For years now, whenever one is talking about the Nashville Predators, the phrase "doing so much with so little" is always worked into the conversation. They're the franchise that sports a consistently low payroll, yet can boast five playoff appearances over the past six seasons, including three 100-plus point campaigns.
As the Predators prepare to host the San Jose Sharks tonight, they sit fourth in the Western Conference, five points behind the division-leading Detroit Red Wings. Once again, "Smashville" is looking like it'll be experiencing another season of playoff hockey; and, once again, the analysts and fans will continue to say they're impressed by what GM David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz have done.
But when does the impressing end and the expectations begin from those outside of Nashville?
With the consistent success, isn't it time to expect a competitive Predators team every season, no matter how low their payroll and no matter if you can't pinpoint who the "star" player is on the roster.
What Poile and Trotz have built in Nashville isn't a flash in the pan as shown from the Preds' results since the 2003-04 season. They've proven the Predators aren't one of those teams that will pop in and out of the playoffs every few seasons. Through smart drafting, shrewd roster management and phenomenal coaching (when does goalie coach Mitch Korn get some sort of award for his work?), Nashville has built a consistent winner and it's time for the polite applause and "way to go" back slaps to end and for the success to be expected.
The expectations for the team within the Nashville fanbase are always to make the playoffs, but at this point, they're tired of the "one and done" postseason history for the franchise.
Predators blogger Dirk Hoag of On the Forecheck looks at the 2010-11 team and see Poile and Trotz's plan continuing to work:
"This is also a team that's built on superior depth rather than world-beating top-line talent, which also serves to tone down the hype, since there's no single "star" to latch onto. Considering the way that they've clawed back into playoff position despite a host of injuries to key players, much credit should go to role players who have been asked to step up, like Marcel Goc(notes), Nick Spaling(notes), and Sergei Kostitsyn(notes). They all have contributed to Nashville's recent strong run, but don't look for any of them to top the 40-point mark this season.
Expectations for playoff success have certainly been raised among the fanbase here, mostly because of the golden opportunity that slipped through their fingers in Game 5 of the opening round series last spring. They had Chicago on the ropes, but fumbled away that game through their own actions. With Weber assuming the captaincy, the question now is not so much whether the Predators can keep up with the best of the West, but rather, whether they can get the best out of themselves in the 2011 playoffs."
(And with Nashville's consistent success, how is it that Trotz has only been nominated for the Jack Adams Awards once during his tenure?)
The model that was put in place a long time ago in the Predators organization is one that can be looked at and copied around the NHL. Despite off-the-ice issues in Nashville a few years ago, the franchise and fanbase has persevered and management has followed their plan. The goal now is taking that regular season success and transition it to the postseason.