Bridgestone Arena is now a Gary Glitter-free building

By Jim Diamond

Peter Laviolette was brought to Nashville in part because of his ability to coach offense. If that bears fruit when the puck drops on the 2014-15 NHL season in early October, the ears of fans at Bridgestone Arena will be filled with the sounds of the team’s goal song more times than in previous seasons.

As in year’s past, that goal song will start out with a customized version of Tim McGraw’s “I Like it, I Love it,” before transitioning into the Black Keys’ “Gold on the Ceiling.” The latter replaces the part that contained Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2.”

For years, media – this reporter included – and fans have been calling for the team to cut ties with anything and everything related to Glitter, who has twice been convicted of horrific acts against children; once for possession of child pornography and another for child sexual abuse.

The decision has been made, and it was the correct one.

“We try to take as much input from our fans as we can get, whether it be new food items, clubs, goal celebrations, merchandise items, and a lot of our fans gave us some input in this area, so of course we wanted to look at it,” Predators president and chief operating officer Sean Henry said. “But even if we had zero input from our fans, a lot of people have a tough time just stepping up and saying, ‘This is wrong.’ Being associated with someone like that was just wrong. It was wrong for us so we wanted to make a change. It’s great that I think our fans are going to embrace it for all the right reasons.”

The NFL banned the use of the song at its stadiums many years ago, and it is kind of a head-scratcher to think that the NFL leads the way in anything related to a moral compass, but bravo Predators for making the right call.

“You don’t want to be associated with someone who is guilty of the worst thing, and I think he is,” Henry said.

Perfectly put, Mr. President.  

Predators players who qualify as veterans for purposes of preseason games

By Jim Diamond

Tuesday night marks the first of six preseason games for the Nashville Predators. Six is the minimum number of games a team is allowed to play, and the Predators are in the somewhat unique situation of playing two games on the same day when they face the Florida Panthers at Bridgestone Arena this Saturday in hockey’s version of a day/night doubleheader.

“We’re going to use a lot of players to get through the exhibition games and continue to evaluate here,” Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said Sunday. “A lot of young players are going to get opportunities in the first couple of games. We’ve got not the whole organization, but practically the whole organization playing on the 27th. We’ll be evaluating for quite a while here.”

Many veteran players like to play in as many preseason games as they can since there is a difference between being in shape and being in game shape. Laviolette said that he has had some conversations with his players on this subject.

“They are going to get in three or four of those games,” he said. “There may be the odd player that gets all five games. As camp moves on and we continue to look at what we need to look at from a personnel standpoint, that might ultimately determine an extra game or an extra look.”

It will be a balancing act for Laviolette and the management staff of the Predators as they prepare the rosters for the preseason games. To a large degree, they are familiar with what a lot of the veterans can do, but they will want to see some of the younger players in game situations as well. Additionally, as they experiment with line combinations and defensive pairings, seeing them in games gives them a much better idea of how they will function together as opposed to just seeing them in practice.

As the team makes its way to Tampa to face the Lightning Tuesday night, here is a primer on the roster regulations that are in place for teams during the preseason.

Article 15.4 of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHL Players’ Association dictates the minimum number of veterans who will dress for each preseason game.

(c) A Club shall be permitted to dress a minimum of eight (8) veterans for any Exhibition Game. For purposes of this Section 15.4(c), a veteran shall constitute either:

(1) a forward or defenseman who played in thirty (30) NHL Games during the previous season,

(2) a goaltender who either dressed in fifty (50) or more NHL Games or played in thirty (30) or more NHL Games in the previous season,

(3) a first round draft choice from the most recent year’s Entry Draft, or

(4) any Player who has played one-hundred (100) or more career NHL Games.

There are 55 players currently on the training camp roster. Here is the breakdown of which players fit into the definition of veteran for the purposes of the preseason games. Some fit into multiple categories, but they are listed just once.

Category 1 – A forward or defenseman who played in 30 NHL Games during the previous season

Forwards (13)

Gabriel Bourque

Rich Clune

Matt Cullen

Mike Fisher – Injured

Paul Gaustad

Olli Jokinen

James Neal

Eric Nystrom

Mike Ribeiro

Derek Roy

Craig Smith

Viktor Stalberg

Colin Wilson

Defensemen (7)

Victor Bartley

Mattias Ekholm

Ryan Ellis – Not in camp due to lack of a contract

Seth Jones

Roman Josi

Anton Volchenkov

Shea Weber

Category 2 – A goaltender who either dressed in 50 or more NHL Games or played in 30 or more NHL Games in the previous season

Carter Hutton

Category 3 – A first round draft choice from the most recent year’s Entry Draft

Kevin Fiala

Category 4 – Any Player who has played 100 or more career NHL Games

Brian Lee

Pekka Rinne

Laviolette happy with Predators first scrimmage

By Jim Diamond

After two long days of on-ice sessions to start training camp, the Nashville Predators held a scrimmage at Centennial Sportsplex Sunday afternoon.

