It should have been a goal.
If you watched Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final you know what I’m talking about. The shot by Colton Sissons at 1:14 of the second period that was disallowed because the referee lost track of the puck. Because he was out of position. Everybody in the free world could see the puck except for the referee. The referee seemingly randomly blew his whistle in the middle of the play. The players didn’t hear it, and the announcers couldn’t even hear it at first after multiple replays. But the whistle did blow, the play was ruled dead, and the goal was disallowed and not able to be reviewed. Depending on who you ask, of course.
I’m not here to tell you that the Nashville Predators were robbed by biased officiating in Game 6, or even in previous games. Anytime you question officiating, everybody assumes you’re complaining about bias. No. I question officiating based on competence, not bias. The official wasn’t in the right spot to watch the play. He was incompetent. I’m not sure what he was doing at the Stanley Cup Final, as one would assume that a sports league would have their best officials at their biggest events. If he’s one of the best, that speaks very poorly for the rest of the crop. In any event, I’m not saying that play even cost Nashville the game. The Preds weren’t able to put the puck in the net at any other point on Sunday night. They didn’t put the puck in the net at any point during Game 5. That’s what cost them the Cup.
Yes, we can complain about the referees allowing Sidney Crosby to attempt a homicide in Game 5. We can complain about the referees overturning a P.K. Subban goal in Game 1 due to Filip Forsberg being offside by half a millimeter. I’m sure there are plenty of other questionable calls that I’ve managed to repress. The bottom line is that the Nashville Predators didn’t score as many goals as the Pittsburgh Penguins did in four out of six Stanley Cup Final games. These problems with calls go away the more often you put the puck in the net.
No, there won’t be many positive memories for me of this Stanley Cup Final. When your team loses a championship, you try to forget a lot of what happened. Games 1, 2, 5 & 6 are things I will try to wipe from my memory. I will try to remember Game 3 & Game 4, when Smashville came alive and showed the NHL how to throw a Stanley Cup party. I will definitely remember my first trip to Bridgestone Arena for Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. Hindsight being 20/20…not going back for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final may have been for the best.
Can we all agree that the whole “hockeytown” debate is the most annoying debate in hockey? Please? I know I’ve discussed this before, but it keeps coming up with every series the Predators appear in. Old School Hockey Fan doesn’t understand that the game needs to grow in order to survive. They think that the sport can just stay in Canada and some Northern U.S. cities and everything will be A-OK. They are wrong. Take a look at the ratings for the NHL vs the ratings for the NBA and tell me that hockey is a thriving sport in this country. Nashville in the Stanley Cup, whether the old men of hockey fandom like it or not, actually drew better ratings than anything not involving the Chicago Blackhawks. I hate to tell ya, it wasn’t the greatness of Sidney Crosby that drove the ratings up. People here have heard of him, know he’s a great hockey player, but nobody outside of Pittsburgh cares. He’s just not the guy, brother. Do you remember anything he’s ever said? Of course not, he’s never said anything of value.
But that’s the traditional hockey way. P.K. Subban said the Preds don’t lose in their building, so they’d win Game 3 and take it from there. He then said Game 6 was a must-win, so they were going to win. See, to me, and I imagine more logical people, these aren’t huge statements. Shouldn’t people think they’re going to succeed? If you don’t, then why the hell are you there? The Predators raised some eyebrows from the beginning of this playoff run with their optimism. You could see the sideways glances from ESPN & NBC hockey experts when they talked about how the Preds thought they were good. The experts didn’t buy in.
To be fair, I’d seen the lion’s share of Preds games this season and I didn’t exactly buy in either. Everybody thought Nashville would bow out in the first round to the Western Conference’s standard-bearer, the Chicago Blackhawks. Blackhawks fans were calling for a sweep, as they had high hopes for the postseason and the Predators were going to be a mere stepping stone towards another Cup. There was a sweep, but it was the Blackhawks and their fans being escorted out. One Goal? Three Goals in Four Games sent that marketing slogan to the trash heap. The Blues & Ducks fared a bit better, and the Preds suffered some losses along the way. Kevin Fiala. Ryan Johansen. Johansen’s loss especially was key, as he is the first-line center Nashville has been looking for throughout their existence. Going against Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin without him was a tall order indeed.
Going against the Pittsburgh Penguins is a tall order. We’re talking about the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions in almost twenty years. They beat the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in the second round. They beat the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that won something like twenty straight games at some point, in the first round. Stars up and down the lineup. Matt Murray’s won two Stanley Cups and I think he’s eligible for Rookie of the Year next season. Jake Guentzel was the smart choice for Conn Smythe winner until we remembered the media’s hard-on for Crosby. Phil Kessel’s there, and heck, Kris Letang was nowhere to be seen for this Final and he’s their best defenseman. This is a solid Penguin team top to bottom and any doubt their performance in the first four games caused was wiped out by the last two. The cream rose to the top and you have to tip your hat to them.
