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Excitement and optimism reigns at the 2013 Skate of the Union

by David Yampolsky / Nashville Predators

From the players to the upper management, one message was clear: The Predators believe this is their year to win the Stanley Cup. This theme was echoed throughout the entire Skate of the Union as players and management addressed loyal fans who came out to Bridgestone Arena on Monday night to show their support.

During the players’ Q&A session, which included Colin Wilson, Paul Gaustad, Hal Gill, Chris Mason and Mike Fisher, they all made it clear that they want to stick around in Nashville because they are convinced the Predators have never been closer to hoisting the Stanley Cup on Broadway. Gill and Gaustad, who were acquired by the Predators at the 2012 Trade Deadline, offered their opinion on what factors were important to them when they decided to resign with the Predators during the offseason.

For Gill, his primary reason was family: "I wanted my family to be in a good spot that they would enjoy living in and would be good for them. Nashville is certainly that place."

Nevertheless, both Gill and Gaustad shared the view that the reason they decided to resign is because at the end of the day, the Predators are a winning team.

"We can win here,” Gaustad said. "This team will be in the hunt for years to come. After the season was over, I knew I wanted to come back here."

Next on the list were Mason and Wilson. Mason offered his explanation for returning to Music City for the third time in his career: "I have been in Nashville longer than any other place in my career. There is a trust and familiarity that has been built over the years. I want to win and play for a winner, and we can win here. My role is to be able to come in and give the team quality starts and give Pekka some rest."

Wilson commented after talks with General Manager David Poile over the summer that it was clear that both sides were on the same page on bringing Wilson back to Nashville for three more years. He also jokingly provided the other major stipulation for returning to Nashville: "I said I wouldn’t sign until we got Gill done because if I didn’t have somebody making fun of me in the dressing room, it just wouldn’t be the same."

Last on the panel was Fisher, who informed everyone that he had recently returned from Australia and had a wonderful time "Down Under." He also commented on winning the NHL Foundation Player Award this summer at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, awarded to the player who “applies the core values of ice hockey – commitment, perseverance and teamwork – to enrich the lives of people in his community. Fisher gave credit to the Nashville community, saying has been really welcoming and he has had many opportunities to give back. He also mentioned a new children’s book titled Defender of Faith: The Mike Fisher Story that has recently been released, which chronicles his hockey life and religious faith. Finally, an unexpectedly pleasant surprise came at the end of the players’ panel, when David Poile stepped on stage and announced that Fisher was just signed to a two-year, $8.4 million extension, which sent the Predators’ faithful into a standing ovation.

The Predators management then took the stage, which included Tom Cigarran, Chairman; Jeff Cogen, CEO; Sean Henry, COO and President; Poile; and Peter Horachek, Associate Coach.

Cigarran went through a series of milestones of which the Predators organization and fan base could be extremely proud: the Predators made the second round of the playoffs this past year for the second year in row making them only team in Western Conference to achieve that feat; Shea Weber was recently signed to a 14-year, $110 million contract, Fisher’s contract was extended merely hours ago; the Predators recorded the largest number of sellouts this past season, as well as newer and a larger number of sponsorships; Predators’ games TV ratings doubled over the past year, and the organization recently signed a new long-term lease agreement with the city of Nashville for Bridgestone Arena.

In Cogen’s opening speech, he continued with the accomplishments of the organization in the past year. In addition to the highest average attendance numbers in Predators history of 16,500, he predicted the season ticket base would break 10,000. Moreover, he emphasized that the Predators currently have more than 100 corporate partners up from the mid-60s two years ago, and Bridgestone Arena’s naming rights will now continue into the next decade. His concluding words offered much hope for the future: "We are no longer striving to survive. We are competing both on and off the ice."

Henry was up next, reiterating Cigarran’s mission "to be the number one sports entertainment venue in the country built around a Stanley Cup championship Nashville Predators team."

Henry detailed the improvements within Bridgestone Arena that fans and players can look forward to in the near future. One such upgrade includes environmental renovations, which involves the installation of new dehumidifiers and a new cooling system for maintaining good ice conditions. Furthermore, a new shooting and skills facility, which only four other teams in the NHL currently have, is underway for players, allowing them to practice even when the ice is not down. Business Operations is also rolling out a new concept in section 218. Though the details have not been revealed, it will be micro-club that will seat up to 80 fans.

Lastly, Henry discussed the success of the Predators Foundation, asserting that "we do virtually more than any other hockey team out there."

Last year, the Foundation donated $750,000 to different causes. This year, the goal is to double that number. The Foundation also plans to start building playgrounds in schools across Davidson County that currently do not have the appropriate resources for constructing one themselves.

Poile followed on the agenda, emphasizing that the Predators "are not surviving anymore – they are competing and are trying to win the Stanley Cup every year." He also noted that while an impressive number of 19 players of the Predators’ roster from the past season are returning for the 2012-13 season, the Predators commitment to winning the Stanley Cup can be demonstrated by the acquisitions of key veterans in Paul Gaustad, Hall Gill, Chris Mason and Scott Hannan, as well as re-signing Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber to a 14-year contract, and most recently, extending Fisher. According to Poile, the Predators have the necessary core to stay competitive in not only the veteran players, but also younger players such as Roman Josi and Craig Smith, as well as those still developing in Milwaukee.

Lastly, Horachek offered his view on the current state of the team. He reemphasized the importance various veteran players the Predators now have, and their size, character and leadership will be quintessential in order for the Predators to remain successful. He also made it clear that the younger players could not be discounted either: Josi will begin take on greater responsibility on defense, while Smith, Wilson, Ryan Ellis and Gabriel Bourque are all expected to have breakout seasons.

Overall, this year’s Skate of the Union was a success and prospects could not seem brighter for the Predators organization right now. It is evident that the players are happy to be here and the upper management, as well as the city of Nashville, are determined in keeping this franchise in this city for years to come.

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