Nashville, Tennessee was a city that desperately wanted a hockey team. It the late 90s, their wish was fulfilled! Following a failed attempt to prize away the New Jersey Devils, the city was eventually awarded an NHL expansion franchise in 1998. From that point, the Nashville Predators were born.
The early years were lean for the new team, which is entirely understandable for a young team in a highly competitive league. The Stanley Cup was a dream far away from that early squad, which featured Cliff Ronning and Greg Johnson. The Predators finished with a losing record in each of their first 5 seasons. However, the team would soon get themselves on the right track. Coach Barry Trotz was finally able to put together a winning combination in 2004. Behind great players like Scott Walker, Marek Zidlicky, Martin Erat, and David Legwand, Nashville snuck into the NHL playoffs as the Western Conference’s 8th seed. That set up a date with the Detroit Red Wings, who eliminated the Predators from their first postseason appearance.
The following season was cancelled due to a lockout, worrying fans that the time away from the ice might quell the momentum from Nashville’s first winning season. However, those fears would be mitigated by several strong seasons once the NHL returned. The main reason hope was restored was thanks in large part to Paul Kariya, a dynamic player who led the team in points for two straight years. Also key members of the Predators during this time were Steve Sullivan, J.P. Dumont, and Jason Arnott.
Despite the improved roster, Nashville could not progress beyond the first round of the playoffs, losing in back-to-back years to the San Jose Sharks before losing to the Red Wings once again in 2008. In 2009 the Predators missed the playoffs entirely and in 2010 they would lose in the first round to the Chicago Blackhawks, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.
But in 2011, the team took a major step forward and won their first round playoff matchup against the Anaheim Ducks. Shea Weber and Sergei Kostitsyn were team leaders while Joel Ward stepped up in the playoffs. While they did lose in the second round, the team was bolstered by their ability to progress.
Nashville managed the feat once again the following season, this time beating the Red Wings! The core group of Erat, Legwand, Weber, and Mike Fisher had really begun to click well on the ice. The second round of the playoffs would prove to be too much for them once again, and remains a stage at which the Predators have yet to progress.
And while the Predators have yet to reach the playoffs ever since, there is reason for optimism and hope. The team parted ways with longtime coach Barry Trotz this offseason in a move that should invigorate the side. New players like Seth Jones, Filip Forsberg, Derek Roy, and Mike Ribeiro have the team off to a fast start in 2014-2015. Perhaps Nashville is a city on the precipice of hockey greatness and a Stanley Cup championship in the near future!
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