The Nashville Predators had quite a 2018.
Though it didn’t include a much expected return to the Stanley Cup Finals, 2018 was by all accounts a banner year (pun intended) for the Predators. There were several firsts, several landmark franchise moments, and more than a few memorable games at Bridgestone Arena. There were also a few unfortunate moments, both on and off the ice, that affected the fan base deeply and became major news stories.
What follows is a rundown of the five biggest stories surrounding the Nashville Predators from this past year. First, some honorable mentions… stories that didn’t quite crack the top five:
- Predators trade 1st round pick, 4th round pick, and Victor Ejdsell for Ryan Hartman
- Mike Fisher comes out of retirement, scores goal in first game against Vancouver
- Filip Forsberg suspended three games for hit on Jimmy Vesey
- Eeli Tolvanen makes his much anticipated debut against Buffalo on March 31st
- Predators beat the Avalanche in six games in the NHL Playoffs
- P.K. Subban finishes third in Norris Trophy voting
- Dan Hamhuis returns to Nashville, signs two-year deal worth $2.5 million
5. Ryan Ellis Signs 8-Year, $50 million Extension
The saga of Ryan Ellis signing an extension started in 2017, when he first became eligible for an extension on the five-year deal he signed in 2014. There was much debate about whether would even sign an extension with the Preds. With big names like Drew Doughty and John Carlson also due some major money this past summer, would Ellis test free agency instead of re-signing with the team that drafted him?
All questions were answered on August 14, 2018 when the team announced a whopping eight-year, $50 million extension for Ryan Ellis.
In a press conference announcing the signing, Ellis indicated he hoped the team could now focus on signing other key players. “I’m getting paid more than enough to play hockey,” Ellis said. “We have other guys that need to be re-upped and need to be signed in the future and I had to do my part to keep this thing going in the right direction.” It was an interesting quote from a player who had just signed a massive deal.
Ellis has yet to really get going this season, managing only 16 points in 38 games so far. His defense has also been suspect. Still, signing Ellis to such a major extension was a big step for the Predators as they navigate some big contract negotiations over the next couple seasons.
4. Austin Watson Pleads No Contest to Domestic Assault; Suspended 18 Games
The story that no one saw coming.
When news hit that Austin Watson had been arrested for domestic assault, the entire fan base and media was stunned. Watson was (and still is) a beloved member of the team and a growing fan favorite. How could something like this have happened?
Watson was arrested, then pled no contest to the charges. He was given three months probation and ordered to take a batterer’s intervention course by the judge.
The details of the case have been discussed ad nauseam, but only those who were there and involved in the incident know what really took place. Anything else is just conjecture.
The NHL suspended Watson for 27 games, which was then reduced to 18 games. When Watson returned, he was welcomed warmly by the majority of the fanbase. And his play on the ice spoke for itself, getting six points in his first six games back from suspension.
The story of Austin Watson and the events that took place in July were undoubtedly a big story for the team this year. From when the news first broke, to the response by the team, to the suspension, to his return to the ice… all of it was uncomfortable ground for the franchise and its fan base.
3. Predators Get Blown Out in First Ever Game 7 at Bridgestone Arena
It was the most hyped game in Nashville Predators history, outside of probably Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2017.
The Predators had never hosted a Game 7. After a dominating win in Winnipeg in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals, they’d finally have their first opportunity to host one. Everyone in Smashville was ready, expecting an epic tilt between two fantastic Western Conference powerhouses, and ticket prices were sky high.
Then the Predators completely blew it.
This game was U.G.L.Y. The Preds went down 0-2 in the first 11 minutes thanks to some very poor goaltending from Pekka Rinne. And though P.K. Subban pulled the Preds within one late in the 1st, the Jets defense dominated the rest of the game. Connor Hellebuyck played great in goal and the Jets stunned the Bridgestone Arena crowd with a 5-1 win.
For a Preds team that was as stacked as this one was, this was one of the biggest letdowns in franchise history. There’s just no reason for a team to come out as flat as they did. I don’t think anyone expected the Predators to roll over the way they did.
That Game 7 loss put a giant black-eye on an otherwise perfect season by the Predators last year. Their performance in Game 7 dominated headlines for weeks and was a big part of the team’s focus heading into the 2018-19 season.
2. Predators Win Presidents’ Trophy
The Predators finally took home some legitimate hardware in 2018, winning the Presidents’ Trophy for having the best record in hockey. This should not be overlooked or forgotten.
This was an important and impressive milestone for the Predators franchise. While it isn’t the same as winning the Stanley Cup (not even close, really), it is still a great accomplishment.
What’s more difficult: being better than 30 other teams over the course of 82 games? Or being better than 15 other teams over the course of 30 games?
It’s a debate worth having.
The Predators were a team that very few teams could compete with on a consistent basis last year. One of the biggest reasons why?
1. Pekka Rinne Wins Vezina Trophy
The best player in franchise history won the biggest trophy for his position. Finally.
It’s not that the Predators winning the Presidents’ Trophy is less important than Pekka Rinne winning the Vezina Trophy. It’s that Pekka Rinne winning the Vezina is certainly the bigger story, considering how the season ended.
There’s quite simply no other Nashville Predators player who has quite the media pull and fan adoration of Pekka Rinne. He is universally beloved by everyone in Nashville. So when he finally gets the credit he’s earned? Yeah, that’s a story worth celebrating.
In his career, Rinne has been deserving of the Vezina at least three other times. He’s long been the Predators’ winning-est goalie, and just recently became the winning-est Finnish-born goalie in history. He will continue to climb the ranks of the league’s best goalies in history until we are finally able to have a legitimate “is Rinne a Hall of Famer?” debate.
But before we get to that point, Pekka Rinne had to capture the Vezina Trophy and he finally did that in 2018.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —