Postseason Post-Mortem, Part Two

The Nashville Predators’ 2010-11 season is officially dead and buried, and while it was their most successful ever, the future is now; there’s no looking back. Nevertheless, questions will linger throughout the summer. What will be the fate of 2010 free agent prize, Matthew Lombardi (above), who was lost for the 99% of the regular season with a debilitating concussion? When will the re-signing of Shea Weber take place? How will the continued NHL development of Jonathan Blum, Blake Geoffrion, and potential newcomer Ryan Ellis affect the team? How will the potential departures of Predators stalwarts Steve Sullivan and J.P. Dumont alter Nashville’s potential for playoff success in 2012? Will the pendulum swing the Predators’ way again? Well, that’s why they play the games. (Photo: © 2010 Nashville Predators)

For The Predators, The Past is Past. The Future is now.
It’s inevitable. It’s ingrained. It’s what we do. Asking people not to live in the past is like asking Jillian Michaels to be nice; she can do it… it’s just really, really hard.

It’s in our nature to look back — both at the good and the bad circumstances of our lives. The past is complete; we don’t always know why things happened, but we certainly know that they did. The past is quantifiable, measurable, with the intrinsic characteristic of value, i.e.: cost. If my memory was good enough, right up to this moment I could determine the current metaphysical cost of everything that’s ever happened to me. And although that cost is often an ever-changing variable, it’s generally still more of a constant than is the unknown future.

So please, Preds’ fans, relax; don’t blame folks for living on past laurels, or for assuming that because things are a certain way, and have stayed that way for awhile, that they will never change. It’s human nature; it’s what ties us to the dock of life, lest we float adrift, having nothing to hang our hats on; with no star above by which to navigate, and hence, no means to validate our existence.

We live, largely based upon what we’ve done, or what others in our past have done to us. We also look to historical figures’ past deeds and/or accomplishments to guide and validate our own path in the here and now. Of course we look back; hell, there’d be no American Dream if we lived exclusively in the present.

As Is Hockey, So Is Life
It is easy, and right to assume that past successes will lead to future success; that’s our bent as hopeful human beings. It’s also reasonable to assume that NHL hockey players will develop, gain in expertise, and continue to become better — or at least establish a certain level of competence that a team can build its success upon.

This is the standard model for growth in a mature person; it’s the formula to achievement against which we base everything — in our sports teams as much as in society.

However, in reality, sometimes, a plan just doesn’t come together — particularly in hockey. Nearly as often as the ‘work=success’ ethos plays out, does the mitigating power of variables: injuries, changes in personnel due to salary cap constraints, along with all of the unknown intangibles that accompany these changes.

For example, what do you say about the Philadelphia Flyers, who were bounced in four games by Tampa Bay? This was the team with perhaps the greatest upside in the Eastern Conference; the team who ascended to the Stanley Cup Finals last year as an eight seed, whose logical next step it would reasonable to assume would be to return to the finals again this season, with perhaps at least a good chance to win it all this time. What should we think about them?

Did the Flyers just get lucky in 2010, or was it was the curse of that ill-begotten ‘82-game winning streak’ TeeVee commercial they stupidly allowed themselves to be a part of…? (still shaking my head about that one…)

Likewise, what do you say about the San Jose Sharks? What can you say about a team with arguably the greatest collection of talent, top-to-bottom in the Western Conference (if not in the entire NHL); a team that numerous pundits have quite understandably picked to go all the way every year for the past five seasons, but until this season had yet to clear the semifinal round, and currently faces elimination in the conference finals against another befuddling team seeking to exorcise some demons of their own, the Vancouver Canucks?

The answer is, you can’t really say anything, no matter how much you’d like to. But of course that won’t stop people from trying.

The past is the past, folks. The future is now. Nothing else matters.

My Broker is EF Hutton, and EF Hutton Says…
As they’ve reminded us for years us in stock broker advertisements, “Past performance does not necessarily ensure future success.”

True facts* — in the stock market and in hockey as well. Nonetheless, we’re always bummed — sometimes shocked, even — when the reality of that statement hits home.

