The Nashville Predators have at least one thing no other team can claim: Their head coach, Barry Trotz, is currently the longest-tenured head coach in the NHL. He was hired in 1997, just a couple of weeks after the Buffalo Sabres hired their longtime coach Lindy Ruff, who was fired in February. That means Trotz was hired long before the team began play in 1998 and has been with the Preds since the very beginning. Their general manager, David Poile, is currently the longest-serving general manager in the NHL. His closest competition is Darcy Regier, again from Buffalo, who SHOULD have been fired a few years ago and would have been if the team owner wasn't such a wimp about management.
Other than that, it's difficult to peg the Nashville Predators. They were officially awarded to The Music City in 1997 when Wisconsin businessman Craig Leipold made a nice little presentation to the NHL brass asking "Why not Nashville?" Nashville had an arena built, and when Gary Bettman and league officials visited Nashville, thousands of people gathered on the arena plaza to greet them. In June that year, four new teams were created: The Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Atlanta Thrashers, and Minnesota Wild. Actually, Nashville's team wasn't created AS the Predators. The team actually designed the logo behind everyone's back, then unveiled it to all before asking the population of Nashville "So, what would you like to name the team that wears this logo?" The logo had been inspired by a saber-toothed tiger skeleton found under Nashville in 1971, and from a list of 75 suggestions, four were pulled to be the finalists: The Ice Tigers (honestly, what originality stems from slamming the word "ice" in front of a piece of 90's marketing hubris?), the Fury, and the Attack. As you can see, Predators was really the only choice. The others reek of such terribly dated 90's marketing hubris that I'm surprised the names Extreme (wait, sorry, it's the 90's, so: Xtreme) and/or Express weren't among the names considered.
Before the team even played a single game, rumors began going around that the team would be moving. There was a rumor of a franchise swap with the Edmonton Oilers, in which Liepold would take the Oilers and move them to Nashville while the new Predators owner would take the Preds to Houston. Leipold shot it down quickly, quipping there was no chance, but as you're going to see, it will be the definition of the Nashville Predators' entire existence.
On the ice, it was expansion pain time! In 1999, Nashville finished with a record of 28-47-7. They finished with the same record the following season, though the NHL standings don't say that they way they should because the league had adopted a ridiculous standings format that said wins/losses/ties/overtime losses which ran from the 2000 season to the 2004 season. Not that it really mattered to the Predators, who didn't make the playoffs until they slipped into the eighth spot in 2004. They had only a few highlights during the rocky years: In the 2001 season, they opened with a pair of games in Japan against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That same season, they finished just ten points out of a playoff spot behind goalies Mike Dunham and Thomas Vokoun. In 2002, the Predators became the second-fastest expansion team from the 90's to reach the 100-win plateau. In the 2003 season, Barry Trotz broke the record for the most games coached by the first coach of an expansion team. Considering he's still with the Predators, I'd say this record is going to be safe for some time, if not altogether untouchable.
The first few years didn't yield any real marquee players in Nashville. Their scoring leader through all four years was Cliff Ronning, whose point totals were very good, but not great. Through those first four years, only Ronning, Greg Johnson, and Scott Walker broke the 50-point barrier. Ronning was out in 2004, just in time to miss the team's first playoff trip and subsequent first-round exit at the hands of the all-powerful Detroit Red Wings. Trotz, of course, was still around. Expansion team or not, talentless or not, people with his record over the first few years are usually gone. It's a great testament to the organization's faith in him that they still didn't switch, and he was about to pay them off for it.
After the 2005 lockout, the Preds became one of the great beneficiaries of the new rules. In the 2006 season, the Predators surprised everyone by screaming out of the gate with an 8-0-1 start before a 5-1 loss to Edmonton made them the last team to lose its first game in regulation. With their new toy, Paul Kariya, lighting up the scoreboard with 85 points, three other players cracking 50 points, two more missing the 50-point barrier by one and Scott Hartnell missing it by two, the Predators spent the year going on a 49-win tear. The end result? A glittering record of 49-25-8 for 106 points and the fourth seed in a Western Conference which saw a 92-point team and three 80-point teams miss the playoffs. Their trip to the playoffs was a short-lived five-gamer against the San Jose Sharks, though.
The next year, the Preds outdid themselves once again. They got veteran center Jason Arnott and David Legwand in free agency, and those two tied for the team's top goal scorer with 27 each. During the year, they got arguable the biggest fish of all: Two of their former first round picks, Scottie Upshall and Ryan Parent, plus a couple of future picks were sent to the Philadelphia Flyers. Who did they get in return? Peter Forsberg! Seven players, again led by Kariya, cracked the 50-point mark again. The Predators went 51-23-8 for 110 points, third in the NHL just behind Detroit and Presidents' Trophy-winning Buffalo. Due to the league's fucked-up methods of deciding playoff standing, they were only the fourth seed in the Western Conference, which led to another first round match against the Sharks…. And a second five-game exit.
The Predators receded over the next couple of seasons due to roster decimations. 2008 ended with 91 points and another first round knockout against Detroit. The next year, they missed the playoffs completely, but you can't really call Nashville's season a bad one - if a 40-34-8 record and 88 points are bad, your standards might be a bit too high. 2010 brought in Marcel Goc and Francis Bouillon, and Patric Hornqvist had a breakout year. Going 47-29-6, the Preds finished with 100 points and seventh seed in the playoffs. They FINALLY faced a new playoff opponent: The Chicago Blackhawks. Unfortunately, the Hawks were the Team of Destiny that year, and the Predators got the script right on time. Nashville put up a fight, and managed to tie the series at two. In game five, they were even leading 4-3 with just over a minute left. Then Chicago's Marian Hossa hit defenseman Dan Hamhuis from behind, Chicago got an odd-man rush on the ensuing power play, Patrick Kane scored the equalizer, and Hossa became an overtime hero in Chicago. That deflated the Predators, and they lost the sixth game and the series.
