Hot August Nights: Nashville Predators

by J.R.

neildiamondThis week, III Communication presents “Hot August Nights.” At one minute past sundown local time we’ll be reviewing the off-seasons of each Conference III team using the songs of American legend Neil Diamond.

Tonight, we head to the home of Black Diamond and review the Nashville Predators.

As suggested by Andrew Schulman, “America,” the perfect song for the team our good buddy Ryan Lambert declared “America’s Favorite Hockey Team.”

Far, we’ve been traveling far without a home, but not without a star

With the Summer of Handwringing in the rearview — Ryan Suter stolen by playing for Minnesota and Shea Weber locked up until the Chelsea Clinton Administration (the wails of Flyers fans notwithstanding), the Predators were able to move into the summer of 2013 — after a disastrous season which ended with them ranked 11th in the Conference III power rankings, between two AHL teams (San Antonio and the Avs) — with at least the certainty that Weber and Pekka Rinne were under contract.

In the eye of the storm

The Predators are not an organization given to making too many changes in the front office or behind the bench, so it came as a bit of surprise when Peter Horachek was fired (he’d later land with the aforementioned San Antonio Rampage) and replaced with American hero Phil Housley. Little did we know the hiring of the U.S.A.’s World Juniors coach would portend something larger.

Home, to a new and a shiny place

There was (seemingly) no one happier at losing the draft lottery than David Poile and the broader Predators’ fan base. The conventional wisdom was that vaulting to the top would make drafting Seth Jones irresistible — he is an American defenseman, after all, both of Poile’s favorite player attributes in one package. But then Colorado got the band back together and they got crazy and they started trolling hard.

So the draft comes around and, sure as shooting, the Avs — as discussed in their edition of Hot August Nights — took Nathan MacKinnon. It was widely understood the Lightning would take Jonathan Drouin at three, so the big question was what Florida would do.

From our Draft Day edition of The Sound & The Fury:

text from hungover tmurda “now the scary wait.”

COMMMME ONNNN FLORIDA TAKE JONES

OH MY GODDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD

Pre-order your Seth Jones gold jerseys today!

“Can we wrap this up, it’s just about dinner time” – Dale Tallon, old

And Seth Jones is a Nashville Predator. This is unbelieveable.

While Predators fan were not thrilled with the hypothetical of taking a defenseman with their second-highest-ever draft pick, a strange thing happened and Jones overwhelming Americaness and badassery quickly changed minds and now Jones is being declared the first hometown Nashville player (at least metaphorically) and there are things like this happening (via Eric Shuff):

BO1fru6CUAAIgWi

The rest of the Predators’ draft — check out James Nelson’s review  — included a ginormo French-Canadian blueliner, some Scandinavians and a guy named after Teemu Selanne.

Ev’ry time that flag’s unfurled, they’re coming to America

Because the team took Jones, they headed into free agency ostensibly still looking for some scoring help. That could come in the form of Viktor Stalberg, a guy with some talent who was hidden behind Chicago’s exceptional top six. And it may come from the aging but useful Matt Cullen. And, in the shootout, Matt Hendricks is sort of hilariously talented.

The Predators also signed Carter Hutton from UMass-Lowell just to further convince Lambert to love them. Also Eric Nystrom for some reason.

There are no 50-goal guys in there, but when do 50-goal guys come on the market? It’s useful, American (and Stalberg) depth scoring.

Sam Page:

Onlookers have criticized the Predator’s free agency strategy as having four third lines, but that’s exactly what the Predators had back when they were a dangerous puck possession team. Redundancy is good in hockey: it breeds match-up problems and forces filler out of the lineup.

[snip]

It cost a lot, but the Predators may have very dangerous third and fourth lines. And that’s not nothing. Would we all like the 2007 team again? Sure. But until Paul Kariya walks back through that door, I’ll take the hugely underrated and dangerous 2010 team over the flashy but fundamentally-flawed 2012 squad any day.

Got a dream to take them there

There were off-season departures to make room for the new crop of forwards. Sergei Kostitsyn headed to the KHL to forever be accused of being Russian and also of being his brother. Matt Halischuk went to Winnipeg, miffed at forever being confused with Nick Spaling, who may or may not be under contract. No one seems to know.

Got a dream they’ve come to share, they’re coming to America

Even if Rich Clune getting on (and off) Twitter was the only thing that happened in the Summer of 2013, it would have been an enjoyable offseason. The addition of Jones has broader implications in Nashville, where the team is making efforts to expand their reach into a new kind of market. The Predators led the way in the rudeification of Conference III, a strategy explained thus:

Teams made a concerted effort not to try and compete with Chicago, to whom they are seemingly happy to concede is the conventional first-place team, but to try and out-rude and out-mean one another. Free agency wasn’t about being better than the Blackhawks, it was about being harder on the Blues.

So there is concern about the scoring because it’s Nashville and there always is — some of it more overheated, hyperbolic and absurd (and absurdist) — than others, but we can’t hear it…flag’s flapping.

Check back tomorrow at 7:35 Central as we review St. Louis in the next edition of Hot August Nights