In his season review of the Nashville Predators, Paul Nicholson has a bone to pick with his local newspaper:
[T]he Tennessean needs to hire a real hockey reporter that hasn't just been watching the NHL as long as we've had a team. The fact that most of the media covering the Predators (Pete Webber, Terry Crisp excepted) are not hockey people is making the community involvement level worse. The coverage is horrible, so only people that actually make it to a game and fall in love with the play on the ice ever get excited about it. Fortunately, there have been a lot of those people, especially in the last few years. But the media coverage MUST improve. (Note: I think Channel 5's coverage did improve dramatically and I give them full marks for the effort. They are about 80% of the way there now, which is better than the 40-50% for the rest of the TV, newspaper, and radio in town.)I haven't followed the coverage in Nashville closely enough to know whether or not Paul is right about Preds beat reporter John Glennon, but I'm not sure that even importing Eric Duhatschek from the Globe and Mail would help cure what ails the Preds these days. Like it or not, winning cures a lot of ills when it comes to attendance. In hockey, it's not just winning, but winning in April, May and June that draws fans out and keeps them coming to games for years to come. Like it or not, some fans just get lucky. Take the team I grew up with, the New York Islanders. They made their first playoff appearance in 1975, and along the way they did the following:1) Defeated the New York Rangers in the preliminary round in three games, with the clincher coming in OT at Madison Square Garden. It wasn't just a playoff win, it also created one of the most heated rivalries in the NHL, something that's always good for the gate.
2) Went down 3 games to none to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the next round, only to rally to win the next four games to take the series. It was only the second time in NHL history that a team had rallied from down 3-0 in a series to win.
3) Went down 3 games to none to the defending Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers in the semifinals, only to rally for three straight wins to force a seventh game before ultimately losing the series.
It was that year, as much as any of the four Stanley Cups the Islanders won, that cemented the team's fanbase on Long Island. For many, it may be the only reason they keep coming back.
How about the Colorado Avalanche? Freshly relocated to Denver from Quebec after the 1994-95 season, the ex-Nordiques were loaded with talent thanks to more than a few years of cellar-dwelling in the Adams Division, and more pieces fell into place thanks to the bounty the team was able to liberate from Philadelphia in the Eric Lindros deal. A couple of trades later (Sandis Ozolinsh, Claude Lemieux and most importantly, Patrick Roy), and you had the core of a team that would make the playoffs ten seasons in a row and win a pair of Cups.
Talent, hard work and a little bit of luck is what it takes. From all indications, the Predators have the first two in spades, but the last leg on the stool is a little harder to come by. Landing in the same division as the Red Wings during a period of Detroit dominance was pretty unlucky. Experiencing a spate of injuries down the stretch when the team had a realistic shot at taking the #1 seed in the West this season was unlucky too. And acquiring Peter Forsberg, but not getting 100% out of him thanks to his body breaking down yet again was another piece of bad luck, even if the trade was a justifiable gamble.
I know it's hard to preach patience with a team like the Predators that may very well be hanging over the precipice. But don't forget, back in 1995 there was another team that was looking to move to Nashville, only to win a Stanley Cup in a strike-shortened season that nearly stretched into July.
12 years and two more Cups later, nobody is talking about the Devils ever leaving New Jersey.
So hang on Nashville, your time will come.