Ask any member or coach of the Nashville Predators about last season and you’ll get the same, simple message: It sucked.
The team could never string together wins when they needed to and by April the entire team was so beat up that the lineup resembled more of the Milwaukee Admirals than the Predators. In the end, the Predators missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009, the second time since 2003.
“It became very long,” head coach Barry Trotz said of his summer and the lead-up to training camp, which officially started Wednesday. “Even the last couple weeks sort of waiting for training camp to start has been a chore for me. Two weeks ago I was ready to go; I was too pumped up, too far ahead.”
Trotz is excited for the season to get under way. There are plenty of new faces and a lot of optimism in Nashville as they attempt to return to their Predator Hockey identity in 2013-14.
That identity was never established in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. They finished in 14th in the Western Conference, tied for last in the NHL in offense and went 6-14-3 in their final 23 games.
It was a miserable season for a Predators team coming off a banner year in 2012 where they had one of the most successful seasons in team history, including the playoff series win against Detroit.
According to captain Shea Weber, the page has already been turned from last season.
“There’s no other way about it,” he said. “We have to focus on this year. It was real disappointing for us. Not being in the playoffs was not an easy thing … You can sit there and try to pick apart all the reasons why it happened, but it is what it is. We didn’t make it, we had a bad season and now we have to make up for it.”
Goaltender Pekka Rinne added, “As a team we haven’t even talked about last season at all.”
Last season wasn’t a total loss for the Predators. Roman Josi emerged as a top-pair defenseman. Before getting hurt, Colin Wilson looked as if he had turned a corner. The team got a good look at some of their prospects, including Victor Bartley and Taylor Beck, who are vying for regular spots in the lineup this preseason.
The recently-completed off-season added some hope for the upcoming season. If it weren’t for the terrible end to last season, they wouldn’t have been in position to draft Seth Jones at No. 4 overall. If the club had competed for a playoff spot, they may not have spent well north of $30 million on needed upgrades at the forward position.
“Sometimes you have to take a step back before you take a step forward,” Mike Fisher said. “We feel like we’ve done that this summer.”
The Predators added Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg, who are expected to slide into the team’s top-six on the forward depth chart. They also signed Matt Hendricks and Eric Nystrom, perfect fits for the aforementioned Predator Hockey identity. The core remained intact, and they built upon it with the additions of prospects Jones and Filip Forsberg.
With Rinne on the mend from off-season hip surgery and the rest of the NHL roster 100 percent healthy heading into training camp, the Predators’ optimism for a bounce-back season is more than realistic.
“We expect to be competing and contending, to be where we were a couple years ago,” Fisher said.
Trotz was excited heading into last season, too, but this time around everything feels different. There’s a different vibe around a team that flat out isn’t happy with how last year ended. The new faces provide some experience and energy that should pay dividends on and off the ice.
With a new season looming, 2012-13 is a distant memory.
“We’ve got something to prove,” Trotz said. “For all the pain and suffering that we went through as an organization, as a fan base, all that, all the things that happened to us last year – it felt awful. We didn’t like it. We felt some pain; we don’t want that pain again.”