NASHVILLE — They’ve paid their dues, these Nashville Predators. You can’t say they haven’t.
It took the franchise 12 years and how many near bankruptcies before it finally won a playoff series, knocking off the Anaheim Ducks in the first round last season.
Then the Predators went blow-for-blow with a Vancouver Canucks team that was the class of the Western Conference, and lost a six-game series that featured just 25 goals and an average end-of-regulation score of 2.6-to-2 in the Canucks’ favour.
Ryan Kesler’s beast-like performance was the difference between moving on and going home. Nashville was forced to swallow the latter fate.
So the Preds went back to work. A year older, a year smarter, and a year deeper.
With Andrei Kostitsyn, big Paul Gaustad, Hal Gill and soon to be Alexander Radulov added to the roster, are the Predators ready to win a Stanley Cup this time around.
“Yes,” assistant captain Mike Fisher said. “We are.”
Move over Vancouver? Maybe.
Apologies, St. Louis and Detroit? We’ll see.
Despite a rare night when the goaltending let them down in a 6-3 loss to Edmonton Tuesday night, this team in Smashville might just be the one that rolls in the spring of 2012.
“We’re very confident in who we are as a team,” Fisher explained. “We’ve had a good year … we feel we’re ready to contend. We feel like we’ve beaten so many good teams this year, and then added some pieces at the deadline.
“Yes,” he said. “We’re definitely a better team than last year’s.”
Ask the Los Angeles Kings. At some point, you’ve got to quit learning the tough lessons, take all that knowledge from the School of Hard Knocks, and do something with it.
Here in Nashville, where you can’t swing a cat without hearing a hurtin’ song, they’ve endured more heartbreak than Hank Williams and Toby Keith combined.
With Ryan Suter set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season and Shea Weber a restricted free agent, Nashville GM David Poile has conspired with ownership to show his two defensive pillars that the Predators are willing to spend what it takes to put a Stanley Cup ring on their fingers.
Poile signed goalie Pekka Rinne to a long-term deal, and promises there will be money to take care of Weber and Suter as well. And they’ll have to pay Alexander Radulov, if he joins the team for the stretch run as expected before becoming an RFA after the season.
With all these guys in their prime, the time is now in Nashville. Particularly when you consider the road work they’ve done to get to this point.
“You learn a lot from going through a situation like that,” said Hal Gill, in reference to the Predators’ big picture. “There is no one path that you have to take, but you learn a lot through the seasons, develop as a team. Hopefully we’ve added the right pieces.”
Gill won a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh, where Dan Bylsma took over for Michel Therrien and pushed Pittsburgh over the top. This franchise has had the same coach and GM tandem since its inception, in Barry Trotz and Poile. There is neither a need nor a want for change in those regards, as stability has become the calling card of this organization.
“There’s a young, carefree attitude here. But when it comes time to work, the coaches demand a lot out of us,” said Gill. “(Bylsma and Trotz) are very similar. They are both very approachable coaches — one of the guys when they need to be, but they carry a big stick also.”
Trotz speaks of a team so deep, “we probably have 5 NHL lines.” And depth is what it takes to win in April, May and June.
Depth on the roster and depth in experience.
Finally, the Nashville Predators have both.