A single moment from Tuesday night’s Stanley Cup celebration keeps coming to my mind: Kimmo Timonen skating the United Center ice with hockey’s ultimate trophy lifted above his head. That brief moment causes me to think back to earlier this year during a snowstorm, when the Nashville Predators were in Philadelphia to play the Flyers in an afternoon tilt.
On that February day, Preds Radio Color Analyst Brent Peterson asked Timonen, the former Predators Captain, to join us in the booth during the second intermission. At the time, the soon-to-be-40-year-old defenseman was yet to play in the 2014-15 season due to blood clots, which had put his playing career in jeopardy. But earlier that month, he had finally been cleared to play medically, and was hoping for a chance to help a team down the stretch. We had a fun chat reminiscing about his eight seasons with the Predators; while his kids, all of whom were born here in Nashville, quietly stood by in the booth.
Who knew then what was in store for him on that day?
Fast forward to Tuesday night. Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews chose to hand the Stanley Cup to Timonen first out of all his teammates, a classy move. The honor was a well-deserved one for the veteran blueliner, who was acquired by Chicago prior to the trade deadline. That moment was a fitting end to a tremendous career.
Timonen is a beloved figure in Predators history, not just because of his skill and savvy on the ice, but also for classiness off of it. He is the last active member of the scrappy nucleus of players the Predators built their foundation upon during the expansion years. Like Tomas Vokoun, Scott Walker, Greg Johnson and others, the Kuopio, Finland, native was pulled from the scrapheap by General Manager David Poile as he cobbled together a roster in 1998. Timonen was traded to Nashville along with Jan Vopat (remember him?) by the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for future considerations, or as players jokingly call it: traded for "Freddy Charles.”
Who knows what those considerations turned out to be - if anything - but for the Preds, he turned into a keeper. Despite his lack of size, Timonen quickly went from being a 5-foot-10 underdog to a staple in the lineup, compensating defensively with tremendous positional play and hockey smarts. He turned into a quarterback on the power play, consistently providing offense, and made two All-Star teams. As the team transitioned from expansion mode to the playoff era, Timonen captained one of the most powerful Predators teams in franchise history, the 2006-07 squad.
Unfortunately, Poile was forced to trade Timonen when Craig Leipold sold the franchise during the summer of 2007. Timonen's intent was to stay in Nashville, but it turned into a lucrative move, as the Flyers inked him to a large, long-term contract. The D-man continued to shine in Philly, and played a key role on Peter Laviolette's squad that reached the Cup Final in 2010.
So while it's tough to see the rival Hawks hoist the Cup for many reasons (the "what ifs" from the Western Conference Quarterfinal Series will live on forever), I'm happy for Timonen. A fantastic player and a better person. He'll always be an “original Predator" to me.