With a new coaching staff in place, some new offensive systems were introduced during the team’s Friday and Saturday practices. A majority of the players who took part in Sunday’s scrimmage were the younger ones in camp, but a few veterans participated as well.

Watching from the sidelines, new head coach Peter Laviolette liked that he saw some of the things they have been working on the last couple of days.

“I did see some of it out on the ice, which was good,” he said. “I thought there were some good things in the neutral zone, some good things in the offensive zone. Guys played hard. They were competitive, they were physical, so it was a good way to evaluate the group.”

When he hired Laviolette, Predators general manager David Poile cited his penchant for coaching offense. Laviolette’s practices have been high-tempo, and Sunday’s scrimmage was no different. The game was wide open, featuring speed at both ends of the ice and some aggressive hitting as well.

“I think we had a few shifts where we had good cycle rotations going which is something that I think is going to be a trademark of our team,” Eric Nystrom said. “There is still a little timing that is off, but I think we executed a lot of the things that we have been working on. It is still new though, so there are going to be a lot of mistakes, but when we executed, it was pretty successful.”

During Friday’s practice sessions, a lot of time was focused on cycling the puck down low.

“It’s kind of new, everything,” Filip Forsberg said. “We just started Friday, but obviously there are a couple of things that we tried to get going here in this game and especially in the exhibition games coming up.”

Named the most valuable player of the recently completed rookie tournament held at the Ford Ice Center, Forsberg will get a long look from the coaching and management staffs as training camp progresses. A highly skilled forward, Forsberg’s skill set would seem to fit well into Laviolette’s system.

One of the messages from the coaching staff to the players has been to look for open spaces in order to give them some room to use their creativity.

“When we are in the offensive zone, there is so much pressure congested on one side where the battle is, (we are) trying to use the other side of the ice as much as possible,” Rich Clune said. “Our line did that well today and a lot of lines did that well today, using the back of the net and bringing it out the weak side.”

The team’s six-game preseason schedule begins Tuesday night in Tampa. The Predators play their first of four home preseason games Thursday night against the Lightning.

A faster Rich Clune still plays with an edge while keeping an eye out for his teammates

By Jim Diamond

It wasn’t that long ago that a player looking to make an impression on the coaching staff in training camp would look to do so by challenging anyone and everyone they could to drop the gloves and fight. It didn’t matter if it was practice, a scrimmage, or a preseason game, that was a way for a player looking for a roster spot to get noticed. Fights in practices and scrimmages are a rarity these days.

Hockey has evolved over the years, and the days of the one-dimensional enforcer-type player are all but over. In order to make it and stay in the NHL, an element of toughness is still a bonus, but a guy needs to be able to contribute with his gloves on in order to earn one of the 23 coveted spots on the big club’s roster.

Sunday afternoon, 40 of the players in Nashville’s camp participated in a scrimmage game at Centennial Sportsplex. Many of those who dressed for the game were the younger ones, with a few veterans in there as well.

Entering his third season in Nashville, Rich Clune was one of the veterans to participate in the scrimmage. The pace of the game was rather quick, and Clune was noticeably faster than in previous seasons, leading the rush on several occasions.

“I am a little bit lighter than the couple of years past and I worked with a skating guy over the summer, so my legs feel good,” Clune said. “When you get out there battling for pucks and hitting, it is a totally different conditioning system out there.”

Clune still plays the game with a hard edge and knows that one of his responsibilities is to take care of his teammates.

During the second period, there was a mash up of players in the corner and bodies were flying. As the players separated, Clune and defenseman Jonathan Diaby were exchanging a few words along with a cross-check or two as well.

“I had to kind of bite my lip,” Clune said. “I don’t want to fight in an intrasquad game, and nobody else does too. I just thought he maybe hit my little centerman there, my little buddy there from behind.”

The tale of the tape was not in Clune’s favor. Listed at 5’10” and 207 pounds, Clune was giving up seven inches and likely 20 or more pounds to the young blueliner.

Clune and Diaby did not fight, but Clune said that when he is looking out for a teammate, the size of the opponent doesn’t matter.

“You know me, when I get out there in a game, the adrenaline takes over and I’m a little bit delusional about how tall I am,” he said after the game. “I’ll go say hi to him now. It’s all good.”