So why am I offering such a pessimistic spin to what should in fact be an extremely positive, exciting time to be a Nashville Predators fan? Well, if for no other reason than to at least attempt to douse the effect of the poor-mouth, waa-waa-waa-waaaaah contingent locally and in at least one national media outlet that has already begun raining on the Predators’ feel-good 2010-11 season parade.

However, instead to taking them to task, I say we embrace the party poopers. Why? Because they’re right.

I Want to Believe…But It’s Cool If You Don’t
Let’s face it, folks, history has not been a friend to the Nashville Predators. Call it what you will: bad luck, the curse of Hee Haw, or the likelihood that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was an axe murderer in another lifetime; kharma /the hockey gods may have grinned, but they’ve never smiled on the Great Music City Hockey Experiment.

And since history seems to have always been against us, I have a plan.

The first thing we do is kill the historians.

That’s right, taking a page out of The Bard‘s playbook,  we need to kill all the historians. Better yet, because we’re all about Southern Hospitality, let ‘em live and ship them up to Canada — specifically to the office of a certain writer for The Hockey News. But if we do let them live, we need to shut out their noise. We need to ignore their nonsense.

It’s not that we hate history or historians per se, it’s just that we don’t need them. They’re of no benefit; they’re dead weight. Better that we lighten our load and concentrate on things that matter, like what’s happening right now.

Filed under the category of, ‘What Took Ya So Long,’ it didn’t appear as though Predators could look to the Canadian media for more than five minutes of sunshine before that dark cloud incarnate, Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, took his smirking, piss-in-the-punchbowl shot at the ‘reality’ of hockey in Music City and the Sun Belt in general.

Completely uncalled for; but ya’ know what? Not completely surprising, either.

Same song, second verse for The Fishwrapper, our own local rag, The Tennessean, whose schizophrenic columnist David Climer came out declaring that the sky was falling because the Preds’ Norris Trophy finalist, defenseman and team Capitan, Shea Weber hasn’t already re-signed — as he has repeatedly declared that he would be. Climer not-so-subtly suggested online Sunday night and in print this morning that if Webs does end up leaving, it would merely add to the pattern of ‘develop-‘em-and-lose-‘em’ talent departures that the Preds have maintained since 2007.

But we all know better, don’t we? We all know the mitigating circumstances involved in the trades of Upshall, Hartnell, Timonen, and Vokoun; the free-agent farewells to Kariya, Forsberg, Zanon, and Hamhuis.

Yes; yes we do, however…

We know because we want to believe, and because there is evidence and logic to support that belief. However as Fox Mulder would be the first to tell you, not everyone chooses to look at the evidence; not everyone chooses to take the additional, sometimes steep leap of faith required to believe that everything is going to work out the ‘right way.’ And in reality, it’s easier to be a pessimist; there’s less to lose. With that in mind, leave us also not forget that newspapers are sold on pessimism; it’s better business to be a contrarian than it is to be a cheerleader.

So as much as I want to give into the Dark Side here and lash out at the infidels, I instead choose to understand them and just as proactively, to ignore them — because their words are not news; they are noise. It’s neither worth mine nor anyone else’s energy to try and joust with these (possibly) uninformed provocateurs.

The future hasn’t been written yet (…and I was gonna make another movie/TeeVee reference here but figured I’d already caught my limit for one story). The past is past. The Nashville Predators need to look forward and embrace the unknown.

Changes will be necessary, but the Preds and their fans should embrace those changes. Despite what the naysayers are spouting, the future’s so bright ya gotta wear shades (okay, sorry; I couldn’t resist throwing that one in).

So buzz off, Campbell; If and when the Preds “have trouble selling tickets,” THEN we’ll listen to your anti-Nashville drivel; we’ll have it coming. Until then, don’t ask us to accept what you say just because you were apparently forced to watch Deliverance multiple times, as perhaps some sadistic frat rush activity when you were in college (I mean what other reason would this guy have for his endless bigotry against southern U.S. hockey fans?).

And as for Climer, I don’t place him in the same category. If you don’t consider the inflammatory title (which he didn’t write): “Preds must give Weber big payday or face doomsday,” the story sort of loses its (af)front teeth, if you will.