The Predators tried their best, but at the end of the day they didn’t have enough to get sixteen wins. They got fourteen. Twice as many as their previous playoff record of seven, which was the previous season. They got off to a rough start in the regular season…the switch from Shea Weber to P.K. Subban took some getting used to, and the constant injuries on the blue line didn’t help. Things started clicking through the season as Peter Laviolette figured out what worked and what didn’t. They got hot at the right time and made one of those playoff runs that gets new fans hooked and helps old fans remember why they became fans to begin with.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Preds going forward. The defensemen are entering their prime years. Subban & Ekholm are both under contract for the next few years & Josi’s contract has a good amount of time left on it. The postseason showcased the forward depth that the organization has finally built up after being a defense-heavy group for most of its existence. Re-signing Ryan Johansen is a priority, but the team realizes that and Ryan looks like he wants to be in Nashville for a long time to come, so I see that getting done. Viktor Arvidsson will hopefully stick around. Pontus Aberg & Fredrick Gaudreau are both restricted free agents and made compelling arguments for their future presence. It’ll be interesting to see if Mike Fisher comes back or decides he’s had enough at 37 years of age. One Predator will be heading to Las Vegas thanks to the Expansion Draft. And of course there’s always the chance that David Poile makes a big move that changes the look of the team. Fortunately, he’s had a pretty good success rate on those.
As teams have fallen by the wayside, I’ve seen multiple articles going on about how sports isn’t all about winning championships. This has been especially prevalent in the NBA, as teams like the Memphis Grizzlies & Oklahoma City Thunder that don’t realistically have a chance at winning (or even being in) the NBA Finals as long as the Golden State Warriors exist continue to press on anyway and bring their fans as much enjoyment as possible until the bitter end. I’ll be honest, when I saw this sort of sentiment start to appear on my Twitter feed, I thought it was a bunch of rubbish designed to make fans of inferior teams feel good about themselves. After all, as Vince Lombardi
probably didn’t say once said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!”
As much as NBA writers complain about the recent Golden State run, and before that the Miami Heat run, I’m not sure many of them remember that the Association has always been like this. My first & best NBA memories involve the Chicago Bulls winning six championships in eight years and cementing Michael Jordan’s status as the greatest to ever play the game. For the four decades before that, the NBA was dominated by the Celtics & Lakers, who constantly won championships to the point where each team still has more than twice as many championships as the team with the third most.
As much crap as the NBA has gotten over the years for not being competitive enough at the top, it probably needs to be mentioned that most sports are like this. There was this famous picture of recent AFC Champion quarterbacks that became a thing in 2016:
Take Ben Roethlisberger’s picture off the end and put Brady’s over it, and there’s your recent AFC Champions. Before that, the Cowboys, 49ers & Steelers accounted for most of the Super Bowl victories between them.
The New York Yankees have won twenty seven out of one hundred and twelve World Series, along with forty out of one hundred of fifteen American League championships. Baseball is so ridiculously lopsided that any claims by St. Louis Cardinals fans to claim superiority because their team has the second most World Series victories is met with derisive laughter. It’s like “OK, but you’re still sixteen championships away from catching the Yankees. That’s not happening during your future grandkids’ lifetime.”. Not to mention that’s assuming the Yankees don’t win any more, and if you’ve seen Aaron Judge you probably agree with me that the Yankees will be winning more championships sooner rather than later.
The NHL, even if everybody wants to talk about the parity in today’s game, is no different. Twenty-three different teams have won Lord Stanley’s Cup, and the Montreal Canadiens have been the team to lift it twenty-four times. The Toronto Maple Leafs have thirteen titles to their credit and haven’t won it since 1967. (Oddly enough, the year after is when the NHL expanded for the first time, from six to twelve. Coincidence, right?) Everybody else is pretty far behind, but if you take a look at the last nine years you’ll see the same teams over and over again.
It’s just how things are. Once a team gets on top of a sport, they run off championships like there’s no tomorrow. Sure, there are a bunch of teams out there with one or two championships, but there’s more with a handful, and a ton of them with zero. Most of the ones with zero started fairly recently and have to make up for a lot of lost time. The Nashville Predators were five years away from existing the last time the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. The Preds are 19 seasons into their NHL existence, and a lot of people out there thought they wouldn’t make it this long. Those same people also thought the Preds wouldn’t make it to the Stanley Cup Final. It seems like once you make it there one time, it’s easier to get back.
I’m not taking anything for granted. The last professional sports team I rooted for that won a world championship was the Cincinnati Reds in 1990. I was six years old. I just turned thirty-three a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a bit of a dry spell. There have been times where it looked like the Reds might make a run. There have been times where it looked like the Cincinnati Bengals might win a playoff game. Neither have happened. The Nashville Predators’ championship window is open. That’s no guarantee that they’ll get one.
All we can count on for sure are memories. Whether there’s a big shiny Cup at the end of the season or not, hopefully there are some fun moments along the way. Some big shots. Some unbelievable saves. Some unexpected heroes. Some entertaining trash talk. The 2016-17 Nashville Predators provided a lot of all these things. As a fan, I thank them. They might not have won the Cup, but they won the hearts of millions.