Laviolette looking to build upon relationships with his new players

By Jim Diamond

Training camp started just days ago, but new Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette had the opportunity to meet and get to know several of his new players earlier this summer.

When he was officially announced as the second head coach in franchise history, Laviolette was in Europe with Team USA preparing for the start of the World Championships, where he was serving as the team’s head coach. Nashville forward Craig Smith and defenseman Seth Jones were members of the American team, and they found out just before the tournament started that Laviolette was going to be their new bench boss with the Predators.

“I remember one morning, I hadn’t seen it yet, but we got up and he pulled me aside and told me he was (Nashville’s coach),” Smith said. “We shook hands and we were pretty happy it happened before the tournament and we were able to go into it knowing we had some familiarities from the get-go. We used that time to get to know each other’s style as a player and as a coach.”

Laviolette is known as an offensive coach, so a talented forward like Smith should fit in well with his system. After returning from Europe, Laviolette was asked about Smith, and the early reviews were positive. “There’s nothing about his game that I don’t like,” Laviolette told the Predators-gold clad crowd at the Music City Center that day.

Laviolette was an assistant coach with Team USA at the 2014 Olympics and after being dismissed as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers last October, he had a lot of time to scout prospective members of the American squad. Jones was one of the players on Team USA’s radar up until the team was named, so Laviolette had the opportunity to see him play several times as a scout.

Heading into his second NHL campaign, Jones was a little surprised when he found out that his coach at the World Championships would have the same role in Nashville.

“It was a little weird, but it was nice that I kind of got a preview of what he had to bring,” Jones said. “I really liked it over there and I can definitely see the similarities over here already.”

Following his return from Europe, one of Laviolette’s next moves as Nashville’s head coach was to take a trip to Las Vegas to meet his new captain. Shea Weber was one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy, so his new head coach took the opportunity to join Predators general manager David Poile on the trip to the NHL’s awards ceremony in support of his franchise defenseman. It was a gesture that was well received by Weber.

“I talked to him on the phone a little bit when he was back from the World Championships, but I didn’t expect to see him there,” Weber said. “Obviously that’s a super nice thing. It was good to see him and David there.”

Now that training camp has started, Laviolette will look to continue to build ties with his new players.

“In all honesty, it is a lot of new relationships and they were by the phone or they were quick meetings,” Laviolette said. “Now they will see more of me than they want to. You end up spending every day together at practices and games and in the hotels. Now you can really start to connect with players and I am really looking forward to that. (There are) some great guys here. I knew that coming in just from being on the outside, but now on the inside, you see the quality of people in the room. Those are great people to come to work with every day.”

According to one player, the impressions are positive.

“I like where he is going,” Smith said. “I like the direction he wants the team to go. I’m all aboard.”

Matt Cullen gets a young linemate in Friday’s first practice

By Jim Diamond

Matt Cullen played his first NHL game October 28, 1997.

Kevin Fiala was all of 15 months old at the time.

Friday marked the first on-ice sessions of training camp for the Nashville Predators. With the large number of players here for the start of camp, the team has been split into three different groupings for the first couple of days of practices.

For some, it was their first experience in an NHL camp while others have been at it for close to 20 years.

The first group to hit the ice was the blue group. Among the forwards skating in that collective were Cullen and Fiala, and the coaching staff had them skating on a line together for nearly the entirety of that first practice session.

After they came off of the ice, Cullen was asked how it felt skating on a line with someone who was born in 1996.

“I was waiting for that question,” he said with a laugh. “It’s funny because this is my 17th training camp, and I remember my first one like it was yesterday. I can relate to where these guys are at.”

One should not look too deeply into line combinations and defensive pairings on the first day of practice, but it’s likely that new Predators head coach Peter Laviolette went with someone he knew and felt comfortable with to mentor Fiala, the team’s first round draft pick from June’s Entry Draft, as he was put through the paces of his first training camp practice. Laviolette coached Cullen with the Carolina Hurricanes, where the pair won the Stanley Cup in 2006.

Cullen’s first camp in Anaheim was an eye-opener for him, especially when he was on the ice with a future Hall of Famer.

Kevin Fiala (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Kevin Fiala (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

“Seeing guys like Teemu Selanne skating on the ice with me and for these guys to get out with Shea Weber, it’s your realization of a dream that you are finally there,” Cullen said. “You’ve been dreaming about playing in the NHL your whole life and to get on the ice the first time, it doesn’t matter if it’s just practice the first day of training camp, it’s hard to believe. You can see it in these kids, you can see the big eyes and the excitement. It’s pretty cool.”

But do those big eyes ever shrink back down to normal size when you are playing alongside a player of Selanne’s caliber?

