By J.J. From Kansas, Winging It In Motown
Friends, cousins, country-men: We are gathered here to celebrate a death.
I know it sounds crass to do something so low as celebrate one's passing, but I think you'll find that a celebration is exactly what's in order. For you see, we're not here to celebrate the death of the Nashville Predators' season, but the death of the traditional Nashville Predators Eulogy.
This has traditionally been one of the hardest teams to eulogize at season's end because it's hard to build up hate for an underdog nobody. So we're here to bury jokes about Nashville only having 12 fans, and that is a good thing. Now that Preds fans number in the thousands, we just can't pull that tired trope back out for another victory lap.
But just as we go ashes to ashes and dust to dust, there's a certain beauty in the fledgling idea that, while Nashville has thousands of screaming and adoring fans, they still only share about 12 unique family genomes among them ...
The new poster child for success in a southern hockey market (you know, other than Phoenix), the Nashville Predators have a lot to be proud about this year. I'm not entirely sure where the term "poster child" originated, since I don't think I've ever actually owned a poster that had a minor on it, but it seems an oddly fitting phrase for a team which has not only been the butt of Chris Hanson jokes for as long as I can remember, but also seems to have such a hilarious lack of awareness about it that they still insist on using the song of a convicted child molester to celebrate goals ...
I'm off track already, though. This isn't all about an organization that just doesn't get it, it's also about a fanbase that's every bit as hilariously naive as the people running the show.
I mean, this is the same year where a guy I've long thought was one of the best GMs in hockey willingly traded for Brett Lebda, a few months before defiantly deciding to "go for it" this year by reuniting the Kostitsyns (after it had worked out so well for Montreal); acquiring the world's tallest pylon; and chucking a first-rounder at Paul Gaustad to put the finishing touches on a roster that's like the Wal-Mart brand equivalent of a good hockey team.
Sure, they had all of the same basic ingredients for a good squad: the killer goaltending, the solid defense, a forward corps that finally can put the puck in the net with regularity. But just like "Honey and Nut Happy-Os" have all of the same basic stuff as the name-brand box, putting it all together and actually trying it out leaves you with that tinny kind of taste in your mouth and the mortifying fear that you've just made yourself dumber for ever thinking that it was going to compare.
Even garnishing it with some late-season radish couldn't cover up the cheap crappy flavor. (Note to editor: Please don't cut this joke, the eulogies need at least one bad-taste/vegetable joke to make it through ...)
Of course, the fanbase that grew up learning hockey in the classroom led by Pete Weber and Terry Crisp never knew any better. When the senile and simplistic Crispy is constantly puking dumb platitudes and flat-out wrong information directly into their brains from the minute their hockey fandom is conceived, it's hard to blame them when they don't quite "get it." They don't really know that their Wal-Mart brand of hockey team doesn't truly compare because they've never had the name-brand box.
It's not that Nashville fans aren't capable of learning, far from it; it's just that when you have your sixth birthday party at a Hooters, you can't quite appreciate it the next year when your foster family takes you to Chuck E. Cheese's, gives you a juice box instead of a beer, and presents you with a cake that isn't shaped like boobies with pasty-shaped candles on top.
And that's just what the Predators' fanbase is. They're the Hooters of hockey fans: Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined. The fans finally get an invitation to cheer among the club made of fans who have been there and done that, then proceed to show up wearing camouflage to a black tie event and chant "You suck!" during the handshakes.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
People are going to cheer how they're going to cheer and if there's anything I've learned about the South, it's that they don't appreciate being told how to act by people from states who have always counted all of their citizens as 5/5ths of a person when it comes time for the census.
It really is hard to eulogize the Predators as victims of a harrowing dose of reality when they entered the second round against a team they were supposed to handle easily — and who also hadn't learned the difference between "regular season ball-swingers" and "actual contenders" — but here we are in the wreckage of another fanbase's dreams among the wails of "this was supposed to be our year!"
What's going to be even more sad is to watch the team that bet the house on this season actually lose their house (wheels and all) when Ryan Suter decides he wants to play for an actual winner, Shea Weber handcuffs the team again and Alex Raddles the Wonderdonna happily skips his way back to the KHL and the only thing that's ever made him happy: tiny giraffes.
When Mike Smith is more offensively dangerous than you in an elimination game, I think it's safe to say you're not really into it.
Who can blame them for thinking that Martin Erat is an actual good hockey player? He led the team in scoring this season with a blistering 58, putting him all alone in 68th place league-wide. But when your team sees Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne consistently shut down people much more talented than he is, it's hard to put everything in its correct perspective. The uninitiated (and frankly gullible) eye sees that Erat is scoring and starts to think that he belongs on a good team's top offensive line.
If cute and dumb go hand-in-hand, Nashville fans are puppies wearing little nurse coats licking the sadness off a baby's face.
Then again, this is the same fanbase that grew by leaps and bounds for the sole reason that they acquired Mr. Carrie Underwood. Or maybe they heard Ken Daniels describe the Bridgestone (ironically) as a "college-like atmosphere" and decided that it would look really good on a resume if only they could make it through the tough curriculum. These people willingly cheer for Patric Hornqvist, who looks like Lieutenant Dangle with a goiter and who "accidentally" falls on goalies so often that I almost regret not seeing a Nashville/New Jersey final series just to see if I could get the nickname "The Brodeur Frotteur" to stick.
But nothing, not anything will ever top the hilarious turn when it came to light that the selfish A-holes that the idiot apologists welcomed with open arms were (surprise!) still selfish A-holes! There was so much self-delusion coming out of Tennessee about the Radulov and Kostitsyn acquisitions, you'd think they had dug up the bones of J.T. Scopes just to have another go at him in court.
So take heart, Preds fans. You may have turned from a perennial first-round exit to a perennial second-round exit, but at least you won the Red Wings Cup this year; although somebody from the Penguins should probably tell the Western Conference that the playoffs only end for Eastern teams after eliminating Detroit.
Really, congrats, Preds fans. The hockey world is now aware that you exist. They still don't respect you, but let's start with baby steps... wait, let's not phrase it like that around Gary Glitter fans. Let's take it one step at a time out of 12. That way, you'll feel that much closer to Jordin Tootoo!
(Special thanks to WIIM's Josh Howard for the pretty pictures)
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Nashville Predators
- Detroit Red Wings