As of March 18, the Nashville Predators sit in 9th place, just four points out of the playoffs.
If someone told me that they might be playoff-bound at the beginning of the year, I'd be laughing, but then I'd ponder the facts.
In the 2006-2007 NHL season, the Nashville Predators finished fourth in the Eastern Conference. They went into the post season and had an exciting series versus an underrated San Jose Sharks team.
In the off season, they unloaded their big names, in the chance that the team would be bought by Jim Balsille or another owner in the wings in waiting. That would not happen, but the unloading began.
Peter Forsberg flew back to Sweden; one of the dominant forwards in the NHL was gone, and of course, a big deadline deal player was wasted. Paul Kariya, the speedy winger signed with St. Louis, in the chance that he could change things around for another franchise.
Timonen and Hartnell went to Philidelphia where things were changing for the good, after the Flyers had finished last in the NHL in points that year. Vishnevski went to New Jersey, where Lou Lamorillo pulled another smart move to improve his defense.
Then, of course, Vokoun went to Florida, where he continues to flourish into one of the best goaltenders in the league. Still top 10 in wins and save percentage in the league, while playing on a team not known for good defense, ask Roberto Luongo. Not to mention, Steve Sullivan one of the best shifty and agile forwards in the league, is still on the injured reserve all of this season.
So everyone had projected the Predators to hit rock bottom, yet they are still fighting for a playoff spot at this point in the season.
How have the Predators been able to put themselves in a chance to play in the playoffs for another year, after losing their most valuable players from the year before?
It starts with Barry Trotz. Who, you ask?
Well Trotz is the current Predators coach and longest reigning NHL coach in one place. He's been a great teacher, coach, and trainer in the NHL.
He's grown their talent to play a great system in Nashville, and that has made all the difference. He's been able to make the Predators go from the bottom, to mediocre to good to great, every single year, until this year.
This year has been an exception for Trotz, as he hasn't had enough talent to help this team progress on that path. Players like Mason, who was supposed to replace Vokoun in net, hasn't prospered this year, instead he's been hot and cold.
On the other hand, players who have help Trotz and the Predators push for the playoffs have been:
Arnott, leading this team by example and in points.
Radulov, improving on a rookie season and great post season.
The defense complying to Trotz's system have been Suter, Zidlicky, and DeVries.
With the improvements of these players and Trotz's system still in tact, they are a team to reckon with.
So watch out for Trotz and his Predators, as they might be heading to a playoff game near you.