The Nashville Predators, an ice hockey team that plays in the best league in the world; The National Hockey League, use skates, gloves, sticks and a single puck to deftly and swiftly move across the ice in an effort to score goals and beat rival opponents who attempt to do the same.
The team plays a series of 82 regular season games that begin in October and end in April. Thirty teams do battle across two conferences, each with two divisions. The desired objective is to make it to the post-season, where teams are ranked and pitted against each other in elimination rounds until finally each conference has a champion, and they play for the coveted Stanley Cup.
The Nashville Predators, however, have seemingly found an additional tool they have been using to ply their trade.
Submitted for your inspection, I offer as evidence: the shovel. Not traditionally visible, the shovel has seemingly been used by the Preds to dig a large hole in which the team may shortly find they will be unable to climb out of once the post-season begins.
The fan’s experience at a hockey game involves cheering heavily for the home team. Bridgestone Arena, where the Predators play their home games, is usually a sea of gold, as fans support their team to the tune of deafening cheers. When the puck ends up behind the opposition’s goaltender, Tim McGraw serenades us on the scoreboard. Recently, however, the puck has ended up behind the Preds goaltender far more than its’ opponent.
On Tuesday night, the opponent was the Chicago Blackhawks, and a “sea of red” was liberally smattered through the arena, creating chaos and confusion each time the visitors lit the goal lamp.
Following the 4-1 defeat, the Preds found themselves with a record of 20-18-8, which gave them 48 points in the Central Division. Chicago, conversely, recorded their twelfth consecutive victory, and moved to 32-13-4 for a total of 68 points. As you can see, this gap of 20 points separates the two teams. Dallas (63), St. Louis (61), Minnesota (52) and Colorado (49) follow in the standings. Only Winnipeg (45) sits below Nashville.
In our sister division, the Pacific Division, Los Angeles (61) holds a reasonably large lead over San Jose (49), Arizona (49), Vancouver (49), Anaheim (45) and bottom feeders Calgary and Edmonton (43 each).
Only eight teams make it out of the divisions to represent the Western Conference in the post-season. The top three from each division are guaranteed spots, and the remaining two “wildcards” can come from either division based on points.
If the post-season were to begin today, Nashville would trade sticks, skates and gloves for clubs… golf clubs, as their season would be over in dramatic and unsuccessful fashion. Of course, other hopefuls, and surprise failures, like Anaheim, who were considered to be a top team coming into the season, would join them.
The Predators, having gotten off to a tremendous start, were considered a cinch to be in the playoffs, but recent times have seen them plying their trade with the aforementioned symbolic shovels rather than the traditional sticks that are triumphantly raised after each goal, and each win.
In an effort to stop both the digging and bleeding, General Manager David Poile pulled the trigger on a large trade with Eastern Conference disappointments, the Columbus Blue Jackets. In exchange for one of our highly skilled defensemen, Seth Jones, we received equal compensation in the form of a highly skilled forward, Ryan Johansen.
While the effect of this shocking trade will actually not see a “winner” declared for quite some time, the swap was deemed necessary, and both teams felt they moved forward with their new acquisition and turned the page on their history with the former player.
Since the deal, the Blue Jackets (17-26-4, for 38 points, and last in the 30 team NHL,) have gone 2-3-1 and the Predators have gone 1-4-1. Not that either of these players should shoulder the blame in their team’s continued downslide, as both have acquitted themselves well with their new teammates and roles.
But both players have seen their teams continue to drift further and further away from their respective conference and division foes. In effect, either more needs to be done from a player acquisition standpoint, or a lot more needs to be done from the ones who put on the uniform and ply their trade for their lofty paychecks on a nightly basis.
For our Nashville Predators, just four games remain before the league’s All-Star Break. All four of these games will be played (a) on the road, (b) against Canadian teams, (c) against teams in the Western Conference, and (d) against teams that are either seemingly out of the playoff race or barely hanging onto the slimmest of hopes that they can turn it around and squeak into the last wildcard spot in the West.
The goal is obvious. Win four consecutive road games against struggling teams, and find yourself back in the hunt for that coveted post-season slot. Return home for the All-Star break and watch the entire league focus on the city of Nashville, its arena, and fans that have been treated to a most inferior brand of hockey over the past eight weeks. Since November 20, the Preds have won just nine of twenty-nine games!
Music City will be gracious hosts, and the players that will descend upon us to perform acts of wonder and wizardry will entertain the many who will pay top-dollar to see the most skilled members of the National Hockey League (and the American Hockey League’s John Scott…) deliver awe-inspiring displays of talent.
There’s no need to name names, or point fingers here. Just know that the Preds are gravely aware of the situation they find themselves in, and a four game road trip might be just what the doctor ordered. Let’s just hope he brought a large supply of oral thermometers. The other ones might accidentally poke out a player’s eye.