“Eventually you kind of settle in, but still you find yourself at times thinking, ‘Holy cow, I’m playing on a line with Teemu Selanne right now. This is pretty cool,’” Cullen said.

It’s rare for a player to make an NHL roster in his first training camp, but once the awe factor dies down, the rookies are trying to do exactly the same thing as the veterans.

“You are a little intimidated at first, but at the same time, you know that you are going to have to be better than one of them if you want to get a roster spot,” Viktor Stalberg said. “Maybe the first day you are impressed, but then you just go out there and play your hardest. You’ve got to get the coaches to know you. You can’t be too friendly with guys just because they have been in the league for very long.”

NHL teams can carry a maximum of 23 players on their active rosters. Over the course of the couple of weeks, it will be interesting to watch which young guys make their case for those jobs.

No contract means no Ryan Ellis in training camp

By Jim Diamond

Thursday marked the start of training camp for the 2014-15 version of the Nashville Predators. The players went through their medical exams and a series of meetings before adjourning for the afternoon. One player who was noticeably absent from today’s proceedings was defenseman Ryan Ellis.

Ellis, a restricted free agent, has not yet come to terms on a new contract with the team. It is important to note that since he is not under contract, he is not deemed a holdout.

Reached for comment Thursday afternoon, Ellis’ agent Paul Krepelka said via email, “Nothing to report regarding any progress made toward a deal.”

Ellis is coming off of his three-year, entry-level deal that, per Cap Geek, paid him an average annual value of just over $1.4 million. In 80 games played last season, Ellis scored six goals and added 21 assists while averaging 16:04 of ice time per game. Two of Ellis’ goals were game-winners.

“We are in a contract negotiation with Ryan, and our goal remains to sign Ryan. The sooner we can do so, the better for both the team and for Ryan,” said Predators general manager David Poile, via email, late Thursday afternoon.

Friday is the start of on-ice practice sessions for the Predators. Under the guidance of new head coach Peter Laviolette, the players will take to the ice at Centennial Sportsplex. A new coach means new systems, so a player not in attendance runs the risk of falling behind on the learning curve. One thing working in Ellis’ favor in that respect is the fact that Phil Housley remained on the coaching staff following Barry Trotz’s departure. Housley ran the defense and power play units last season.

“My job is to make sure that this team is ready to go and the players in camp here are ready to play,” Laviolette said Thursday afternoon when asked specifically about Ellis. “When it comes to contracts, that goes upstairs, and you’d probably be best to talk to David about all that. Right now, we are focused on these guys and tomorrow should be fun.”

In another possible wrinkle to the situation, the Predators announced Thursday that they have added defenseman Brian Lee to the training camp roster on a tryout agreement. Lee has more than 200 games of NHL experience split between the Ottawa Senators and the Tampa Bay Lightning. He did not play at all last season due to a knee injury. The first round (9th overall) pick of the Senators in 2005 will look to challenge for a spot on the Nashville roster.

The Predators play their first of six preseason games Tuesday in Tampa against the Lightning.

My “Candle in the Wind” style tribute to Josh Cooper’s departure from The Tennessean

By Jim Diamond

 

Goodbye Joshua Brett

From your first days as an intern

You were always a good guy and became a great friend

You didn’t fit into the newsroom of the future

That shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing for you

By firing you, like many others before,

Those asshats have all but killed a once proud paper

Be glad you are no longer employed there

 

And it seems to me you worked that beat

Like you cared about your audience

Never knowing when the next furlough or layoff would come

And I would have liked for you to stay

But I know you will go on to better things

As that paper continues to devolve into the abyss

An idea-thieving columnist stays

While hard workers like you, Chip, and Mo are gone

 

Sure you drink some weird-smelling tea

And your hand lotion smells even worse

But you were a great guy to have next to me the last four years

Your troll job last trade deadline day was masterful

Sending waves across North America

Thinking Leggy had been traded

And when he did go to Detroit later

You looked like a genius

 

And it seems to me you worked that beat

Like you cared about your audience

Never knowing when the next furlough or layoff would come

And I would have liked for you to stay

But I know you will go on to better things

As that paper continues to devolve into the abyss

An idea-thieving columnist stays

While hard workers like you, Chip, and Mo are gone

 

Your Twitter is quite bizarre

But that is part of your charm… I guess

Springsteen, The Room, and humidity

All in the regular rotation

But we put up with it

Since there was bound to be something about hockey to come

So as you put that paper in your rearview mirror

Know that we hope the best for you in the future

 

Photo set from Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers rookie game

Photos taken at the rookie game played between the Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers Sunday, September 14, 2014 at the Ford Ice Center in Antioch, Tennessee.