What would you do if you were the general manager of a
talent-starved, small-market franchise that scored a paltry 190
goals in its inaugural season? Predators general manager David
Poile sent his best scrapper, left wing Patrick Cote, to Europe
this summer for a two-week stay with a couple of Swedish club
teams to work on the finer arts of the game. "They did a lot of
drills I'd never seen before, but I held my own," says the 6'3",
215-pound Cote, who scored one goal and had a league-leading 30
fighting majors in 1998-99. "I'm not saying I'm going to score
15 or 20 goals this year, but six or seven would be a big help
to the team."
Little else has been done to revamp the offense. Center Cliff
Ronning (53 points in 72 games) and wingers Sergei Krivokrasov
(team-leading 25 goals) and Ville Peltonen (10 points in 14
games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury) will be
the go-to guys. The team also hopes that heralded 19-year-old
rookie center David Legwand, who was the second pick in the 1998
draft, and center Randy Robitaille, an off-season acquisition
who was second in the American Hockey League in scoring last
year, can contribute.
Besides pumping up the offense, the Predators need to add depth
to their small, inexperienced defense and to bolster their
punchless special teams. Nashville's power play scored on only
12.3% of its opportunities (25th in the NHL), and its penalty
killing (79.0%) was the worst in the league.
So far, though, Poile is happy with the development of the
franchise. "If this is a race, we want to be the tortoise," he
says. "We want to keep getting a little bit better each year so
that we can eventually become a competitive team."
In truth the Predators were surprisingly competitive in their
first year despite having the lowest payroll in the league ($15
million). The club, which played an up-tempo style instead of
the defensively suffocating neutral-zone trap favored by most
expansion clubs, finished 28-47-7 and wasn't knocked out of the
playoff race until the last month of the season. The fans
responded with enthusiasm: The Predators averaged 16,200 at
Nashville Arena, and the club has a season-ticket base of 12,000
"There's more pressure to succeed this year," says defenseman
Bob Boughner. "We said many times last year that there was a
honeymoon. Now we're nothing new. It's our turn to step forward."
COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER Can Krivokrasov top last season's career year?
As a first-year expansion team last season, the Predators won 28
games, including at least one victory against each of the 12
other Western Conference teams.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
OFFENSE 26 Short on talent; rookie Legwand could have
DEFENSE 25 This unit is tough but not overly skilled
GOALTENDING 23 Dunham had good season for expansion team
SPECIAL TEAMS 25 Power play doesn't have a quarterback
COACHING 10 Trotz does outstanding job with limited