The Predators held their annual Skate of the Union address to update fans on developments on and off the ice. The information shared by the team promises excitement and energy on the ice and upgrades to the arena and fan experience.
Predator players that spoke to the fans were: Mike Fisher; Matt Cullen; Eric Nystrom; and Shea Weber.
It was evident that there was good chemistry that had already developed between the new players, Cullen and Nystrom, and the veterans Fisher and Weber. Nystrom in particular was gregarious, funny, and a high energy individual and it is apparent that he will fit in well with the team.
Here are the highlights of the player comments:
His injured hand that plagued him last season is completely healed and he is feeling good. He jokingly said there that were no serious complications from his run in with the chipmunk (He cornered a chipmunk in his house and grabbed it with his bare hand, suffering a bite from the rodent). Fisher said he had a busy off season, getting a chance to hunt, relax, and heal up. He said he had a good off season conditioning regimen and is excited and ready for the season.
When asked why as a free agent he chose Nashville, Cullen said he wanted to be in a situation and place where he could win, and he felt that Nashville was the best place for him. Cullen won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes, and he said that the value of being on a Cup winning team is that as a player you learn what it takes to win the Cup- the hard work and sacrifice that is necessary to be successful. He also spoke about the value of having a solid team and teammates that you can trust. He said he sees that in Nashville. The experience that Cullen brings to the team will be invaluable.
He said that opponents of the Predators always knew they were going to have a hard game because the Predators were disciplined and always brought a good effort. He wanted to be a part of that and was appreciative of the opportunity to play here. He complimented the fans, saying that the energy in our building was the best in the NHL, and he was impressed with the turnout of fans at this event, saying he had never participated in a pre-season event with as many fans as were in attendance tonight. He was looking forward to playing against the Stars (his former team) and beating them six times in the upcoming season. He said his role is to bring energy and a physical presence to the ice and he is looking forward to filling that role.
Weber said that last season was disappointing, but the team had new energy and was focused on returning to the playoffs. He liked the talent and depth on the team, and said the depth was much needed. Weber had a good off season and said one of the highlights was a deep sea fishing trip where he landed a 300 pound marlin.
After the players spoke, fans heard from management. pictured above are: Predators COO Sean Henry; Head Coach Barry Trotz; Predators Chairman Tom Cigarran; Predators President Jeff Cogen; and General Manager David Poile.
Highlights of their comments are:
Bridgestone Arena is one of the 10 most used arenas in the United States, and this is good for the Predators. Getting people into the arena increases awareness of the Predators and interest from the casual fan. This gives the team an opportunity to introduce those casual fans to hockey and the Predators.
A total of $20 million is being spent on improvements to the arena. In addition to the exterior improvements to the back entrance, the pro shop is being relocated to a street level venue and new restaurant and retail space is being added. New carpet in the suites and refurbishment to other interior areas will freshen up the facility.
This team has personality and will play hard and relentlessly. "The bite is back," said Trotz. In his estimation, the defense has the most upside of any group he has coached, which is high praise indeed. The addition of Phil Housley to the coaching staff will help the power play and he should be instrumental in developing some of the younger defensemen. The team has a good mix of veterans and younger, talented and hungry players. "I'm excited as hell about this team," said Trotz. Wow!
The Predators ownership group remains strong in their commitment to the team and to winning the Cup. They have fostered good relations with city leaders and have their support. They have developed strong ties with the business community and have strong leadership and support from businesses and corporations in Nashville. The owners are committed to having outstanding hockey leadership and believe they have that in place. Cigarran said that there is no firm commitment, but hopes that Nashville will have an All Star game within the next three years. In response to a question from the audience, he addressed the effects of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. He said that the new CBA makes revenue sharing more predictable and the amount that the team will receive is slightly larger than in years past. While this is obviously helpful, revenue sharing will not make or break the team. What will make the team sound financially is organic growth- support from the fans and the business community and that is stronger than at any time in the history of the franchise. The team has spent to near the salary cap and is comfortable with that level of spending.
The Predators have re-negotiated their lease with the city of Nashville, and the new term is for 20 years. This should put to rest any concerns and rumors about the team leaving Nashville. The relationship with the city is strong, and part of the capital improvements to the arena are being funded with contributions from the city. The Predators have also entered into a public/private partnership with the city to build a new facility with two sheets of ice where the Hickory Hollow mall is located. The goal is to have adequate facilities and ice around Nashville to accommodate the growth of hockey. Cogen said that the goal of the front office is to fill the arena every night, and that they would be innovative and energetic in the effort to do that.
David Poile said the team entered into the off season with five goals. They wanted to take care of the players on the roster and get them signed, which they have done. The team wanted to acquire a top 4 defenseman, which they did when they drafted Seth Jones. Adding talented forwards was a priority, and 4 free agent forwards were signed that will add physicality and scoring potential. Poile spoke highly of Viktor Stalberg, acquired as a free agent from Chicago. Poile believes Stalberg is on the cusp of becoming a very good player and has the talent and speed to add much needed scoring. He said the team wanted to re-gain their identity of being tough and gritty, and the addition of Eric Nystrom and Matt Hendricks helps to fill that need. Finally, he said that the team needed a back up goalie, and they filled that need with the signing of Carter Hutton. The team and goal tending coach Mitch Korn are high on Hutton and think he can fill that need. Poile said that historically, the road to a roster spot with the Predators went through Milwaukee, but that Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg have the talent to make a detour and land a roster spot with the team. He addressed the health of the injured players and said all are 100% healthy and have been cleared by team doctors to begin playing.
The excitement from the players and the front office personnel was palpable, and it was felt by those in attendance at the event tonight. The truth is, everyone is excited about their team at the start of the season. However, these are experienced and savvy hockey people, and I trust their judgment. I am looking for Predator hockey to return to the ice, and the depth and talent that this team has can bring that back to Bridgestone Arena.
It should be an interesting and exciting hockey season for Predator fans.