The Nashville Predators held their second annual Skate of the Union for fans at the Bridgestone Arena. The tenor of this meeting was decidedly upbeat with Chairman Tom Cigarran, General Manager David Poile, Head Coach Barry Trotz, and President Ed Lang on the dais to speak to the fans. Preds play by play announcer Pete Weber was the emcee.
Tom Cigarran spoke first, and the Chairman of the ownership group set the tone for the night when he said that the ownership group was "committed to bringing the Stanley Cup to Nashville, and not just for a visit." This statement could have been viewed as trite, but in reality, it is believable because the ownership group is solid and has provided much needed stability to this franchise. Cigarran also said that the ownership group is going to do one major thing each year to improve the fan experience. According to Cigarran, the major improvement this season will be an upgraded roster as evidenced by some of the off season signings and player moves.
Cigarran also assured those in attendance that the ownership group is committed to hockey in Nashville, and he cited two main reasons. First, as owners, they and their families love hockey. They have children- or grandchildren- that play hockey and are dedicated to the game. That love for the game translates to the ownership group doing what is necessary to field a competitive, winning franchise.
Secondly, the ownership group believes that hockey is good for Nashville and that it would be extremely detrimental to see the Predators leave Nashville.In fact, the ownership believes that having the Predators leave Nashville is an unacceptable outcome.
It is one thing to talk the talk, but according to Cigarran, the owners are walking the walk as well. He mentioned that the ownership group has made an additional and significant financial investment in the team. While he did not disclose the details, it is believable because Cigarran is so open and genuine in his demeanor. This group wants the team not only to be sound both on and off the ice, but to be successful in both areas.
David Poile spoke next and talked about the team. He said at the beginning of the season, no one expected the Predators to contend for a playoff spot, but as the season went on, the confidence of the squad "grew by leaps and bounds." The loss to the Blackhawks hurt badly because the team truly believed they could win that series and they would be looking for redemption in the upcoming season.
He mentioned that over the past three seasons, the Predators had 26 draft choices, and that fans would soon see some of those players in the NHL. Scouting is a strength of the organization, and he singled out Assistant GM Paul Fenton and Head Scout Jeff Kealty for the job they had done in assessing talent and drafting well. According to Poile, drafting is and will continue to be the "bread and butter" of the Predators organization.
Poile spoke to the signing of Sergei Kostitsyn. He called him a bit of a "wild card" and acknowledged that he had a troubled past. In talking to Kostitsyn, Poile said that he told him that he wanted a second chance and wanted to prove that he belonged in the NHL. Poile said that Kostitsyn has tremendous upside and great tools, and it will be up to him to work within the system in Nashville and prove that he belongs here.
Poile then introduced the newest Predator, Matthew Lombardi, who was welcomed by the fans with a rousing cheer. After donning a Predators jersey with his name and the number 15 on it, he remarked that it didn't take long to figure out that he wanted to be in Nashville. He had talked to Vern Fiddler and Scottie Upshall, both of whom had spent time here, as well as Coach Trotz, and he new this team was a great fit for him.
Then David Poile introduced the new Captain of the Predators. It was a poorly kept secret that it would be Shea Weber, and he walked up on the stage to a thunderous ovation from the crowd. He put on a new jersey with the "C" on it. When asked how that "C" felt, he replied, "It feels heavy."
Coach Barry Trotz spoke about Lombardi and said that he had Predators written all over him. When David Poile called, he said, and mentioned that Lombardi was available and what did he (Trotz) think, Trotz said, "What are you talking to me for? Hang up and get him on the phone!"
Ed Lang, the President of the Predators, mentioned that the Convention Center being constructed behind the Arena hurts in the short term because 600 parking spaces were eliminated. When the Center is completed in 2013, however, 1800 parking spaces will be added. More importantly, the Center will put Nashville in a position to bid on an All Star game, perhaps as early as 2014 or 2015.
Lang also spoke about the new television deal, with 60 games being broadcast on Fox Sports South next season. The nest two years will see 65 games broadcast, and in the final year of the four year contract there will be 70 games broadcast. There will be a minimum of 45 games broadcast in HD in each of the seasons.
Fielding questions that were submitted from the audience, Weber said that he was excited about being Captain. He said that he would lead the team in his own way- by continuing to play hard and being a good example- and would not try to be someone he wasn't. He felt that would limit his effectiveness in his role.
Weber also said that he was excited by the additions to the roster and about the team in general.
Lombardi said that not was he excited to be in Nashville, but that his family was looking forward to calling Nashville home. One cannot overemphasize the importance of having the family happy in their new home and the contribution that has to the success of a player in any market.
For the approximately 1,000 fans in attendance, the enthusiasm of the players, staff, and owners was palpable.
The excitement of the fans is indicative of the support this team has in the community.
With a stable ownership group, excellent draft choices in the system, a solid coaching staff, and good players to put on the ice, the Skate of the Union of the Predators looks strong.