I know he’ll just love this description, but it’s true in my opinion, and not intended to be a slight: David Climer is a general sports columnist. He’s paid to appeal to the general sports fan; the kind of fan who might be genuinely puzzled by the Preds’ alleged foot-dragging with regard to the re-signing of Weber at this point. While I still don’t agree with his inexplicable lack of a factual presentation that supports this apparent attempt to stir the waters, I do understand it.

This falls well short of insurrection and it sells newspapers. So what else do you expect on a slow-news Monday?

And to re-emphasize, the writers don’t spin their own story titles. It’s the editors who’ve been responsible for the bevy of inflammatory Predators-related headlines on a regular basis for years now. They’re the ones whom I’d like to see dropped into a dark alley with #AngryShea, this time more than ever.

But I’ll give Climer a pass, mostly because he is, quite frankly, irrelevant. What is relevant are the possibilities, which can be predicted, but are literally immeasurable in its potential value.

Embrace the Unknown
The home team will be just fine, ladies and gentlemen. Here’s what we know: Shea Weber will be here for many seasons, as will winger, Patric Hornqvist, who also needs a new contract and will get one. Weber’s defense partner, Ryan Suter will be locked into the fold right behind him. These are events that haven’t happened yet, but are as sure as the sun rising tomorrow.

Young stars like Jon Blum and Blake Geoffrion will still be rookies in 2011-12, so the Sophomore Jinx need not even show its ugly mug around these parts. Their upside is as exciting as anything the Preds have to look forward to.

The team will be even further-into Head Coach Barry Trotz’s Predators Way philosophy. The team will have been playing ‘playoff hockey’ for 82 games going into next season’s Stanley Cup run.

On the other hand, there will be changes and losses.

We may have seen the last of Steve Sullivan as an active Nashville Predator. The same may be the case for J.P. Dumont, should the team choose to buy out the remaining year on his untenable $4 million-per-year deal. Also likely gone is UFA Shane O’Brien, who performed admirably, but is just as certainly blocking the way for the glut of young defensemen in the Predators system.

The unknowable health status of forward Matthew Lombardi, out since the first week of the 2010-11 season with a concussion remains a huge question mark. Will he return? If so, then when? Likewise, is the cloud hanging over defenseman Frankie Bouillon, who isn’t right since being concussed in December of last year. His possible retirement could force the Preds hand on the blueline, potentially meaning the rushed development of one of their young d-men in the pipeline, or perhaps signaling the re-signing of O’Brien — if he’s still available at the time, and would accept a short-term deal.

These are tough losses, but hardly insurmountable ones.

Then there are the ‘tweeners; the 50/50 potential losses of Marcel Goc, Joel Ward, and Matt Halischuk; all UFAs, each of whom could use their quality showings this past season and/or postseason as the springboard to a big payday come July 1st.

And finally, the potential gains; the exciting side of the great unknown. The development of super prospect, Ryan Ellis, who could be the tonic Nashville’s woeful power play has so been lacking.

Should Bouillon not return, it could open a spot for Ellis or fellow blueline prospect Roman Josi, whose upside is equally enticing. More of a known commodity, the corner we saw turned by center Cal O’Reilly prior to his season-ending leg injury, over an entire healthy season could be an eye-opener as well.

However the flipside to the potential stories of success and impending doom for O’Reilly and Lombardi will go a long way in determining the Predators’ story next season. What if Cal can’t find his way back? What if Matthew manages to return to the promise of his career 2009-10 season form?

You can go nuts thinking about this stuff, but think about it we will.

And if you REALLY want to push the limits of sanity, try spending more than five minutes pondering the possible re-entry of exPREDtriate forward Alexander Radulov into the Music City mix next season, ‘cuz, buddy, that could happen too.

There are plenty of bad scenarios to go around, but the good ones are far greater in number for a team, which finally appears to have come of age. It was tough, but the Preds took a step forward once again. It was their most painful growing pain yet, but I believe, it was also their most valuable.

As agonizing as the 2010’s Game 5 flop in Chicago was, their recent six-game loss to the floppers**was infinitely more educational.

The Preds season is dead, it’s been eulogized by many. It’s time to turn our attention to the Resurrection and leave that body in the dirt where it belongs.


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*Yes, Amanda, that was for you. :)

**That, that’s a joke, son.

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