The Nashville Predators’ annual Skate of the Union is an event for true believers.
No room for pessimism here. Only those willing to think the very best of an organization that has won just two playoff series in its history need show up at Bridgestone Arena for the latest go-round at this love-fest on ice.
The event runs from 5-8 p.m. with player autographs (5-6 p.m.) and a question-and-answer session with players (6-6:45 p.m.). A town hall portion concludes the event and features lead owner Tom Cigarran, CEO Jeff Cogen, COO Sean Henry, Executive Vice President David Poile and coach Barry Trotz.
It is during this final phase that the sunshine and roses parade typically takes place. These men talk as if their team is the Sistine Chapel of professional sports, a marvel of classic architecture to be admired the world over. Their predictions for what’s to come are relentlessly optimistic to the point that they sound foolish.
Or do they?
For example, two years ago Trotz declared at this event: “One of these days it’s going to explode and be really good for us.”
At the time it sounded utterly ludicrous. The Predators’ power play ranked 23rd or worse in each of the previous four seasons and nine times out of its first 12 seasons in the league.
Then a curious thing happened. In the months that followed Trotz’s claim, Nashville’s power play sort of did explode. It finished the season first in the NHL with a 21.6 percent success rate and was nearly as proficient on the road (20.2 percent) as it was at home (22.9 percent).
Last season, the Predators did not have the event because of the lockout, which delayed the start of the season until January. Then they had one of their worst seasons on recent memory.
So maybe there’s something to this Skate of the Union thing after all. Perhaps there is a self-fulfilling prophecy element to what goes on when franchise executives address the adoring crowd in this manner.
If, indeed, that is the case, here are five suggestions for things folks might want to say during this year’s event.
• “Centers only get better with age.”
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the four opening day starters at that spot will be Mike Fisher (33 years old), Matt Cullen (36), David Legwand (33) and Paul Gaustad (31). None ever has been a prolific scorer and no center has been Nashville’s leading scorer outright since Legwand more than a decade ago (2002-03). What a difference it might make for a traditionally offensively challenged franchise to get some serious production from the middle.
• “Prior to the opener, the NHL will take a cue from the NBA and adopt a 3-point shot.”
This quickly will become known as the ‘Weber Rule’ because no player has more long-range scoring ability than the Nashville defenseman and no team relies on its defensemen more for offense. Weber has averaged 17.5 goals in the last four full seasons. Now his big blasts will be worth even more.
• “The franchise not only will be profitable, its revenue will exceed its expenses to a greater degree than even teams such as Detroit, Toronto and the New York Rangers.”
Nashville can sell all the tickets it wants (and chances are it will sell plenty), but unless a rainbow touches down in the Zamboni tunnel and leaves its pot of gold, this one seems like the most far-fetched of all.
• “Pekka Rinne literally will stand on his head for 70 games or so this season.”
By inverting his normal stance the veteran goalkeeper will reduce the stress on his surgically repaired hip and will be available for the workload coaches want. Assuming the literal manifestation includes the figurative performance level, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner will be the odds-on favorite to win it this time.
• “The Predators will win the Stanley Cup this season.”
Actually, there’s a pretty good chance someone actually says this. What the heck? If only one of these things actually happens … .