David Poile, Nashville's G.M., knew free agency and the
expansion draft would bring his first-year Predators grizzled
veterans, peach-fuzzed prospects and crooked-nosed grinders. But
Poile wanted desperately to move up from the third pick of the
June 27 draft and make either Vincent Lecavalier or David
Legwand the cornerstone of his team. For days he bombarded San
Jose general manager Dean Lombardi, who had the second pick,
with phone calls. With just minutes to spare on draft day,
Lombardi sought out Poile on the floor of Buffalo's Marine
Midland Arena and offered to trade down for Nashville's
second-round pick. After Tampa Bay took Lecavalier first
overall, Poile grabbed the 6'2", 180-pound Legwand, a
swift-skating center from Grosse Pointe, Mich., who had 54 goals
and 51 assists last season for the Plymouth (Mich.) Whalers of
the Ontario Hockey League.
If inexperience--or his bout with mononucleosis--keeps Legwand,
an 18-year-old who has been compared with Mike Modano, from
starting the season with Nashville, the Predators will try to
milk goals from a scoring-by-committee attack led by veteran
center Darren Turcotte. Free-agent forward Tom Fitzgerald will
provide leadership. Enthusiastic Barry Trotz gets his first NHL
head-coaching job after four years with the Portland (Maine)
Pirates, Washington's top minor league team. Trotz has promised
a "fast-paced, in-your-face" club.
Regardless of how well they perform, the Predators will play to
a large house. The club, which held Hockey 101 clinics to
educate fans, has sold more than 12,000 season tickets with the
help of a billboard campaign featuring country singers Garth
Brooks, Vince Gill, Amy Grant and Lorrie Morgan--each with one
or two teeth blacked out--and the slogan GOT TICKETS? The
Predators' $160 million arena is adjacent to the original home
of the Grand Ole Opry and near a collection of old-fashioned
honky-tonks. "We know they like their music here," says Poile.
"The next step is to see how many of them are hockey fans."
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN TAMANIO [Drawing of golden hockey puck]
The Predators, playing in one of the NHL's best divisions, could
help set the record for largest point differential between a
first- and a last-place team. The 1975-76 Capitals hold that
mark, having finished 95 points behind the Canadiens.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
--Highly regarded goalie Mike Dunham needs to come up big
because the Predators have few offensive weapons.
--Nashville's youngsters must follow the lead of gritty Tom
Fitzgerald, who played on the expansion Panthers and knows what
it takes for a first-year team to succeed.