The Nashville Predators unprecedented success this season has many reaching for comparisons to try and put the club’s essentially wire-to-wire lead of the NHL into perspective.
Usually, that search results in a reference to the 2006-07 version of the Preds that led the League at the All-Star Break and finished third overall with 110 points. But with this campaign’s team at the cusp of the stretch run to the playoffs and continuing to break franchise records, there’s only more evidence daily that there’s something unequaled and different about the 2014-15 Predators.
General Manager David Poile said he too senses something unique about this edition of the Preds. That’s why he decided to push “all-in” with the acquisition of Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli from Toronto on Feb. 15.
“With our team this year, we’ve been basically wire-to-wire at the top of the League and that gives me a lot of hope that we have a legitimate chance to beat anybody,” Poile said. “I think I owe it to this team to give them the best chance possible, so that’s why we made a significant trade by adding a defenseman and a forward in Franson and Santorelli by giving up our first-round pick and a good prospect.”
Poile’s substantial trade came a couple weeks before Monday’s Trade Deadline, a day traditionally filled with championship-contending teams stockpiling players prior to the postseason. An early move not only helps avoid premium prices, but a sort of “roster panic” when other competitors make a splash.
“Fortunately for me, I was able to get out ahead of the deadline, which is probably every manager's ideal situation,” Poile said. “You don’t want to get hung up in the last couple days [before the deadline] and try to make a deal for the sake of making one...We knew what we wanted to do, and we were able to get out way ahead of it. I think everybody is comfortable with [our trade].”
Despite the Predators adding two quality players to a roster already operating at near peak efficiency, there’s still some kind of expectation that something else should happen on deadline day. Poile points again to this season being different than past ones, however, and says he has a sort of peace about his roster.
With the Preds approaching a calendar year since they last lost three-straight, there’s almost reason to wonder if Nashville will ever face a heavy dose of adversity in a season that’s seen them collect 41 wins in their first 62 games (another franchise record). That doesn’t mean Poile is naive enough to think that there won’t be challenges ahead of the Predators, and he says his team has already been preparing for those moments.
“You know it’s going to happen,” Poile said. “Whether it’s in these last [20 or so] games of the season or in the playoffs, your back is going to get up against the wall. There are going to be some moments that we would call ‘defining moments’ or ‘turning points.’
“But aren’t challenges happening in every game during the season? [Tuesday night], the Avalanche get a flukey goal and we come back the next shift and score. They make a big hit on Roman Josi and our Captain goes to his aid...There are always things that happen; that might not be ‘adversity,’ but you’re being tested all the time.”
A fast start to the season four months ago put the Predators in their current position and Poile is hoping Nashville’s torrid pace through more than two-thirds of the season will continue when it matters most. After all, going 6-2-2 in October didn’t give the Preds a false sense of security; instead, it put them in the very position that’s allowed them to prep for their first return to the postseason in three seasons.
“We were confident in how we play the game, and we’re confident in our games as individuals and as a team,” said Poile. “I’m a big believer in momentum. If we hadn’t gotten off to a quick start, I think it would have been much more difficult to be anywhere near where we are today.
“I’m very sure that if you have excellent goaltending and a strong defense that you’ve got as good a chance as anybody to win in the playoffs. I think that’s been proven year in and year out. Right now with Pekka Rinne and our defense that’s eight deep, I feel really good about our chances going into the playoffs with that group.”
So it’s with confidence that Poile will let Monday dawn, and if it passes without him pulling the trigger on another trade, then that’s perfectly fine with him. The work over the course of 82 regular season games is for a single purpose and the Predators are ready to meet that challenge with momentum on their side.
“It’s confidence, but also fully aware that we’re yet to accomplish anything,” Poile said. “We’re a team that hasn’t made the playoffs the last two years, so we’re happy to be where we are and we’re very appreciative to be back in the playoffs. We’re also totally aware that we aren’t entitled to anything.
“Everything that we’ve got to this point, we worked hard to earn. Nobody gave it to us and certainly no one is going to give us anything down the stretch or in the playoffs. So as good as it is today, we’ve got to earn it. It’s just like being in the Army; you’ve got to earn your stripes every day. We got here though hard work and a lot of skill and belief in each other. That’s turned into some really good confidence and it totally has been that team effort.”