Longtime Nashville Predator and fan favorite Jordin Tootoo will return to Bridgestone Arena tonight to take on his former team for the first time since he joined the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent last summer. Tootoo was signed by the Red Wings to a three-year deal worth $5.7 million. Tonight, he’ll play on Bridgestone Arena ice for the first time as a member of the road team.
“I’m sure it’ll be different seeing him on that side since he’s been such a big part of this franchise. He’s been here since I’ve been here. It’ll be good to see him out there, but it’ll be different for sure,” said Predators forward Nick Spaling.
Tootoo’s role diminished in Nashville near the end of last season. Statistically, Tootoo had the best season of his career last year but found himself not seeing a lot of ice time near the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. Detroit came calling in the off-season, and he felt it was a good fit.
“I had no clue the Red Wings were interested in me,” Tootoo told The Tennessean. “It was a last minute decision.”
Now, the player that gave the Predators a boost of energy for so long will now be suiting up for Nashville’s most heated rival. The Predators expect Tootoo to bring the same type of effort to the Red Wings that he gave to Nashville for so many years.
“It’s just one of those things. Guys move on. Every year our team is different, and he’ll play hard like he usually does. I’m sure he’ll get a pretty good response from the fans,” said Predators defenseman Kevin Klein.
Detroit hasn’t had much of a physical element to their game over the past few seasons. Tootoo gives them that element. He’s a high-energy guy that can grab momentum for the Red Wings by laying a big hit, getting into a fight or creating offensive chances on occasion.
“(Tootoo) is a guy that brings the bang. He brings the energy. He likes the big hits. That’s probably something that they’ve missed a little bit. He’s more in the Darren McCarty mold where you get a little more of that grind line physicality. He was popular here. Still is. He’ll be popular in Detroit,” said Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz.
Nashville has certainly come a long way since coming into the NHL in 1998. Detroit used to completely dominate the Predators in almost every matchup, but the Predators have been able to match Detroit over the past several seasons.
“Early on in Nashville’s existence, they were pretty dominant over us. I think we’ve made a pretty good push in the past number of years. We always play them hard, and they always play us hard. It’s a good rivalry, and I’m sure it won’t change tonight,” Klein said.
The familiarity these teams have with each other adds fuel to that rivalry that has been created. Games between these two teams always seem to come right down to the wire. Nashville finally beat Detroit in the playoffs last season, which should add a new element to this rivalry.
“It’s become a big rivalry. I think we know what to expect when we play them. They’ve got a fast pace with a lot of skill and a team that works for 60 minutes. We’ve got to match that when we play them,” Spaling said.
If tonight is anything like games between these two teams normally are, it should be a good contest in Nashville with a great atmosphere.