The Next Chapter

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Last night, the Nashville Predators fell 2-0 in Game Six of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Finals. In the process the Pittsburgh Penguins became the NHL’s first team in the salary cap era to repeat as Stanley Cup champions and the first to accomplish the feat since the Detroit Red Wings won in 1997 and 1998.

Ultimately, on the wrong side of any sort of a playoff exit, there are always those questions of: what if? There can be plenty of those.

What if Kevin Fiala and Ryan Johansen were never injured? What if P.K. Subban‘s opening goal wasn’t ruled “no goal” for offside? What if Colton Sissons‘ goal in Game Six wasn’t blown dead by a quick whistle? On and on they can go.

Those questions hold some weight. They do. But those questions also really don’t matter. What did matter was the here and now. That is something the Predators did very well when it came to making adjustments throughout the playoffs – be it through leadership within the room, smart work behind the bench from the coaching staff, or sheer organizational depth with the Milwaukee Admirals top two goal scorers on the season (Pontus Åberg and Frédérick Gaudreau) making a dent along the way.

There should be no sadness after a run the likes of which the Nashville Predators endured. At every level and with everywhere you could possibly look the Predators did something special. It was painfully close to reaching the ultimate goal: but that does not make what was done a failure.

For starters you need only look at the city itself. Nashville, from a general sense, simply had not been viewed as a hockey town by comparison to the vast majority of other teams in the NHL. This run forced all of the league’s audience to sit down and watch Nashville for what it really is. It is hockey mad. If there is such a thing as escalation among NHL fandoms, which I certainly hope for, what Nashville as a city and organization did in this playoff run goes past the Stanley Cup Finals. A non-traditional market put the rest of the NHL landscape on notice and shouted, “top that.”

What fans have created in “Smashville” is something that I actually feel teams will struggle to actually top. The Bridgestone Arena is “Bucket List” level loudness that needs to be admired in-person to fully grasp just what kind of an atmosphere is created. The scope of what Predators fans created was on full display these playoffs as the city was packed full of “Viewing Party” areas outside of the Arena itself and on down Broadway. It pretty much goes without saying, doesn’t it? That stigma is gone. Nashville is a hockey town.

Behind all the madness and the on-ice product the Predators front office has long been a great one in their own right. There are so many staff members, arena personnel, media members, and terrific people working behind the scenes that deserved this moment. Much like the team on the ice everyone behind the scene shined brightly in the spotlight. This is a multi-tiered process. I can’t think of many areas in which the whole of the Predators organization could do more in order to be more than what they already are.

It’s mid-June. The 2016-17 chapter has finally come to an end. Whenever any season does end it is difficult to let go knowing the team will change with the off-season ahead. The NHL Expansion Draft will happen. Trades will happen. Free Agency will see faces leave, new faces arrive, and some faces vanish by way of retirement. Yet, the foundation of what was just done isn’t moving anywhere.

In many ways I see something in the 2017 Predators that I saw from the 2008 Penguins. They were a young team filled with great talent, balanced with veteran leadership, and just so happen to get cut down in a six-game Stanley Cup Finals series to a more experienced group in the Red Wings at the time. That Penguins team took from that moment and went on to win the Stanley Cup the following season against the Red Wings in a seven-game series. Experience is everything. There are players who have been great for so long on the Predators roster that have become even better for having experienced hockey on a stage as big as the Stanley Cup Finals. That is where the next chapter really begins. After all, where else do you go from where the Predators just finished?

The Predators provided so much in the 2016-17 season. I’m thankful to have experienced a tremendous amount of it from Rookie Development Camp, to the full AHL season following the Milwaukee Admirals, as well as getting back to Nashville to watch hockey in both the regular season and for the moment the Predators clinched their first Western Conference crown. The view from here in Milwaukee only shows that more of the same is on the horizon. I don’t see why all of this momentum that was created can’t be sustained for years to come.

Next on Admirals Roundtable: we will have our 2016-17 Report Card available on Wednesday. Then comes the long waiting game that is a hockey off-season. If last off-season within the organization was an exciting one I can’t begin to imagine just what could happen from a team looking to perhaps find that last few pieces to go over the top.

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