The Nashville Predators will open their 10th NHL season at home on Thursday night. An 11th in Tennessee is not a certainty.
With the proposed sale of the team to local investors now reportedly in question, the stripped-down Predators meet the Colorado Avalanche at the newly-named Sommet Center.
According to the Tennessean.com Web site on Tuesday, the leader of a local group trying to purchase the franchise for $193 million said he's not optimistic about the sale of the team going through. David Freeman, head of 36 Venture Capital, said the group's recent request to the city for more tax money and improvements to the arena were rejected,
"No, I'm not hopeful, but also not bitter," Freeman said. "We put a ton of work into it, and we did our best."
The city, though, said negotiations were ongoing with the group's exclusive negotiating deal with current owner Craig Leipold set to expire on Oct. 31.
In May, Leipold apparently struck a deal to sell the team to Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie for $220 million, and he already started the process of moving the team to Hamilton, Ontario, if a way out of its lease with Nashville could be found. Within weeks, Leipold told the NHL he no longer wanted them to consider a sale to the billionaire until a binding agreement was completed.
Balsillie attempted to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins last winter for $175 million, but backed out when the NHL insisted he not relocate the franchise.
This came after Nashville enjoyed its best season in 2006-07, scoring a Western Conference-high 272 goals and setting franchise records with 51 wins and 110 points before losing in the opening round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
With the future of the team in question, the Predators held a fire sale and dumped most of their best players.
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun - the team's all-time leader with 161 wins - was shipped to Florida for draft picks. Center Paul Kariya, the team's leading scorer with 76 points last season, wasn't re-signed and joined Central Division rival St. Louis. All-Star defenseman Kimmo Timonen and right wing Scott Hartnell were traded to Philadelphia for one first-round draft pick.
And Peter Forsberg, acquired at last season's trade deadline to add another high-scoring forward with playoff experience, became an unrestricted free agent and hasn't joined another team.
With Vokoun gone, longtime backup Chris Mason is the new No. 1 goaltender. He had 24 wins in 38 starts, including five shutouts and a 2.38 goals-against average last season.
On offense, Nashville will rely on Jason Arnott, J.P. Dumont and Alexander Radulov. Arnott, a 14-year veteran, had 27 goals last season, his first with the Predators. Dumont played a full season for the first time in his eight-year career, and set career highs with 45 assists and 66 points. Radulov, selected 15th overall in the 2004 NHL Draft, had 18 goals and 19 assists in 64 games as a rookie.
Right wing Steve Sullivan, a 22-goal scorer in 57 games last season, is sidelined until late November due to back surgery.
With Timonen gone, the defense now features six players 27 or younger. Greg de Vries and Marek Zidlicky are the only ones older than 30.
Nashville is 2-3-0 all-time in season openers at the old Gaylord Entertainment Center. Colorado, meanwhile, is 8-3-4 in road openers for a .667 winning percentage that's second in the league to Ottawa.
The Avalanche (1-0-0) began their home schedule with a 4-3 win over Dallas on Wednesday night. Paul Stastny, one of the league's top rookies last season, recorded his first career hat trick, but Wojtek Wolski's goal with less than four minutes to play in the second period proved to be the game-winner.
"Anyone on the team can chip in," Stastny said. "Today, I was a little lucky. It helped out because we needed goals."
Last season, Stastny finished second among rookies with 78 points and likely would have won the Calder Trophy had it not been for Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin. Stastny had two assists in four games versus Nashville last season.
Stastny and Wolski were two of Colorado five 20-goal scorers in 2006-07.
"That's the start we're looking for," Wolski said. "We want to make sure that carries over into the next 10, 20 games."
Joe Sakic, starting his 19th NHL season, didn't record a point and still needs two more to move past Phil Esposito into eighth place on the all-time list. Sakic, who has 1,589 career points, tallied seven assists in his last three games against the Predators last season.