Beating a Dead Horse...Again.
As expected, Nashville Tennessean columnist David Climer played the <a href=http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080421/COLUMNIST0202/804210332/1002/SPORTS target=_blank>'same ol' Predators'</a> card this morning.
Most local Nashville writers have chosen to take the 'glass half-full' approach regarding the Predators Game Six series-ending loss to Detroit, but of course David wouldn't be David if he didn't demonstrate his fair-weather bandwagon-jumper tendencies at the end of the day. His summation of the season's final game was as empty of any meaningful observation as was that proverbial 'glass' he pulls out and waves around whenever he writes about Nashville's hockey club.
To even place this season's outcome in the same area code as the Predators' previous first-round playoff departures is pathetically shortsighted -- even for Climer.
He did have me goin' for a little while there, though.
After a rare string of columns supportive of both Coach Barry Trotz and the effort, with which the Preds had been making their improbable playoff run in this star-crossed season, I was beginning to wonder if Climer had finally changed. Could he possibly be beginning to use his bully pulpit as an instrument for garnering support instead of planting seeds of doubt as to whether this game will survive in Music City?
Heh...Silly me for thinking such an absurd thought.
But to be perfectly fair, Climer and all Preds critics have every right to be disappointed the Preds couldn't ultimately push past their difficulties this season, regardless of how unlikely a task it might have been. They did demonstrate that they could beat Detroit at home, but Sunday, with Captain Jason Arnott missing in action for a second consecutive game, it was just too Herculean an effort to pull off three times in a row. The disappointment I can understand; I just question the manner in which it was expressed, which leads me to truly question Climer's motives.
But that's just David bein' David.
In the final analysis however he's not entirely out of line; this team needs to get beyond the first round of the playoffs. They are one of only seven organizations to make the postseason in each of the past four seasons, and while that's a plenty impressive statistic, they're the only team in that group to never advance past the opening round, despite finishing as high as #4 seed. And although I hardly agree with the implication that this was just another in a series of playoff under-achievements, the onus is definitely there for the Preds to take this success to the another level. No one expects them to win the Cup every year, but there are unspoken levels of accomplishment that are expected, that unless realized can erode the legitimacy of any team's success.
That being said, while the circumstances were both extraordinary and admirable, I certainly hope this team doesn't go into the offseason feeling all warm and fuzzy. The Preds fought to overcome the odds, but they didn't and all the 'yeah butt's in the world aren't going to change that.
I am a season ticket holder and I will support this team through thick and thin, but I will never be so blinded with loyalty to suggest that 2007-08 was a successful season.
Was it inspirational? Absolutely. Will it have benefits for the character of this organization going forward? No doubt in my mind. But success by anyone's definition requires advancement in the playoffs -- and that means graduating beyond their heretofore 'one-and-done' playoff round status. No matter how unlikely their performance this year, the fact remains that the Preds made yet another first-round exit. You can't sugarcoat that, and nobody should want to.
In a season of unprecedented turmoil, certainly the Preds outperformed anyone's expectations. Yet the sting of another first-round ouster feels as bad as it ever did -- and it should. That being said, I didn't expect the haters to cut Nashville any slack and I haven't been disappointed.
David Climer has made a habit of warming up to the Preds when its a good story to do so, and then turning tail to fart in their faces when the bandwagon starts losing steam. Oh he's not a total jerk, he's just being real. He couldn't care less about whether or not this team wins. He's just there for the story. And I suppose we shouldn't be surprised or bitter. That's really all he's paid to do.
From where I stand, the take-away from this season is inspiration; it was a character-builder for the organization to grow on -- but nothing more than that. The Preds made the best out of a bad situation. Fans can take solace in the fact that 'the little engine that could,' tried its best, but just couldn't get over the hill. It was a gallant effort, and anyone who would suggest otherwise is just ignorant of the circumstances this team was faced with.
But in the end, the only true measuring stick of success is winning, and that's something the Predators will have to do if they expect to get the respect -- both from the Nashville media and the NHL establishment -- that they believe they deserve.
Personally, I don't want to 'feel good' about losing to Detroit. I hate the Redwings; respect the heck out of 'em, but hate 'em nonetheless. I hope Barry Trotz feels as though whatever victory this season wrought was hollow as well. I hope he sees the weaknesses as well as the strengths that have been made apparent through this trial-by-fire of a season. And I especially hope that he will do everything in his ability to sure-up things like the glaring holes in the Preds transition game; the neutral zone turnovers that lead to innumerable scoring opportunities -- not just in this Detroit playoff series, but throughout the past few seasons.
The Preds have every reason to hold their heads high, but absolutely no right to stick their noses in the air. However let it be said that I have confidence in David Poille and the new ownership group to do whatever necessary to get this organization back in a positive, affirming mode. And I look for better playoff performance and ultimate success in the future.
* They finally have geographic stability with a newly-signed Sommet Center lease.
* They find themselves headed for the offseason in the best salary-cap position of any team in the league.
* They have an opportunity to all but completely re-stock the farm system with multiple first-and-second-round picks from what promises to be an extremely talented NHL Entry Draft class.
* They have discovered a new number-one goaltender in Dan Ellis.
* And they've rediscovered the grit that their team game lacked any consistency of in the recent seasons.
Going forward, the Predators enjoy several factors that point to an extremely bright future. But they have to make good on that potential. I believe that they will, but until that time, the proof of the puddin's in the eatin.'
The Nashville Predators have taken some pretty good body shots, and they're still standing.
Now is the time to start punching back.