The Nashville Predators held their end-of-the-season celebration on Sunday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena. The day included various events around the arena, an open skate for those in attendance and the season recap press conference where President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile, Head Coach Barry Trotz and CEO Jeff Cogen each made statements front of several hundred fans and members of the media, reflecting upon and dissecting a season that concluded sooner than everyone would have hoped.
The season recap conference began with Cogen, who discussed to trials of dealing with the shortened season and also highlighted how the Predators front office overcame what troubled many teams.
“The lockout shortened the season,” Cogen said. “It created a different timeline and it created a different set of rules. That is really unfortunate because we really had a lot of momentum coming out of last season on the business side. It put us in a reactionary mode, rather than a proactive mode.
“Our goal has always been to sellout the building. We sold out the first 16 games of the season and ended up selling out 20 of 24 games. If you count the last eight regular season games from last year and the five playoff game, that gives us 29 consecutive sellouts. Our average attendance was just a little below 17,000 fans – 16,974. We broke the 10,000 season ticket holder base for the first time in this millennium.”
While the support from the fan base is as strong as ever, many questioned the effort put forth on the ice this season as the Predators missed the playoff for just the second time in nine years.
Head Coach Barry Trotz felt that this year was a strange year on the hockey side, and while he won’t make excuses for the final outcome of the season, the impact was surely felt on the ice.
“It was a very difficult year from a coaching standpoint,” Trotz said. “It was a strange year. We can talk about all the different things – the 48-game schedule, the competition in the West, but from my standpoint, it really burns me to talk about excuses.
“As a coach, there are some things you have control of and some things you don’t. Obviously, injuries played a big part to where we are, especially among the core position, the forward position. The top two lines were completely disseminated. You can replace a few guys here and there, but you can’t replace a whole bunch of them at the same time. With our core players in the lineup, we probably would have made the playoffs, but injuries didn’t allow us to do that.”
Trotz attributes some of the Predators on-ice struggles to the team not finding an identity – the Predators culture that so many fans have come to know and love.
“More than anything I think we need to get back to our culture,” Trotz said. “It really showed in our road record. We weren’t as relentless or as hard to play against as we should be or as we’ve been in the past. That a cultural thing. Our job as coaches and management is to get back to what [the fans] demand and expect from the Nashville Predators. We are going to be harder to play against. We’re going to add a little sand paper to our lineup. We want to turn this building into the Roman Colosseum when teams come in here. We were just too easy to play against this year and that’s not a reflection on this season because most of our roster was not there. We need to get back to the point where teams say, ‘yeah we’re coming into Nashville… great.’ That’s what you want them to think – great we’re in Nashville. We’ve got to get back to our culture – we are going to get back to that Predator way of playing.”
While the Predators identity may have been lacking during the 2012-13 season, perhaps the most telling trait lies in the goals-for column. The Predators dipped from the eighth-highest scoring team in 2011-12 to a tie for 30th this season. The lack of scoring has become a top priority for Poile and his management team moving forward.
“I know, we know, we need to be more dynamic at the forward position,” President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile said. “We’ll be looking to replace Martin Erat with a proven, veteran forward. The salary cap is going to go down for the first time in eight years and that should provide some interesting situations for teams that are up against the cap and may make some players available. The trade of Martin Erat signals that we are moving quickly and more dramatically to address this issue.
“The reality of this team is that we were built around our defense and our goaltending, and it’s been that way for several years. We, as an organization, have realized that we need to have more dynamic forwards. We have addressed that in recent drafts and we will continue to do so this year. The next step is the NHL Entry draft on June 30, where we will have a several draft picks, including a top five pick, which we haven’t had since our first year in the League with David Legwand.”
The defense-first system the Predators have fielded year-in-and-year-out may be changing in the near future, and for some, that change cannot come soon enough.
“The bottom line is we weren’t good enough this year, but we will be good enough in 2013-14,” Poile said. “As Barry said, we have a strong foundation with Shea (Weber) and Pekka (Rinne). Our ownership has demonstrated great commitment to this franchise. I truly believe we have the core here to make it happen. Like Barry, I want to believe there were extenuating circumstances and a little bit of aberration to this season and we will be back up to being a playoff caliber team next season.”