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25 Nashville
Team Page | 2002-2003 Schedule | Roster | 2001-2002 Player Stats | Arrivals and departures

Here's a guarantee: This undermanned club won't make the postseason

By Pete McEntegart

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Scott Hartnell.  Elsa/Getty Images
SI Fast Fact
Barry Trotz has coached the Predators since they joined the NHL in '98-99, a span of 328 games. The only man to guide an expansion team from its start for longer was Terry Crisp (Tampa, 391 matches).
SI Insider Rankings
Offense: 24
Erat, Arkhipov and Legwand best of the bunch
Defense: 27
Lacks a stopper to match against top players
Goaltending: 15
Dunham a solid workhorse, gives team a chance
Special Teams: 23
Excellent coaching, hustle make penalty killing work
Management: 20
Slow progress, but G.M. Poile building good product

Sports Illustrated It was a terrific summer for right wing Scott Walker. On July 9 he shot his first hole in one. Two days later his wife, Julie, gave birth to their first child, son Cooper. In September, Walker rejoined his teammates on the ice after missing the last 39 games of 2001-02 because of postconcussion syndrome. Says Walker, "I'm excited to be around the guys again."

The Predators will need a reversal of fortune as dramatic as Walker's to meet owner Craig Leipold's guarantee that the team will reach the playoffs this season. (If it doesn't, he will refund the 6% increase in the cost of season tickets this year, the first price jump in the franchise's five-year history.) In 2001-02 Nashville tied for 13th in the talent-heavy Western Conference with 69 points, 25 behind the Canucks, who took the final playoff spot. The Predators didn't do much in the off-season to help themselves, adding four journeyman forwards -- Brent Gilchrist, Denis Pederson, Domenic Pittis and Clarke Wilm.

Worse, the playoff pledge has put unaccustomed pressure on the players, who have enjoyed a honeymoon in Nashville. "If we're 10-10 after 20 games, but two points out of a playoff spot, we'll be asked about missing the postseason," says Walker, who scored only four goals last year after a career-best 25 in 2000-01. "We're going to hear about it all year."

The Predators do have virtues. The gifted young line of Denis Arkhipov, Vladimir Orszgah and Martin Erat (average age: 23) speaks well for the future, and solid goalie Mike Dunham keeps Nashville in most games. General manager David Poile has patiently used the draft to accumulate talent, and he could see some more of those top picks -- in particular, forwards Scott Hartnell, 20, and David Legwand, 22 -- start to contribute regularly this year.

Coach Barry Trotz counts Walker's return as the equivalent of a significant acquisition, but will that be enough to reach the playoffs? "In terms of developing with youth, this is about where I thought we'd be in Year Five," Trotz says. "But I didn't expect the West to be as dominant as it is."

That doesn't sound much like a guarantee.

Issue date: October 14, 2002