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Top 5 Preds teams of all-time

Ed. Note: All season long the Nashville Predators will be celebrating their 15th Anniversary and Smashville 24/7 will be commemorating it from start to finish. Today, on the 15th Anniversary of their first-ever NHL game, we take a look at the Preds’ Top 5 teams of all-time with some help from Willy Daunic of 102.5 The Game, who has been a part of the team’s radio broadcasts since Day 1.

Through 14 seasons, what is the best Nashville Predators team of all-time? Is it the 2011-12 team that knocked off Detroit in the playoffs? Or is it the 2006-07 squad that set all sorts of regular-season franchise records? What about the 2010-11 crew that picked up a lot of franchise firsts, including the first playoff series win?

Here are the Top 5 teams of all-time in Predators history…

1. 2011-122011-12 Roster

Record: 48-26-8, 104 points
Standings: 2nd Central Division, 4th Western Conference

The 2011-12 season might be the most memorable the Preds have ever had – not only because of the playoff win over Detroit, but also because of what transpired in the regular season. The Preds had a flair for the dramatic that season, coming back to win games they had no business winning.

David Poile was the most active General Manager at the trade deadline, acquiring Paul Gaustad, Hal Gill and Andrei Kostitsyn. The biggest acquisition came in March, though, when Alexander Radulov decided to return from Russia. The additions allowed the Preds to stick to add offensive weapons and supreme depth to their identity.

The Preds’ roster was well-built for playoff success, arguably more so than the 2006-07 team. It was a versatile team that could beat you in different ways. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter anchored a blue line that ranked ninth in the NHL in goals-against average, while the offense was fueled by a power play that finished first in the league. Pekka Rinne led all goaltenders with 43 wins.

The Preds faced Detroit in the first round and closed them out in five hard-fought contests – arguably the biggest moment in franchise history. Unfortunately for the Preds, the subplot of their postseason was the suspension of Radulov and Kostitsyn in the middle of the second round. The Preds’ luck ran out as the Coyotes prevailed in five games.

Willy Daunic’s lasting memory:
“I didn’t think that team was as loaded as 2006-07, but it had the right formula to win. What was unfortunate about that was the whole Radulov thing. They didn’t know about Radulov, they traded for Andrei Kostitsyn and then Radulov came. I think the chemistry got thrown off just a little bit where it would have been better to not have Radulov and have Kostitsyn, or vice versa.

“If that would have happened the chemistry would have been much better, the role definition would have been better. As it turned out you almost had too many guys. They suspended Radulov and Kostitsyn and the lineup they put in there was the lineup they had a lot during the season. It wasn’t a bad team. It threw off their style just a little bit by adding a little bit too much skill.

“The opportunity to go deep in the playoffs was there because I thought the draw was there. I don’t know if they could have ultimately beaten the Kings, but they certainly had enough to beat the Coyotes.”

2. 2006-07

Record: 51-23-8, 110 points
Standings: 2nd Central Division, 4th Western Conference

2006-07 RosterIf you had to pick one Predators team to win one game, you might lean on the 2011-12 squad. However, the 2006-07 club was easily the most talented the franchise has ever put on the ice.

In just the second salary cap season, Poile was able to fit a whole lot of talent under the cap ceiling. It was the best roster he has ever constructed, on paper, in his time in Nashville. Most of the team was left over from the 2005-06 and Poile added Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont in free agency. Poile then pulled off the franchise’s most important trade when he acquired future Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg at the trade deadline.

The Preds, who were best in the West at the All-Star break, seemed ready for a Cup run.

But nothing went Nashville’s way after Forsberg joined the team. A slew of injuries hampered the lineup to a point where Ramzi Abid skated in the top-six up front down the stretch. A first-round draw against the Sharks was the worst-case scenario, and the Preds were eliminated in five games for a second year in a row.

It was a disappointing postseason showing after displaying so much promise in the first three-fourths of the regular season. They set single-season team records for points (110), goals (272) and wins (51), but saw their Central Division lead evaporate late and exited prematurely in the playoffs.

Daunic’s lasting memory:
“I’ll always remember how badly it unraveled due to injuries down the stretch. They made the trade for Peter Forsberg and they had the best record in the league, and then one or two games later it was just like dominos.

“It was a weird afternoon game against the Coyotes and the Preds won easily. It was a great win and everyone was excited about Forsberg, and then you heard that Hartnell had a broken foot and was out six weeks. Then Sullivan’s back went out. If I remember correctly, Erat in that stretch hurt his knee and he was out a few weeks. Tootoo got suspended on the Dallas play with Mike Modano and Stephane Robidas.

“They went from having this loaded lineup where you looked at the lines and thought they were going to be tough to stop. And then a couple weeks later Ramzi Abid is playing on the first line. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong there. I thought that team had the highest ceiling in terms of playoff possibilities.”

