It’s perspective time. Since the calendar hit 2015, many Nashville Predator fans have basically assumed the team would make the postseason. The focus has been on other things, like:
- Are the Predators “really” Stanley Cup contenders?
- What do they need to do at the trade deadline?
- Where do David Poile, Peter Laviolette, Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne and Filip Forsberg stand as it relates to individual awards?
- How important is it to win the division?
- How do they match up with best and worst?
All of these are valid questions worthy of detailed discussion. And if you have followed this team, you've probably been chewing on most, if not all, of these for several weeks. But before we find out the answers, let's take just a moment to appreciate one thing: The Predators are in the playoffs, and that should not be taken for granted.
It's been awhile since the exhilarating series win over the Red Wings in April 2012, followed by the gut-wrenching disappointment of being eliminated by the Coyotes in the following round. That roster had names like Martin Erat, Hal Gill and Alexander Radulov. A lot has happened. A lockout. A dip. A new coaching staff. A shakeup of personnel.
After the maneuverings of Nashville General Manager David Poile during the offseason, the Predators were not a shoo-in to get back to the postseason. In fact, they were far from it.
While most prognosticators acknowledged that Nashville would be improved with a healthy Pekka Rinne, few put them in their group of eight playoff teams in the Western Conference. How few? Rob Vollman from hockeyabstract.com did a study at the beginning of the season, putting together a consensus of 105 NHL preseason predictions. A few of the findings:
- With seven teams in the deep Central Division (five teams made the postseason last year), the Predators average predicted finish was 5.84. (the Dallas Stars were 3.32, the Chicago Blackhawks 1.39)
- Of the 105 prognosticators - zero had Nashville winning the Division.
- Only seven even predicted the Predators to finish among the top 4 in the Central (one second, one third, and five fourths)
- 15 percent of the forecasts had Nashville finishing last in the division, and 64 percent had them sixth.
Vollman himself was more optimistic, highlighting the Predators as a sleeper. (The entire article can be viewed here). As crazy as it is to read those now, I can't say I was that surprised to see those assessments of the team at the time. Were you any different?
Look, I realize that success in the NHL is measured by postseason performance, and this season will be no different. But you have to get there first. I think it's worth taking a moment to appreciate being the first to clinch a spot in the playoffs playing in the deepest division in hockey. It's been awhile since they've even been in the dance.