booed on the ice later in the game.

Many Preds fans want Suter to be the bad guy, and it’s been addressed here on Predneck Nation as well as other media outlets, such as the Nashville Scene, that he just simply hasn’t been “bad guy” eligible. He moved for family and the long-term outcome of his decision, and though it’s bitter, he hasn’t gone about trashing the team or saying anything bad about Nashville. Yes, it sucks, but maybe the Preds end up being better off in the long run. Who knows? It’s too soon to tell.

The fact of the matter is, the reason Preds want to hate Ryan Suter has many layers… and it really doesn’t have much to do with Suter as a player at all. Suter was pinned as a “Nashville” boy, being drafted in the NHL Entry Draft hosted by Nashville. It didn’t hurt that the guy loved country music, America, and conservatism, which made him the perfect Nashville poster boy. Leaving Nashville split one of the most popular defensive pairs in the NHL and one of the greatest Nashville bromances ever with Shea Weber.

Now, Minnesota has two former ties to the Predators—Suter and owner Craig Leipold—and, to some, it feels like they both gave up on Nashville too soon.

Though it’s been five years since Craig Leipold has sold the Preds, there is still a little bitterness for Preds fans. It’s hard to tell what Leipold really wants as an owner. In April 2012, Leipold spoke with Minnesota Star Tribune targeting the Wild’s fiscal issues, saying, “We need to fix how much we’re spending right now… [the Wild’s] biggest expense by far is player salaries.” Three months later, he’s forking over $196 million for two players. That’s $3 million more than Leipold sold the Predators for in 2007.

When selling the Preds, Leipold critiqued Nashville as a town, saying in his statement for selling the team that the franchise had “tried a variety of [marketing] approaches with minimal success.” Obviously, he had never met Sean Henry and Jeff Cogen. Even as recently as January—just a few weeks ago—he was still talking about the Nashville market. When talking to the Minnesota Star Tribune regarding the Suter signing and salary spending (again), he targeted Nashville, saying “This is not a southern market. I know how the fans will react when [the Wild are] winning.” It’s safe to say Preds fans have learned how to react, too… that’s why the team has had 24 consecutive sellouts and are averaging over 100% capacity every game this season. The team has gone from being ranked 23rd in the NHL in attendance percentage to 9th…only a couple of spots below Minnesota’s 102% capacity.

Going into Saturday night’s game, the Predators and the fans need to be on their best game. If the Predators played like they did against Edmonton, they’ll be able to add to the point that they have over Minnesota in the standings and show what the Preds are really capable of this season. For the fans… the 25th consecutive sellout that the organization is expecting will be a nice reminder of just what Nashville is capable of for the long run, eventually being beyond a “southern market.”

With the realignment proposal gaining ground, Minnesota will end up in the same division as Nashville, which means that the teams will be able to make an even more intense rivalry on the ice. At least some the bitterness has already been established.

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