3. 2010-11

Record: 44-27-11, 99 points
Standings: 2nd Central Division, 5th Western Conference

2010-11 RosterSitting on the outside of the playoffs looking in, the Preds had their backs against the wall in early March. They closed the 2010-11 season on an 11-3-1 run to claim the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference, drawing Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs. That spring featured a lot of ‘firsts’: the first playoff series win, first Game 5 win and first overtime win. They gave Vancouver all they could handle in the second round but fell short in six games.

That 2010-11 team was streaky throughout the season, but successfully handled the adversity that came along with it. They were a pesky bunch that scored just enough goals in support of Rinne, who was a Vezina Trophy finalist that season. It was also the time where Weber and Suter seemed to find another level as a defense pairing.

Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn co-led the Preds with 50 points, while Mike Fisher was acquired at the deadline to give the team a much-needed boost down the middle. That team seemed to have a different hero every night – whether it was Blake Geoffrion’s hat trick in Buffalo, Weber’s overtime winner against Boston, or Nick Spaling, Jerred Smithson, Joel Ward and Matt Halischuk scoring big playoff goals.

It wasn’t the most talented Preds team, but certainly a memorable one.

Daunic’s lasting memory:
“A strong finish with momentum going into the playoffs, I think they got the right draw because I remember for all those years thinking, ‘Please play someone other than the Sharks or Red Wings.’ That Ducks team was the right team for them to play. They got the win early in Anaheim, and then obviously the clutch overtime win [in Game 5] was such a big thing when Jerred Smithson scored that goal.

“I thought that was a really good team. I would say they were one weapon short of really having a chance. But you knew they were getting close. Great chemistry on that team. That was the year where you started to understand how much having Weber, Suter and a really good goalie could impact a team over the course of the season.”

4. 2005-062005-06 Roster

Record: 49-25-8, 106 points
Standings: 2nd Central Division, 4th Western Conference

No one really knew what to expect coming out of the last lockout that axed the 2004-05 season altogether. The assumption was Nashville would contend for the playoffs again after their first appearance in 2004. But no one could have predicted the success the Predators went on to have in the 2005-06 season. They started the season 8-0 and finished with 106 points, second-most in team history.

One player seemed to make all the difference: Paul Kariya. The longtime Anaheim Mighty Ducks star decided to sign with the Predators following the lockout and figuratively put Nashville on the NHL map. That season Kariya collected 31 goals and a franchise-record 85 points. He also had a good team surrounding him, featuring Steve Sullivan, Kimmo Timonen and Tomas Vokoun.

The 2005-06 Preds were a good all-around team – 11th in goals for, 8th in goals against, top 10 in special teams – that would have had a better chance to make a playoff run if it weren’t for the late-season blood clot scare for Vokoun, who couldn’t finish the season. Chris Mason took over, and did an admirable job, but the Preds were eliminated in five games by San Jose.

Daunic’s lasting memory:
“2005-06 was exciting because that was the first year you really knew going into the season this team wasn’t just going to be fighting for the playoffs – they are going to be good and very tough to beat. Sure enough they won the first eight games. To have Kariya, to have some weapons – enough weapons where this team could score and didn’t have to fight their way to win 2-1 – was huge.

“That season was unfortunate, too, because of Vokoun. I thought that was Vokoun’s best season and it all just got short-circuited because of the blood clot thing. Chris Mason played really well but it wasn’t the same as having the stopper in there. It might have been a different series against the Sharks if they had Vokoun in there.”

5. 2009-102009-10 Roster

Record: 47-29-6, 100 points
Standings: 3rd Central Division, 7th Western Conference

Whenever you bring up the 2009-10 Predators, two words come to mind: Game Five. A solid second half and quality first-round performance was swept under the rug by the Preds’ blunder in Game 5 in Chicago with a chance to take a 3-2 series lead. Instead, they lost in six and had all summer to think about what could have been.

This team and this season was a stepping stone to what took place in 2011 and 2012. Rinne took over as the permanent starter, Weber and Suter were near-dominant and the team found its Predator Hockey niche down the stretch.

The Preds took a long time to get going, but after the Olympic break something just clicked. They suddenly turned into one of the league’s toughest teams to play against. When everyone returned from Vancouver, Rinne took off on one of the best stretches of his career (12-4-1, 1.96 GAA, .931 SV%) to lead the Preds to a playoff berth. This Preds team boasted a lot of depth throughout the lineup, led by Patric Hornqvist and Sullivan co-leading the team with 51 points apiece.

Daunic’s lasting memory:
“I thought that team was interesting because that formula started to take shape, of four lines that could all play defense and all be dangerous. That’s where they found value in a guy like Marcel Goc. He was an important guy on that team. They came within one game of really challenging Chicago. That was another year where you saw the maturation of Weber and Suter.

“That team was probably as unknown going into the season; they hadn’t made the playoffs the season before. There wasn’t a whole lot of star power, even with Weber and Suter. The other thing that happened that year was Pekka got snubbed by Team Finland. He wasn’t playing great before the Olympics, but came back after and was on fire. It was like, ‘Hey Finland, you made the wrong choice.’ Pekka made a big step forward that year.”

 
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