This week, I asked our staff here at PATHOLOGICAL HATE to share their thoughts on the Nashville Predators. The Preds’ inaugural season was back in 1998 and I can still remember many traditional pundits and hockey fans scratching their heads in shared perplexity wondering what Commissioner Gary Bettman was possibly thinking in awarding the city of Nashville an NHL franchise.
Nevertheless, despite a slew of problems, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Not making their first playoff appearance until their 7th season .
- Ownership fraud.
- A threat to move to Canadian city, Hamilton, Ontario.
- Unimpressive attendance figures (though, it’s worth mentioning that they have one of the smaller arenas in the NHL)
The Preds still have one of the more stable NHL franchises with a current streak of three consecutive playoff appearances, three consecutive years of improving attendance figures (in terms of capacity percentage%), and most astonishing of all, they have only known one General Manager in David Poile and only one head coach in Barry Trotz.
Despite all of their long-running and recent success, Nashville is still perceived as a low-grade hockey franchise with a fan base that does not understand the sport and are more fair-weathered fans than die-hard fans. The current stereotype about the fans needing to learn the rules and culture of hockey are still prevalent today as they were back in 1998. Just look at our panel’s responses. The question was, “What are your thoughts on the city of Nashville as a legitimate “hockey town?” Obviously, the connotation of “hockey town” was meant to be taken loosely and in relative terms:
- “Wait. You did say H-O-C-K-E-Y town right? Just checking.”—C. McLain
- “Well, between the Predators and the Tennessee Titans, I guess they have to clap for someone. Hockey will never survive in Tennessee.”—Johnny J
- “Great small market, but [the term] hockey town [should be preserved] for Original Six teams.”—D. Plotsky.
Plotsky’s sentiment is more alarming, especially for a sports’ entity like the NHL who has been trying to open up to new, non-traditional markets in a rapid manner since 1967. By that logic, no other city in North America can ever, fully embrace an NHL franchise outside of Montreal, Toronto, Boston, or Detroit to name a few.
Also, Nashville is stereotyped as another Southern city full of “rednecks” who will always remain loyal to Southern culture and will remain skeptical and xenophobic to foreign concepts, such as hockey. As Donny Rodriguez explains:
“Nashville Hockey: The NHL loves passing over cold-weathered cities such as Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and Providence for more densely populated areas that have more disposable income and love to casually partake in fringe sporting events. New cities are good for the sport, but only if the team stays in the city and two decades from now that city starts producing hockey players. The common Southerner would probably embrace hockey more if there were some "good 'ole boys" with American names swapping fabric of sweaters, like they do swapping paint in those race cars.”
However, the fact of the matter is, when the Predators are winning, the fans come out to support. That’s true with any other city in any other sport. I can still remember a time when the Chicago Blackhawks were a young, cheap team run by “Dollar Bill” Wirtz and constantly struggled to bring the fans into the United Center. After the Hawks became Stanley Cup contenders, suddenly, they were the hottest and toughest ticket in town as the Blackhawks have led the league in capacity percentage% in the last 4 seasons when they became Cup contenders.
How was their attendance when they weren’t winning? In 2007-08, the Blackhawks finished in 10th place in the Western Conference, finished 19th in total home attendance, and that big arena they call home? 82% capacity percentage%! That placed them in 28th PLACE IN THE NHL!!! As most of you will know, the Chicago Blackhawks are an “Original Six” team.
The fans of Nashville have proved to be as loyal as any in the NHL. They don’t sell out like the Blackhawks have in the past 4 seasons, but in relative terms, they will support a winner. And a winning franchise is the Predators. We’ve mentioned the recent string of playoff appearances, but the biggest surprise is that they still have employed their original GM and head coach! That’s not just a rarity in the NHL, where historic franchises like the Toronto Maple Leafs go through head coaches and front office personnel like The Black Dahlia Murder goes through drummers, but in sports in general where management positions are constantly on fire (giving new meaning to the idiom “hot seat”). How Poile and Trotz have kept their jobs, even through the losing seasons, is simply amazing. And if this stable franchise wasn’t stable enough as it is now, they have locked up one of the better goaltenders in the NHL, Pekka Rinne, to a long-term deal. Their first draft pick ever, David Legwand, is still on the team!
And as I watched the Predators fight off the St. Louis Blues in Overtime, Rinne stopped a barrage of scoring opportunities as the period was coming to an end. Play was stopped for a face-off and the Nashville faithful stood up and gave Rinne a long, standing ovation as they appreciated his and his team’s effort. The Preds lost the game in the Shootout, but give credit to the mostly, “Southern, redneck, no-nothing-about-hockey" fans: they knew a great effort when they saw it. They have themselves a top-notch franchise and they know that as well.