After their win against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks on Tuesday, the Nashville Predators have punched their ticket to the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bottles were popped, songs were sung and cheaply made hats and shirts were thrown on by the sweaty athletes to celebrate their Western Conference championship. With either the Ottawa Senators or the Pittsburgh Penguins being the last obstacle to climb, the Predators aim to accomplish something no team has ever done before: Win the Stanley Cup as an eighth seed.
Regardless of what the outcome of that eventual series may be, it’s hard to critique the Predator’s season overall. After trading away their captain and longest tenured member Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens straight up of P.K. Subban, experts were anxious to see if the team could nail down an identity moving forward. As the team played through the season as the middle of the pack team they were expected to be, rewarding them with a first round dance with Stanley Cup favourites, the Chicago Blackhawks. In a series of events that nobody saw coming, the Predators absolutely smashed the Blackhawks, sweeping them in four games while only allowing three goals to arguably the league’s best offense. It’s something that nobody expected to happen, but couldn’t have come at a better time not only for Predators fans, but for the whole sports universe as a whole.
Cinderella stories and finding parity
The Predators chose the perfect time to over perform. As a team that few experts had faith in early on in the year, the age old cliche of “Cinderella Stories” of sports can be perfectly applied the the Predators. While it surely makes sports movies like The Mighty Ducks and Remember the Titans more memorable, recent data taken across the professional sports world says the trend is dying, and the Predators are here to save it. Across every major sport, parity in it’s winners is becoming something that’s harder and harder to find.
The NBA is probably the biggest victim of this. Over the past six season, LeBron James has been featured in every single NBA Finals series, taking the Cleveland Cavaliers there the past two season and the Miami Heat to the championship round four times in a row from 2011-2014. Going back to 1996, the NBA Finals have featured Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan or LeBron James in every series except one, where Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks took down the not yet LeBron-equipped Miami Heat. As if the NBA didn’t have a parity problem already, the Cavaliers are one win away from creating the exact same NBA Finals matchup we’ve seen the past two years, with the Golden State Warriors having already swept their way through the Western Conference. It’s a problem that the league, advertisers and it’s fans are all trying to solve.
Over in the NFL, a similar tune rings in the ears of it’s viewers. Since 2002. 14 of the 16 Superbowls that have taken place have featured either Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger or Peyton Manning. With quarterbacks being both the faces and the backbones of a successful team, those that are fortunate enough to have a competent signal caller can be blessed for years with wins and championships. Not that it only takes a quarterback to make a football team good, but there aren’t many of them in the world, so it’s really a matter of scouting, player development and a little bit of luck.
The NBA and the NFL have been cursed with super stars joining other superstars in the formation of “Superteams” across their respective leagues. Taking down these super teams isn’t just a matter of out working someone, and unfortunately some teams just aren’t on the same level as the Cleveland Cavaliers or the New England Patriots of the world. It’s become the narrative of professional sports, which is what makes Nashville’s rise to success such a breath of fresh air. It gives fans of the game a break from seeing the same faces in the championship round over and over again. Having a team like the Predators in the Stanley Cup Finals reassures fans that there is some realism in the aspect of Cinderella teams so often seen in over-emotional sports movies.
Brought together, not bought together
At the end of the day, professional sports is still a business above everything else, which fans sometimes have trouble accepting. After Kevin Durant announced his departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors, the NBA collective turned on the superstar scorer and his new team, creating a group of villains that everyone quickly jumped on the bandwagon to hate. Sports fans have grown to hate superteams, and anyone involved with one is usually hated outside of the team’s immediate fan circle. Prior to the signing of Durant, the Warriors received much less hate due to the fact that while they were still a good team before Durant, they cultivated talent through their own system. Their core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were all brought up through the Warrior’s system, allotting time and resources to focus on their development. The Predators took the time to do so as well, with every major piece on their roster either drafted right there in Nashville or traded for. Giving up players like Shea Weber, Patric Hornqvist and Martin Erat were difficult at the time, but eventually yielded better results for the team. The Nashville Predators decided to be patient in the building of their team, building themselves from the ground up rather than spending money through free agency to build a full-fledged superteam, something fans have grown to appreciate.
A PR manager’s dream
As far as marketable talent in the NHL, P.K. Subban has to be up there. The guy can do no wrong, from his larger than life personality to his continuing charitable efforts with the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Subban represents a new age of hockey that’s beginning to unfold across North America, regardless of what grumpy old man Mike Miburry may think. While some may not like how Subban is on the ice, having a player that takes up so much of the spotlight for something good rather than controversy away from the game. It’s nice to hear about a star player get attention for something positive and not for DUI’s or Domestic Abuse charges that shadow some sports.
Basically, the Nashville Predators represent everything you would want in a sports team. They’re an exciting, hard working and respectable group of people that let us believe that underdogs still have a chance in a world of superteams. They gives us hope that we won’t have to see the same three or four teams dominate the league year in and year out, and as anyone who’s seen this happen across every major sport will tell you, it’s nice to see a fresh face in the mix once in a while.