The ice has barely melted at the Sommet Center, but the Nashville Predators’ coaching staff is already looking towards the 2008-2009 season.
The coaching staff, along with David Poile, President of Hockey Operations/General Manager, is heading to Milwaukee today to watch the Admirals play the rest of the week in the American Hockey League playoffs.
“I know we are going to be better and stronger in so many ways next season, “ said Poile. “We have a stable ownership. That is a necessity for us to do our jobs. We have a much more normal situation. I feel bullish on our future.”
Last year in late April, Poile couldn’t say that.
“Sitting here 12 months later you never know how things will turn out,” Poile said. “We were limited in our budget and resources. We had to go out and sign value free agents in Marty Gelinas, Radek Bonk, Jed Ortmeyer and Greg de Vries.
“Marty Gelinas was one of the best players we have ever signed here. When he got hurt we missed his veteran leadership. Radek Bonk got some big goals for us this year. Jed Ortmeyer unfortunately also had an ACL injury like Gelinas. And Greg de Vries was paired with Dan Hamhuis as the No. 1 defensive pairing that was used in shutdown situations.”
Also signed as a free agent last summer was goaltender Dan Ellis. He will be an unrestricted free agent again this summer.
“He was such an unheralded signing that we thought so highly of that we signed him to a two-way contract,” Poile said. “We told him in all likelihood he would spend most of the year in Milwaukee. We know how that turned out.”
With the new ownership group set, Poile had plans to make a major splash at the trade deadline, but he wasn’t able to close on a big player.
“At the 11th hour of the trade deadline we got Jan Hlavac,” Poile said. “I’m sure our coaching staff had to look him up. But I don’t know if we go to the playoffs without Jan.”
Poile saw a lot of good times, but more than his share of bad times.
“When we lost 6-0 at Los Angeles for our sixth straight loss, I just felt rotten,” Poile said. “But we bounced back as a team. It has been a rewarding year for everybody.
“The new ownership team has been fantastic. The fans were also fantastic. At the timeouts the fans were the loudest ever. I have never seen that before. I really feel that the Predators are here for the long run.”
Coach Barry Trotz would like for the 2008-2009 season to be a little less challenging on a number of fronts.
“It was the toughest group to gauge,” Trotz said. “It was the toughest group to really get a handle on. But it was a group that responded the best in very trying times.
“We had a lot of adversity. It was sort of amazing at times how we did things. But we got it done. It wasn’t a storybook start. It was horror story, but we got things going. This group really bought in. And they had to buy in.”
While the composition of next year’s team is uncertain Trotz thinks this year’s team laid a firm foundation.
“There were a lot of reasons why they shouldn’t have made the playoffs,” Trotz said. “They never used any of those excuses. They just got it done.
“I like to build an organization with character, resiliency and a no-excuse attitude. They gave us a renewed foundation.”