Predators contend with NHL's top teams in pursuit of individual honors

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 7:45pm

The Nashville Predators cannot say they were one of the National Hockey League’s top two teams this season.

However, with the league’s individual awards ceremony set for Wednesday (6 p.m., Versus), Nashville can claim favorable comparisons to the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks just a week after those teams concluded their memorable seven-game Stanley Cup finals series.

An unprecedented four Predators (two players, two staff members) are among the top three for awards. In each case, at least one of the other two finalists is from the Bruins or Canucks.

“We’ve never had anywhere near that kind recognition and — obviously — we didn’t do enough [in previous years] to deserve that,” General Manager David Poile said.

The most compelling matchup between the Predators and the Cup finalists is for the Vezina Trophy, which goes to the league’s top goalie. The three finalists are Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, Boston’s Tim Thomas (the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the playoff MVP) and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo.

All three won at least 33 games and led their teams to the three lowest goals-against totals during the regular season. In order, they were Vancouver, Boston and Nashville.

“Pekka was phenomenal all year long and he was certainly a reason we had a chance to win every night,” Poile said. “In our minds, he’s as good a goaltender as there is in the league right now.”

Poile is a finalist for the General Manager of the Year along with Vancouver’s Mike Gillis. Similarly, Nashville’s Barry Trotz and Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault are two of the top three vote-getters for the Jack Adams (coach of the year) trophy.

Defenseman Shea Weber is in the running for the Norris Trophy (best all around defenseman) with Boston’s Zdeno Chara.

It is the second straight year Poile and Trotz are finalists for their respective awards.

“We were a team at the start of the year where basically in all publications and prognostications we were a team that was not picked to make the playoffs,” Poile said. “Another great job by Barry and his coaching staff. … Shea Weber, he’s our leader, he’s our captain and he finally got that recognition, and he finally took his game to that level where he did get that recognition to be one of the best defensemen in the National Hockey League.”

Nashville has won only one significant award in its history. That was in 2009, when Steve Sullivan took home the Masterton Trophy, which honors perseverance and dedication to the game.

Whether or not any of the Predators’ personnel actually collects a performance-based trophy this year, they believe they already have reason to exalt in their recognition.

“We have four people up for awards … and we’re going to bring out our coaching staff and our hockey [operations department] and have a little dinner and a little bit of a celebration,” Poile said. “Hopefully good things will happen for the Predators’ organization there.”

Not quite as good as winning the Stanley Cup — but trophy collections have to start somewhere.