Predators officials hit many high notes in 'Skate of the Union'

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at 8:04pm

Ever since he assumed the lead of the Nashville Predators’ ownership group, Tom Cigarran has said a lot of things the local fan base wanted to hear.

It was no different Wednesday night when, during the question-and-answer period of the annual ‘Skate of Union,’ he estimated that it would take a year to a year and a half for his group to raise $20-$25 million in equity.

“We get that done, and this team is here forever,” he said.

The several thousand fans who attended the event, therefore, let it slide when Cigarran— the first of five franchise officials to speak — began his opening remarks with the assertion that his goal is make the Predators an “elite ‘NFL’ franchise.”

It was the rare misstep at an event capped with the public debut of the team’s new jersey, which was revealed with an 11-story banner hanging from the AT&T building several blocks from Bridgestone Arena.

Cigarran, Chief Executive Officer Jeff Cogen, Chief Operating Officer Sean Henry, General Manager David Poile and coach Barry Trotz painted a relentlessly rosy picture of the franchise’s current prospects for success both on and off the ice. Along the way, they delivered advertisements for some of their newer sponsorship partners, sold season tickets and even wooed a member of the crowd who said he was an Atlanta Thrashers fan in search of a new team in the wake of the Thrashers’ relocation to Winnipeg.

Among the highlights of the session, which lasted more than an hour and included questions taken through social media and directly from those in attendance:

• Poile on the team’s current competitiveness: “I’ve never been more bullish on our hockey team than I am today. … We now have our window of opportunity.”

• Cogen revealed that after 16 sellouts during the 2010-11 regular season (four times that of the previous year) that the target for 2011-12 is 25 sellouts. “It’s an aggressive goal, but one I think we’re up for.”

• Trotz on what separates the Predators from other teams in the league: “I look at a lot of teams and they collect people, they collect names, and they collect payroll. They don’t become a team.”

• Henry revealed that the franchise has enjoyed an all-time high 92.4 percent renewal rate on season tickets and that new sales this spring also have reached their “highest level” ever.

• Henry also said the franchise plans to keep the arena in “a constant state of renovation.” Among the changes this summer will be new boards, glass and ice system.

• Trotz, on the team’s continued struggles with the power play: “One of these days it’s going to explode and be really good for us.”

• Cogen said the franchise will bid to host an All-Star game and revealed that in a recent face-to-face meeting between Mayor Karl Dean and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Dean all but demanded that the league deliver one.

• Cogen also said that the team would have “the highest player payroll in the history of the Predators” in the coming season.

• One of the lighter moments came when Trotz extolled the virtues of the mascot Gnash, who added a consistent dose of levity to the proceedings. Nashville’s coach declared many other franchise’s mascots “lame” and as an example cited “a whale in Vancouver — I don’t know what he does.”

At that point, Cogen chimed in with: “His name is Burrows.”

It was a reference to Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows, a favorite target of Predators’ fans even before last season’s Western Conference semifinal series, which Vancouver won in six games.

It was exactly the kind of thing those in attendance wanted to hear.

Briefly

• Defenseman Shane O’Brien signed a one-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche.

The 27-year-old was an unrestricted free agent who played 80 games for Nashville last season. He had two goals, seven assists and 83 penalty minutes in the regular season and then appeared in all 12 playoff contests.

He is the fourth Predators free agent to get a contract since the signing period began on July 1.

“We are pleased to have Shane under contract,” Colorado General Manager Greg Sherman said on the team’s website. “He adds depth and brings an element to our defense.”