Same as it ever was, the Predators annual Skate of the Union event Wednesday was virtually indistinguishable from a political rally.
And not an appeal-to-everybody rally, the likes of which you see in the October general election push, but the red-meat-to-the-masses stuff you get in primary season, when the candidates are firing up their base constituency for the long haul of election season.
There's nothing wrong with that, of course — pro sports teams should have high ambitions and pro sports teams should encourage their most passionate fans — the kind of people who'll spare three or four hours on a Wednesday night a month before the season starts to go to an event with little more than two days notice.
Not that the event was without merit. The players and the coaches and the front office guys said interesting things — the possibility of an All-Star Game, a new Thanksgiving tradition, a hint about the SEC tournament — and similarly left interesting things unsaid.
For starters — despite Boclair's exhortation — the team brass did not declare unequivocally that the Preds were going to contend for a Stanley Cup, as they've done in year's past. They echoed their aspirational mission statement (one they've been mocked for):
Bridgestone Arena is the No. 1 sports and entertainment venue in the United States and its centerpiece is the Stanley Cup champion Nashville Predators.
For now, Bridgestone Arena is a top-ten venue in terms of events and attendance and in respect from its peers. And the Predators aren't Stanley Cup champions, but these days, Barry Trotz and David Poile seem happy to return to relevance after finishing near the bottom of the NHL in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, a season which prompted Poile to say he and Trotz were "not happy with where our team was going."
Trotz said the team as newly constructed will have "personality" and that he himself might say things we haven't heard him say before. He pointed to the acquisition of speedy Viktor Stalberg and veteran Matt Cullen to add some scoring pop, with that "personality" coming from pugilist-slash-shootout wiz Matt Hendricks and pesty Eric Nystrom.
During the player question portion, Nystrom showed off some of that personality. Coming over from Dallas — with whom Nashville has developed a bit of a rivalry ahead of the Stars moving into the Preds division in re-alignment — the forward was asked how he'd feel about playing his old team.
"I'm gonna try to kill 'em, honestly," he said to the predictable cheers.
Besides updates on the team's lease — which was signed last summer ahead of the lockout, so the team didn't get to brag on it much, the new ice facility in Hickory Hollow and a bring-you-up-to-speed rundown of the arena improvements, there were, actually, other pieces of actual news:
** CEO Jeff Cogen said the team is looking to "diversify our product" with different sorts of ticket packages — some with fewer games, some with more, all up and down the price-point ladder. The team has hired more sales staff and will be pushing more promotional nights. The team — in part because they weren't very good and in part because the lockout stifled momentum — filled the building a lot last season, but used beaucoups free tickets to do so. Cogen quipped that when the Philadelphia Flyers come here, their allotment of tickets set aside for their players will be $14 million each.
** Cogen's running buddy, COO and president Sean Henry said people may see the organization try a lot of new and different things to create a unique atmosphere in Nashville — "We'll try some things that are just plain stupid," he said. Cogen said one of those new traditions that could start this year is a Thanksgiving night game. The Preds play Edmonton on Turkey Day this year. Cogen indicated the team would like to make Thanksgiving hockey a Nashville tradition.
** Team chairman Tom Cigarran said he's been "led to believe" Bridgestone Arena will host an NHL All-Star Game within three years. That's no real surprise. Pre-lockout, when Bridgestone extended its naming-rights deal, the tire company's CEO said he'd made his desire to have the game in Music City — and in the building with his company's name — known to the league. The 2013 All-Star game was set for Columbus (and cancelled due to the lockout). Because of the Olympics, there will be no All-Star Game this season.
** And in a bit of non-hockey news, Henry said "We're going to make a pretty big announcement with the SEC in next few weeks." The SEC has expressed a desire to give its men's basketball tournament a sort-of permanent home. Bridgestone Arena is already scheduled to host the event in 2015, 2016 and 2019.
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