The Nashville Predators concede they were not themselves this season.
Fissures in the "culture" they preach so consistently were evident in any number of ways, including their inability to consistently frustrate opposing teams and a lack of trust among the players. Most notably, of course, they were nowhere near a spot in the playoffs when the regular season ended Saturday with a 3-1 loss at Columbus.
Next season they would like to be the Ducks.
“We believe that we can be a team like Anaheim this year who was out of it last year, made a few adjustments and were right back — a top team in the league,” center Mike Fisher said. “We feel like we can be that with the guys coming back and with some young guys … getting better next year, and maybe getting a couple other key veteran guys in the right places. Maybe a little more scoring.
“That’s not easy to do and it might not happen overnight, but that’s the plan and it’s what we’re all looking forward to. We don’t see ourselves being in this position long at all.”
The Predators, who cleaned out their lockers and began exit interviews with coaches and management Sunday, were one of two Western Conference teams that made the playoffs in 2012 but failed to do so this year. The other was the Phoenix Coyotes, and the same was true of the three in the East.
Anaheim was one of two to make it this season after having missed out a year ago, when it finished 13th in the West. It starts the upcoming postseason as the second seed in the conference to Chicago and one of three NHL teams to win at least 30 games in the regular season.
The Ducks did all of that with largely the same players. Eight of their top 12 scorers in 2012-13 also were among the top 12 in 2011-12 and the top five were the same, albeit in a slightly different order.
“We can get better,” captain Shea Weber said. “Every guy, myself included, we can all be better next year and we can all be better together. I think there were times where some guys were going and some guys weren’t going. It wasn’t a collective thing where everyone was going at the same time. We need to get better at that.”
Nashville’s drop was a precipitous one — from the No. 4 seed and the third-highest point total in the regular season to 14th in West. Not since 2001-02 had it finished next-to-last in the conference standings, and 2002-03 was the last time it finished outside the top 10.
The last time the Predators missed the playoffs (2008-09) they finished three points behind the eighth-place team. This time, in a season shortened to 48 games, they were 14 points out of that last playoff spot.
“It’s different,” center David Legwand said. “The last eight or nine years it’s always come down to the last game and we put ourselves in good position. This year was different – the shortened schedule and the different things that happened during the season. … We have to move on and be ready to go when training camp starts.”
Coach Barry Trotz noted that there were four key statistical areas — goals for, goals against, power play success and penalty kill success — in which Nashville ranked among the top 10 in 2011-12.
The best it did in any of those areas this time was 17th in the power play. The Predators tied Florida for the fewest goals scored and were next-to-last in the penalty kill with an all-time worst success rate of 75.5 percent, which is likely the best illustration of what an atypical season this was.
The penalty kill ranked among the league’s top 12 in nine of the franchise’s 13 seasons, and six times in the previous seven seasons it was 10th or better. In 82 games last season, Nashville allowed 40 power play goals. In 48 contests this time opponents converted 34 times.
“Part of that culture is how you practice, how you’re able to practice,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We had a real short training camp. Maybe we had some guys that are not on board. … We are a grinding, sort of persistent, relentless-type team and maybe the schedule — playing every second day … I’ve asked myself, ‘Are you able to play that way every second day?’ ”
The Nashville Predators could not. Not these Nashville Predators, at least.
“I don’t really feel we — as a group — felt like we were ourselves all year, for whatever reason,” Fisher said. “We have to kind of get back to our identity of being a real hard team to play against, outworking teams, finding ways to win and being a playoff team.”