The focus in Nashville is on the future.
The Nashville Predators are looking ahead to the 2014-15 season and beyond, with that point being emphasized by Predators Chief Executive Officer Jeff Cogen and President of Hockey Operations and General Manager David Poile at Thursday’s Nashville Business Breakfast on the campus of Lipscomb University.
“What we’ve talked about in our office after the last couple of seasons is forward focus,” Poile said. “That’s going forward in everything we do. Especially with our team and with myself, you just don’t dwell in the present.
“With management and our whole group, we’re always seemingly looking ahead all the time to the next game, to the next home stand, to our younger prospects, to all the players that are developing in our system and progressing. We’re looking forward to next year’s draft and whatever changes we can make to get our team to be in a better place.”
Cogen and Poile were tabbed as the keynote speakers at the breakfast, discussing a wide range of topics, including organizational business practices and hockey operations philosophies.
From a business and ticketing standpoint, Cogen’s message and belief is a simple one: “If we can get you to the building, we think we can get you to come back.”
The Preds hope that their on-ice product will once again provide that enticement.
“This is a season of change and we have that forward focus,” Poile said. “All (of our players) get a new, fresh start with (Head Coach Peter Laviolette). Nobody’s guaranteed their ice time, who they played with last year; it’s kind of like (a military situation) this year as we come to training camp. You’ve got to earn your stripes every day.
“For a manager that’s been here all these years and to make this many changes both on and off the ice, I think it’s going to be really exciting.”
One of those changes looks to be a healthy Pekka Rinne. The goaltender missed 51 games last season due to a hip injury, but Poile is hopeful that the franchise’s all-time leader in wins, shutouts, goals-against average and save percentage can return to his Vezina Trophy finalist form of the past.
“We’ve talked to (Pekka) recently, and he feels 100 percent with no hip issues,” Poile said. “All I can tell you is that with Pekka in goal, we’ve got a chance to win every game. He makes everybody a little bit better.”
The goaltending and defensive combinations will likely just be a matter of plugging guys into the right spots on the lineup card. However, the forward corps will present a much larger challenge once training camp arrives in September.
“With all the changes we made this offseason, I can see us having six or seven new forwards this season,” Poile said. “We actually have more forwards under contract than we have positions available and I think that creates great competition at training camp, which we want to do. It gives the coaches tremendous flexibility with what they want to do and who they want to try at training camp.”
Perhaps the most noticeable and substantial change over the summer has been the construction of, and the soon-to-be grand opening of the Ford Ice Center in Antioch. The CEO and GM are both extremely satisfied with how things have transpired, and Poile believes that the addition is just one more step toward Middle Tennessee producing a steady crop of professional hockey talent.
“It’s going to happen,” Poile said on the potential of Nashville natives one day skating for the Preds. “We’re getting kids that are actually good enough to go up and play into prep schools or can been recruited to the (United States Hockey League), and some of these guys are starting to get offers of college scholarships, so it’s already happening… As part of the big vision, other than winning the Stanley Cup, this is what I’d like to see for Nashville.”
Off the ice, things remain solidified as well. Cogen discussed business incentives and tactics that the club uses to drive up interest and ticket sales in not only the hockey side of things, but Bridgestone Arena as a whole. Those elements intertwine with one another, but a solid financial backing from ownership ultimately lends optimism, good news for the future of hockey in Nashville.
“We are well funded, and our business operation has never been more stable,” Cogen said. “We have a very interactive and collaborative interaction businesswise, hockeywise with ownership… We’ve never been in a more stable situation and there is a great three way partnership between business operations, ownership and hockey operations.”
The future holds promise, both in Antioch and on Broadway. And with that forward focus, the season of change is now just weeks away. Perhaps ‘The Mayor’ provided the best summation of the belief in Smashville.
“(The business model) has never been in better shape,” Cogen said. “David has provided us with what I think is going to be a spectacular product on the ice and we’re ready to go.”