It’s not so much Nashville Predators winger Nick Spaling misses an 82-game season; it’s that he misses the Floridian weather.
That’s a perk when facing the Eastern Conference: Heading down to face the Southeast Division’s Lightning and Panthers, with the games somewhat spaced out on the schedule. Instead, it’s a 48-game, Western Conference exclusive mini-marathon to the postseason, with the games bunched together.
“This is a busy schedule. We’re not used to as many games as there have been. Every other day,” said Spaling on Sunday, as the Predators prepared for a matinee against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday. “The first week or so of every-other-day was a little bit of a shock to the body. That was the toughest part.
"Not that it’s gotten any easier.”
[Y! Sports Radio: Nick Cotsonika assesses the first month of the NHL season]
Spaling has 4 points in 15 games this season, averaging 16:34 TOI that includes 2:44 TOI shorthanded per game on average, second only to Paul Gaustad among Predators forwards. It’s his fourth season with the Preds, having endeared himself to fans as a solid utility player. He’ll be a restricted free agent this summer.
We spoke with Spaling about Nashville, Barry Trotz, Shea Weber’s captaincy, the team’s biggest rivals and his own season thus far. But first, we dive into the mind of a player who isn’t a foodie despite writing about food in his series of road diaries for The Tennessean:
In reading your Tennessean diaries, you come off as a foodie.
SPALING: No! [Laughs] I’m a really, really picky eater, actually.
So you’re the polar opposite of a foodie.
Honestly, I am. I’m a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. I go to steakhouses. I like to change it up at restaurants, but I gotta know they have some simple [options].
What else is off Nick Spaling’s menu?
It’s a huge list. Tomatoes. Onions. Mushrooms. I don’t eat lettuce on sandwiches. Huge list. I’m almost embarrassed about my eating habits.
Can we talk about your loathing of lettuce on sandwiches, which is truly bizarre?
There’s no taste there. It’s just useless. I’d rather enjoy it without it.
Most recently, you lined up with Matt Halischuk and Craig Smith. Did you have any advice for Smith, who’s followed a stellar rookie season with an underwhelming sophomore campaign?
He’s been playing really well recently. Using his speed and his shot to create offense. Making it really easy to play with him.
I haven’t talked to him a lot about that. Just every game, getting him ready to go. He’s been good at preparing every game mentally and physically, doing what it takes to get his body ready for each game.
How does Barry Trotz not get stale for players that have been there multiple seasons? It seems like every year, he’s able to light a fire under you guys.
It’s the system they put in place, and what they demand from the players. It’s a certain way of playing, and it’s what they instill in all four lines. It’s good to see your first line playing similar to the way your fourth line is.
Has there been a time when Trotz torched you pretty good?
[Laughs] I’m sure I’ve gotten a couple of those over the years. Especially when I was younger – sitting out of the lineup, and earning your way back in. It’s just about playing the right way, doing the little details consistently.
It seemed like the teams like Nashville that were systems based, had consistency behind the bench and on the ice as far as personnel, would seem to have an advantage coming into the truncated season. Is that the case?
But there’s been no real slow starts [in the NHL]. Teams will win a couple, lose a couple in a row. It’s tough to find consistency. It’s something we need to work on. Playing every other day … if you lose, you have to win the next one. Not fall into a skid of losing.
At this point in the season, are you just looking at Chicago and saying, “Alright, enough of this [crap]. You guys can stop winning now.”
[Laughs] There are having a good start. But there’s still some time left, even though it’s a shortened season. We’re not giving up on that.
With the shortened season, are you putting more of an emphasis on winning in regulation? Or is getting the point still the primary concern?
Two points are two points. If you can win in regulation, that’s ideal. But the two points is the main thing.
Have perceptions changed in the room at all about Shea Weber since last summer’s contract news? Or is it the same old Shea?
Same old Shea. You couldn’t ask for a better captain. Nothing changed with him. That side of the game is pretty not-talked-about from the players. It didn’t affect any way the players look at him or talk to him.
It’s amazing how hockey players are able to separate the business side from the on-ice side.
Some of that, if you let it, could be a huge distraction and in the end could tear a team apart.
In your four seasons there, how has the fan culture changed around Nashville?
It’s been great. My first year to second year, I even noticed a big difference. When we won our first playoff round, the fans went crazy – waiting at the airport for us. An excitement around the city wherever you went, and it was pretty exciting to see for a city that hasn’t been known for that or for hockey. The experience here has been awesome. I think it’s been one of the best rinks to play in, and not just because I play here.
OK, a few quick ones to finish. What are you watching or listening to these days?
I just finished watching “Homeland.” It’s over now. Now I’m watching ESPN “30 For 30”.
Did you watch “The U”, about the University of Miami's opulent football program?
Yeah, we watched it two trips ago.
Did it make you question your choice of career?
Almost. And not going to university.
What are you driving these days?
I’m driving a little Mercedes, 2012. I used to drive an SUV.
Finally, who are the Nashville Predators’ biggest rivals? If you ask a Predators fan, they’d …
It’s gotta be Detroit? Even with the hate for the Vancouver Canucks and the Anaheim Ducks from the playoffs?
Chicago’s on there too, but the fans would say Detroit.
Would you say Detroit?
Tough to say. Everybody’s a rival these days.
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