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Pulling for the Predators

Shea Weber is scheduled to become an RFA this summer, while Ryan Suter is up for UFA status. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Shea Weber is scheduled to become an RFA this summer, while Ryan Suter is up for UFA status. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

If you didn’t already think the Nashville Predators were putting it all on the table in a win-now approach, the acquisition of Hal Gill over the long weekend engraved that message in stone.

That sounds kind of funny, doesn’t it?

Not that Gill is a player who by himself puts anyone over the top, but the type of deal it was says a lot about management’s mindset: picking up an experienced rental player for a half-decent prospect in Blake Geoffrion has “now” written all over it. After making that type of addition, there is no way either Ryan Suter or Shea Weber will be dealt. But we already figured that before, didn’t we?

They have to send messages to Suter and Weber that they are hungry to win and capable of paying for it. They have to show it’s not always about tomorrow, but also about winning now. They have to send the message that this message isn’t completely ridiculous, whether it’s a mission statement or not. And they have to send the message that, even after letting a slew of veterans leave last off-season and becoming the youngest team in the NHL again (one that has started 10 rookies during the season), things are different and they can sustain a winner.

As the Chicago Cubs are the loveable losers in baseball, the Predators must be hockey’s equivalent - though they don’t even have a 104-year-old championship in their history. They generally don’t inspire an overload of emotion to the vast sea of Canadian hockey fans and, being a small-market team that only last year advanced past Round 1 for the first time, don’t have a lot of haters. They’ve had some good teams and talents over the years, but it’s never paid off. Even in media, the public relations staff, led by Kevin Wilson, is one of the friendliest and most helpful in the business.

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They do attract a lot of naysayers who doubt their ability to raise and keep a championship-caliber team together, though. Those arrows aren’t fired out of disdain or under-appreciation - Nashville has never been able to be a big spender and that’s a fact. Whether or not you believe this will change with two more aggressive signings, it’s a hard reality that still needs to be proven out-of-date.

But there’s a fresh scent in the air right now. Early this season, before the Rinne signing, THN dedicated a cover story to the plight of the Predators. Days later, after Rinne inked his seven-year, $49-million deal, team chairman Thomas Cigarran had this to say:

"The Hockey News had a cover article called 'Slashville' talking about how we couldn’t afford to sign these three players and I'm looking forward to writing a little letter to them pointing out we did. The money is there to sign these guys and we have every intent of doing it."

Can the Predators actually figure out a way to keep Suter and Weber? The team is sure talking a big game, but that’s to be expected. When it’s all about sending the right message, ownership isn’t about to raise the white flag.

But one thing is for sure: Suter and Weber aren’t going anywhere on Feb. 27, nor should they. It’s all-in for Nashville in the calculated and responsible way GM David Poile has always run his teams. And, you know what, despite being removed from the fandom realm for a few years now, it’s hard not to cheer for everyone’s favorite, the underdog.

If they end up changing the idea of and image around the Predators by winning a few playoff rounds and keeping their two big defenders in the coming months, a new message will be broadcast to hockey fans outside of Tennessee that reads: “We’re a force and we’re here to stay.”

And I’ll look forward to receiving that letter in our office, Mr. Cigarran.

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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