There was a time when David Poile’s face would turn red as he blushed with pride anytime anyone referred to the Nashville Predators as a blue-collar team.
These days, the pride remains. So does the color in his cheeks, although now it includes a slight accent of anger or possibly indignation.
Nashville’s general manager pointed to Monday’s announcement that defenseman Shea Weber is a finalist for the 2011 Norris Trophy (indicative of the National Hockey League’s best defenseman) as further proof that his team’s success is a mix of talent and effort.
Weber became the second Predators player in less than a week to finish among the top three for one of the league’s individual performance-based awards. Goalie Pekka Rinne was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy (top goaltender) on Friday.
“Someone recently referred to us as a faceless team — I don’t think that’s the case anymore,” Poile said Monday, a day after Nashville won a playoff series for the first time in franchise history. “The Predators always get recognized as a hard-working team, which I like. But with Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne being recognized in this manner, it shows that we’re not just a blue-collar team. It shows we have potential stars on our team.”
Poile too has been recognized in his own right. Last Wednesday, he was named the first two-time finalist for the NHL’s General Manager of the Year award.
It it worth noting that different constituencies voted for the Norris, Vezina and general manager awards.
Weber was one of the top three choices, along with Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstron and Boston’s Zdeno Chara, among members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The NHL’s 30 general managers voted for the Vezina, and a panel of general managers, NHL executives, print and broadcast media selected the General Manager of the Year.
The winners will be announced June 22 as part of the NHL Awards show from Las Vegas.
Until now, Nashville never had a player named a finalist for an award based on individual success. Steve Sullivan won the 2009 Masterton Trophy, which rewards perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
“I know the voting is done already, but I think both [Weber and Rinne] have really good chances to win,” Poile said. “I really do.”
Weber ranked among the top 10 for defensemen in points, goals, power play goals (six), average ice time (25:19) and shots on goal (254) during the 2010-11 regular season as he appeared in all 82 games for the first time in his career. His 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists) were tied for third highest on the team and the most by a Nashville defenseman.
Chara, a Norris finalist for the third time in four seasons, was second among defensemen with 264 shots, had eight power play goals and averaged 25:26 of ice time. He had 44 points (14 goals, 30 assists).
Lidstrom, a six-time Norris winner (he’s been a finalist 11 times), had a career-high 11-game point streak on his way to 62 points (16 goals, 46 assists), which was second among all defensemen. He led his team with an average of 23:28 of ice time and was among the league’s top six defensemen in goals, points and power play goals
All three are captains of their respective teams.
Where they differ most — statistically speaking, at least — is in plus-minus rating.
Chara led all players, regardless of position, with a plus-33. Weber was a plus-7, and Lidstrom, who recorded nearly two-thirds of his points on the power play, was a minus-2.
“It’s been a memorable week for the Predators, that’s for sure,” Poile said.
Weber's rise to an elite player has come as one-half of the Predators’ top defense pairing, which also includes Ryan Suter. Together the two widely are regarded as one of the best units in the league.
Weber has been the breakout star around the league, as evidenced by his selection to the last two NHL All-Star Games and now his place as a Norris finalist. He also was a key player for Canada’s 2010 Olympic team, which won the gold medal.
He clearly played his best this season, though, when he was with Suter, who missed 11 games in November and December with a knee injury. In those games, Weber had just one goal and one assist and a minus-9 rating. Only once did he have a plus rating, and four times he was a minus-2.
“[Weber] is a bigger, more physical player. He has that booming shot and he scores more goals, which attracts a lot of attention,” Poile said. “We think they’re both terrific as individuals, but we think they’re even better as a unit.”
Presumably, Poile will feel nothing but pride if it turns out Weber’s been voted the league’s best.