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Flying under the radar: Predators first in the NHL but has anyone noticed?

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Flying under the radar: Predators first in the NHL but has anyone noticed?

The Canadian Press
By:

"Nationally and internationally, it's been a slow process to get recognition," Predators GM David Poile said Wednesday. It starts in his own backyard, where the Predators are averaging only 14,516 fans a game, 23rd in the 30-team league.

"We need to do better in our own market," said Poile. "We have some really good fans here but we don't have enough business support - which I really think is the bottom line."

Poile says that the season-ticket base of most NHL teams has a 2-to-1 ratio of business to individuals. That's not the case in Nashville.

"We're the exact opposite of that," said Poile. "So it's a little frustrating from that standpoint. Around town there's a good buzz about the Predators. But I can't say that necessarily in the business community, which is a little bit of a red flag."

Owner Craig Leipold recently announced he was looking to sell a minority share to local investors with the hope of spurring on the business community. Most of the corporate money goes to the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

The Nashville business community is missing a good show.

The 36-13-2 Predators are worthy of their top spot in the NHL, even if Anaheim, San Jose, Detroit and Buffalo get way more attention. A team well stocked through the entry draft, Poile's patient building plan is bearing fruit in the franchise's eighth NHL season.

"It's been a great run for all of us that have been here since Day 1, which is myself, the owner and the coaches and a lot of the scouts," said Poile. "There's been a definite plan and it's nice to see that we're very, very competitive and for the first time in our history we feel we have a chance to win the Cup.

"It's very satisfying."

Note the stability factor here. Poile has been the GM since July 1997, the very beginning, and Barry Trotz the head coach since August 1997.

Being first overall on the first day of February isn't the goal, however. The Preds still have some uncharted territory to navigate before feeling really good about themselves.

"We've never finished ahead of Detroit in all of our years here, we've never won the Central Division," said Poile. "We've not won a playoff round. So we've got a lot of things ahead of us. It's a good feeling today in terms of our progress and where we are but the cliche holds true, we haven't accomplished anything yet."

They're getting it done right now without one franchise-type player leading the way. Kimmo Timonen is an all-star defenceman, Tomas Vokoun and Chris Mason are great goalies and Paul Kariya is a star winger, but the reality is that the talent is spread out.

Consider that Nashville is among only four NHL clubs currently sitting in a playoff spot that have yet to sport a 20-goal scorer this season (Dallas, Vancouver and Montreal are the others).

"That's good news because we're getting scoring from three lines and even a bit from our fourth line," said Poile. "I think it makes us a tough team to defend. We also get scoring from our defence.

"The scoring is very spread out throughout our whole team and I think that makes us very dangerous."

Jason Arnott has delivered as advertised after joining the Predators last off-season and becoming the team's No. 1 centre. But this season's revelation has been the breakthrough from No. 2 centre David Legwand - long overdue for those who had given up on the 1998 second overall draft pick.

Legwand, 26, has 45 points (18-27) in 49 games and, what's more impressive, he leads the team with a plus-28 rating.

"David Legwand is having his best year," said Poile. "It's been a slow process but he's played way better than he's played in past seasons at both ends of the rink."

The young quartet of Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis, Greg Zanon and Ryan Suter have been solid behind veterans Timonen and Marek Zidlicky on the blue-line but it's possible the Predators may try to add a little more experience before the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

"We're going to knock on all the doors that are sellers," Poile.

Having said that, Poile doesn't expect he'll have an easy time making deals. He pointed to the deadline being moved up two weeks and therefore leaving more teams in the playoff hunt and fewer teams willing to sell. He also pointed to many teams being close to the $44-million salary cap, making it more difficult to move salaries.

"If I'm right on both fronts than the price is going to be really high for the buyers," said Poile. "It's always good if you can add something at the trade deadline, I certainly believe in that, but we'll have to see."

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Flying under the radar: Predators first in the NHL but has anyone noticed?