While the world has united in global candlelit vigils over Auston Matthews‘ mysterious upper body injury; we should take a moment to remember that hockey also exists outside of Toronto. Actually, let’s go back to the mid 90s when music was still good and Nashville wanted its own hockey team.
In 1994, perhaps optimistically, construction started on the Nashville Arena, now the Bridgestone Arena. The plan was optimistic because there was no major league sports team lined up as a tenant. The Sacramento Kings said no. The New Jersey Devils kicked the tyres on the new house, no doubt tempted by the $20 million relocation bonus but ended up staying put.
After giving up on poaching an established team, in 1997 a bid was made to Uncle Gary by Leipold Hockey Holdings PLC, headed up by businessman Craig Leipold. After a rummage down the back of sofa, $80 million was handed over and in June 1997 along with Atlanta, Columbus and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville was granted its own NHL team.
With the franchise in the bag, it was time to add personnel. Jack Diller was named the first president of the team. David Poile was added as GM shortly after and brought the Portland Pirates head coach with him. That coach was Barry Trotz, who would go on to spend 15 seasons with the team.
To play in the NHL, your team has to have a name, and the management gave that choice to the people by having a public vote. The three finalists were ‘Ice Tigers’, ‘Fury’ and ‘Attack’. But to be fair, they were all pretty lame so Leipold threw a fourth option into the ring: ‘Predators’. Leipold’s option was chosen and the new team was christened the Nashville Predators. The sabre toothed tiger logo was chosen after remains of said cat were found in downtown Nashville in 1971. The actual animal died about 10,000 years ago, and was said to have been found next to a #68 jersey but scientists are still mystified by where this could have come from.
For the Preds to join the league, they had to prove there was a viable fan base by selling 12,000 season tickets. On September 27th, 1997, the Preds held The Ice Breaker Bash to drum up interest with displays, games and other such fun/bribery. If the team could sell the requesite number of tickets before March 31st, 1998 then they would join the league for the 1998/99 season. That target was hit, Uncle Gary gave the thumbs-up and the team was in.
Barry Trotz’s empty bench needed filling so on June 26th, the NHL held an expansion draft for the Predators. 26 players were taken although some like Uwe Krupp, Mike Richter and current Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan were all traded away before the start of the season. The NHL Entry Draft was the following day and the Preds picked Plymouth Whalers center David Legwand with the first overall pick. Cliff Ronning was aquired from the Phoenix Coyotes for future considerations. In the team’s inaugural season, the Preds went 28/47/7. Sergei Krivokasov scored the most goals with 25, while Ronning’s 53 points set the standard for others to follow.
The rest, as they say, is history.