Now in its centennial season, the National Hockey League is celebrating in style. It started on Jan. 1 with the Centennial Classic in Toronto, and the League has big plans to commemorate the milestone as the 2017 calendar year continues. That includes an NHL Centennial Fan Arena tour, a traveling fan experience unlike any other, which will make a stop in Nashville on Feb. 11-12. Also, all 30 - and soon 31 - teams will wear the NHL Centennial logo on the sleeves of their jerseys for the next year.
Of course, the Nashville Predators don't have the same longevity the League does, but in their nearly 20 years of existence, there have been plenty of moments worth remembering. So in the spirit of the centennial, we're counting down the Top 100 moments in franchise history over the coming weeks, starting with December of 1996 through the year 2000.
December 1996: Bridgestone Arena Opens
On Dec. 15, 1996, more than 26,000 people gathered at the then-named Nashville Arena to get a look at the city's newest venue. Mayor Phil Bredesen greeted the guests as they were treated to a tour of the 20,000-seat arena. Later that week, back-to-back nights of Amy Grant's Country Christmas served as the venue's debut event with guest appearances by Vince Gill, Cece Winans, Michael W. Smith and Gary Chapman.
1997-98: "Predators" Awarded, Named & Debuted
In early 1997, a group led by Wisconsin businessman Craig Leipold made a formal presentation before the NHL requesting an expansion franchise. After a visit from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the League granted the group a conditional franchise to play in Nashville.
The saber-toothed tiger logo was unveiled in September 1997 during a downtown press conference at the Ice Breaker Bash, an event that attracted more than 12,000 fans to the arena. In November, the team's name was unveiled, and on May 4, 1998, the NHL officially announced the Nashville Predators as the 27th franchise in League history.
Summer, 1997: GM & First Head Coach
On July 9, 1997, David Poile was named the first general manager in Preds franchise history and has remained the only one in that role.
The lone person to be a finalist for the General Manager of the Year Award for each of its first three years of existence (2010, 2011 and 2012) and the sixth-place finisher in 2015, Poile is one of the most influential men in the sport, evidenced by his spot on the NHL's Competition Committee all 11 years of existence, appointment to the Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee in 2014, and involvement with USA Hockey, highlighted by his service as General Manager of the United States Olympic Team for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Barry Trotz was named Nashville's first head coach on Aug. 6, 1997, and coached the team through its first 15 seasons, collecting 557 wins and a .533 regular-season win percentage. Trotz also led the team to its first 19 playoff victories.
June 27, 1998: Predators Draft David Legwand
The Predators became the 27th club to participate in the NHL Entry Draft, selecting David Legwand with the second overall pick. Legwand played parts of 15 seasons with the Preds and is the franchise's all-time leader in goals (210), assists (356), points (566) and games played (956). Legwand retired on Dec. 22, 2016.
July 6, 1998: Predators Sign Fitzgerald, Name Him First Captain
An NHL veteran at the time, Tom Fitzgerald was immediately named captain upon signing as a free agent. He spent his four seasons of captaincy mentoring a young Predators contingent that would blossom into the team's playoff core down the road.
October, 1998: Pete Weber and Terry Crisp begin broadcasting Predators games
With the franchise since the inaugural game, the "Voice of the Predators" Pete Weber began his 19th season in 2016-17 with the Nashville Predators broadcast crew and his second working as the team's primary radio play-by-play announcer. In the last 18 seasons, Weber has missed just two games and has called more than 1,400 regular-season and playoff games for the club.
Entering his 19th year with the Predators, Terry Crisp provides analysis on the Predators during the club's television broadcasts. From the franchise's first season in 1998 until 2013-14, Crisp worked alongside Pete Weber, forming one of the most well-known broadcast duos in the League.
Oct. 10, 1998: The Inaugural Game
Nashville witnessed its first regular-season NHL game, as the Predators kicked off their inaugural season in grand fashion. Though the Preds fell 1-0 to the Florida Panthers behind the lone tally from Ray Whitney, a sellout crowd of 17,283 provided an electric atmosphere for the historic event.
Oct. 13, 1998: First Goal & First Win
Two massive franchise milestones were achieved in the second regular-season game in the Nashville Predators inaugural season: the team's first goal and the franchise's first win. Andrew Brunette was credited with the Preds first tally at 5:12 of the first period.
Dec. 19, 1998: Bordeleau & Krivokrasov Each Record Four-Point Games
The Predators pulled off a dramatic comeback win in Vancouver during their first season of play, behind twin four-point efforts by forwards Sebastien Bordeleau and Sergei Krivokrasov. Two goals and two assists from each of the Nashville skaters rallied the visitors to a 6-4 triumph over goaltender Garth Snow and the Canucks.
Nashville entered the game with just three power-play goals in 55 chances on the road that season, but converted three of four opportunities with the man-advantage that night. The trio of power-play goals helped Nashville storm back from a 3-1 deficit.
Dec. 23-26 1998: Preds Sweep 1998 Cup Finalists
A 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Dec. 26, 1998, signaled more than just the Predators first three-game winning streak. That victory, coupled with a 5-3 win over the defending Stanley Cup-champion Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 23, meant that the expansion Predators had beaten both teams that had played in the 1998 Stanley Cup Final in a three-day span.
Jan. 15, 1999: Vokoun Notches First Shutout in Franchise History
After starting the Predators inaugural season third on the goaltending depth chart behind Mike Dunham and Eric Fichaud, Tomas Vokoun stopped all 31 shots he faced to author the first shutout in franchise history against the Phoenix Coyotes in the team's 42nd game.
The then-22-year-old Vokoun was lights out in just the 15th start of his rookie season, turning aside 24 shots over the final two periods, which included stoning Juha Ylonen and Shane Doan on breakaways in the second frame.
Jan. 24, 1999: Krivokrasov Named First All-Star
After scoring 13 goals and 24 points in the first half of the Predators inaugural season, Sergei Krivokrasov became the first player in franchise history to be named to the NHL All-Star Game, held that year at the Ice Palace in Tampa Bay. Despite missing 10 of the opening 42 games due to injury, Krivokrasov's impressive scoring pace was enough to earn him the honor of being named to the NHL's midseason classic.
February 1999: Centennial Sportsplex Opens as Official Practice Facility
During a year-long process of upgrading and renovating the already existing Centennial Sportsplex, a second sheet of ice was installed and a state-of-the-art workout space was added. The facility has remained the team's official practice location to the current day.
Oct. 7-8, 2000: Preds Open Season with Two Games in Japan
The start of the Predators third season took place across the Pacific Ocean in Japan. Nashville split a two-game series against Jaromir Jagr and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Saitama Super Arena outside of Tokyo. The pair of games drew the two largest crowds ever to witness hockey games in Japan (13,849 for the first game and 13,426 for the second game).
Dec. 26, 2000: Walker Nets First Home Hat Trick
With a little holiday magic in tow, Scott Walker treated the Nashville fans to the first hat trick on home ice in franchise history - just a day removed from Christmas. The three goals came in a 5-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche - featuring Joe Sakic, the owner of the first hat trick in building history.
When Walker scored his second goal with 6:15 left in regulation, fans littered the ice with hundreds of hats, because they thought it was his third. But an earlier goal originally credited to Walker had been changed to Patric Kjellberg in the interim. Those still in possession of headwear received another opportunity to honor Walker when he clinched the trick for real with a shorthanded, empty-net tally with only 15 ticks left on the clock.