Over the last two years, the Predators have been a regular season powerhouse. They posted a 104-point season last year, and missed the 100 barrier by a single point the year before. They even managed to make it to the second round of the playoffs in both years, too. Unfortunately, they've been awful this year. Their current 38 points is leaving them pretty much out of contention altogether barring a flawless surge and a bunch of other teams holding the mother of all tank jobs simultaneously, and even that wouldn't guarantee anything. Maybe it's just an aberration - a quick drop in standings THAT far is too crazy and rare to be written off as anything but the players being out of shape because of the lockout. If this year is a hiccup, the Predators will return to normal for the next few years and have a real shot at the Stanley Cup. If it's an ongoing thing, massive repairs will be necessary in Nashville.
The Predators haven't had any real transcendent players, which makes their great regular seasons pretty impressive. Their biggest drawing cards have been Chris Mason, Paul Kariya, and Peter Forsberg. Their current Captain is Shea Weber. Poile's GM work has netted him the Lester Patrick Trophy, Dan Ellis won the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award back when that was a thing, Steve Sullivan won the Bill Masterson, and Mike Fisher - who gives the Predators a little bit of celebrity status by being married to singer Carrie Underwood - was awarded for his humanitarianism. Weber was an NHL First All-Star twice, and Pekka Rinne was a Second All-Star once.
The Nashville Predators share their division with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. Both of them are Original Six teams. They also share it with the St. Louis Blues, one of the teams from the NHL's first round of expansions in 1967. Predators fans will probably argue about their rivalries with any one of those three teams, and they can almost certainly make a few cases. Let's be honest about it, though: Those three teams are too busy beating the shit out of each other to give any real thought to the Predators. They're long-established teams with great stability, long histories behind them, and much more firmly entrenched fanbases. The only team that can be considered a true rival to the Predators is their fellow expansion Columbus Blue Jackets, who were created together and can grow and reveal their own stories together. If Columbus/Nashville is given a chance to thrive as a rivalry, it can become a great one.
Of course, that's assuming they're both still around to do it. The Predators, despite their success on the ice, have an ungodly level of instability off the ice even by NHL standards, and THAT is saying something. They're right down there with the Phoenix Coyotes in that respect. Anytime there's speculation of unconquered new potential territory for the NHL, the Predators are one of the names that keeps coming up. In 2007, original owner Craig Leipold was reported to have reached a tentative sale of the Predators to Jim Balsillie, head of Research in Motion. Now, Balsillie is a big-hearted guy with a lot of philanthropic instincts, but he also has an overpowering obsession with getting a hockey team to Hamilton, Ontario. Now, there's no way the NHL will ever let this happen; Hamilton's broadcast territory already overlaps that of two other major hockey markets, Buffalo and Toronto, two cities which are a 90-minute drive apart by car. Hamilton is right smack in the middle of the drive. While Balsillie told the NHL he didn't intend to move the Predators, and he never actually owned the team, he had already began taking the necessary steps to move them. He even went as far as to start advertising for season ticket deposits for the Hamilton Predators on Ticketmaster. Leipold eventually backed out strictly because Balsillie had no intention of keeping the team in Nashville, had directly interfered with the team's relationship with the people of Nashville, and would only buy the team if he could guarantee moving it, despite interrupting two fantasies and having to compensate the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs. This should have been obvious - Balsillie had tried this same shit with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the past. He went on to try it with the Phoenix Coyotes. When the NHL didn't bite, he decided to try wiping out the middleman. Or, perhaps he didn't, but what I know for sure is that the Sabres were put up for sale in 2011. An anonymous man made a hefty bid for them. All I know about the anonymous bidder is what the Sabres said, and the Sabres said he fit Balsillie's description and wanted to move the team to Hamilton.
In June 2007, Leipold again tried to sell the team, this time to venture capitalist William Del Biaggio III. HE wanted to take the team to Kansas City and made no secret of it. Like Balsillie, Del Biaggio was already selling tickets for a team he didn't own in a place the team didn't play. In july 2007, a third party made a bid for the Preds in part to actually keep them in Nashville. That same month, a rally was held that drew about 7500 fans and sold 726 full-season ticket packages. Ironically, the Tennessee group that wanted to keep the team in Nashville included Del Biaggio, but as a minority holder. In June 2008, Del Biaggio ran into trouble about unpaid loans and had to file for bankruptcy. Those unpaid loans had been acquired through fraud and used to buy the Predators. This seems to happen quite a bit in the corporate world, but it couldn't have come at a worse time for the NHL, which was already fighting a black eye because of other scams revolving around John Spano, who briefly owned the New York Islanders, and majority Buffalo Sabres owner John Rigas, who was convicted of fraud in 2005.
The Nashville Predators' arena has The Cellblock in section 303, a fan organization that has been recognized by the team's front office. The fans as a whole have made a fan tradition of giving the team a standing ovation through the entire final TV timeout. The Predators could be showing some real promise as a team on the ice. Off the ice, though, it's different. I'd like to give the Predators a positive rating, but I'm not gonna do that until I know they're stable enough to not be brought into the NHL's latest discussion about who's heading to Seattle or Houston or wherever else.