It has been a tough couple months to be a fan of the Nashville Predators. It has been painful to watch great hockey fans on this site have a feeding frenzy over the possible relocation of our team, and it has been extremely frustrating watching media and bloggers embellish facts and just plain tell complete lies to help their case that the city of Nashville does not "deserve" a hockey team.
There are a few things that I feel need to be set straight, based on facts.
1) The Predators were not, and have never been, an elite hockey team. We had a very good team last year, but that is the strongest description they deserve. They did finish in the top of the league in scoring at the end of the season, but upon further review, that statistic is very misleading. If they had not been hampered by untimely injuries, they may have become an elite team, but the injuries we faced when we faced them are not changeable.
Most of our points were scored against just a few teams in the West (St Louis, Columbus, and Chicago from our very weak Central Division, and Calgary) and during interleague play against a weak Eastern Division (as evidenced by the pounding that the entire West gave them all year). The Preds won 1 away game against a playoff team after the middle of November (yes, that is 4 1/2 months, and for the record it took a shootout in San Jose to get that single one).
Prior to signing Kariya after the lock-out, the team's best players ever to wear a Preds sweater were Steve Sullivan and Cliff Ronning. The only HOF lock to wear a sweater is Forsberg, although Kariya could elevate back into that category with a couple strong post-season runs. Surrounding Kariya with Legwand and Erat on our first line hardly forms an elite line, and arguably none of our players other than Kariya are legitimate NHL first-liners. Arnott and Dumont could be, but haven't really proven it to anyone yet. They played well with Sully and were a great second line. If Arnie were willing/able to play in front of the net, they would be one of the best lines in the league.
Ask any player, coach, or fan how they define success in the NHL, and the only acceptable answer is playoff success leading to a Cup. Our team has never been favored to win a playoff series, let alone been competitive in one. We have made it to 3 playoffs in our short history and our points were overinflated in two of those by our weak competition in the Central. The club has never won a single "must win" game. Ever.
2) Ticket prices for the Preds are right at the league average, not the low end.
3) Attendance has risen steadily, and growth is there despite the lock-out and an owner with a tight wallet and scared money. I could go into details around the impact of the lock-out or about the attendance after the pick-up of Forsberg, but those stats are fairly well documented out here. Should 14k be a reasonable average paid attendance for a team in the Bible belt? Based on the circumstances, I believe so. The problem is that the circumstances were somewhat created by the lack of commitment to real chance for success. Picking up Forsberg was a good sign of commitment, but the actions of the owner since the premature ending of the playoff run have been as far in the other direction as you can be.
Stats are there on % of individual STH base that show that the viability of the hockey market is strong here. Stats are there on the steady growth relative to the growth of the product on the ice. Hockey is becoming a more important part of the community as youth hockey programs are springing out of nowhere. The base of fans has been established. If nurtured properly, this will be a thriving, viable market for decades to come. This is one of the loudest crowds in the NHL.
4) Corporations are not at fault for Nashville's perceived attendance problem. Corporations shouldn't be depended on to be the money-maker for this league. Why should the owner of business XYZ be concerned with making the owner of an NHL franchise profitable. The answer is that he shouldn't, unless his business gets something in return. No other successful professional sports league depends so heavily on the gate for profit potential. The league has failed miserably in getting better TV contracts, and will never get better contracts until they make the teams in the South successful.
5) Some people think that Leopold did everything he could to make the team succeed in a marginal market. Hindsight being 20-20, most locals would disagree. He did not invest in talent prior to Kariya and then he over-invested in Arnott and Vokoun. Forsberg was brought in too late to gel, particularly with the injuries to the team at the time. Prior to the lockout, every single win was achieved by overachieving blue-collar-type players who played above their level of skill. Bringing in Kariya helped lure players like Dumont and Arnott who believed that the owner was finally willing to spend some of the revenue-sharing proceeds on competitive, skilled players. The experiment lasted two seasons before Leopold threw in the towel after Forsberg wasn't able to bring the team to the promised land.
6) Recent trades don't guarantee a fire sale. Timmonen and Hartnell are highly overpaid by the Flyers, and their fans will likely be regretting that move for years...they certainly aren't worth 20%+ of the team's salary cap over the next six years. Getting something for nothing was a big win for the Preds.
The Vokoun move is one that will have people scratching their heads, but for the most part, we have been scratching our heads about Vokoun since the injury. Mason will play great as our starter for a year or two, but unless Mitch Korn can pull another miracle out of his hat as goaltender coach, we will be missing the depth that this team has depended on. We will miss Tomas tremendously, as he has been the face of the franchise for longer than anyone will give him credit. He earned his success with hard work and determination. He was the epitome of a Nashville Predator.
Mason proved last year he can play with the big boys. For the value, it makes more sense to stay with him, if that frees up money to retain Kariya and gives us a chance to grab a couple more bargain talents out there once everyone follows the Flyers in over-paying for their players.
There are only two players left on the roster that are overpaid based on performance--and both of them have the potential to earn every penny of it...Arnott and Zidlicky.
7) We will sell more than 14k tickets per game this year. It's that simple. Hopefully Leopold teams up with the local investors and they invest in the on-ice product.
8) We did not sell the farm to get Forsberg. That was not a bad trade. We have one of the best, youngest teams out there and have a lot of great talent in the pipeline. Poile & team have shown the ability to scout and develop players with the best of them. We have a deep bench that proved over and over last year that they can compete at this level. Radulov will be a first-line player and Weber will be a top d-man in this league for years to come.