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25 NASHVILLE Predators
Tim Crothers
October 16, 2000
Nouveau Country music fan Mike Dunham acknowledges that much of his first two seasons as the goalie of expansion Nashville would make sufficiently melancholy fodder for a Hank Williams song. Lyrics to The Ballad of Mike Dunham would disclose that with poor ol' Mike between the pipes, the Predators have twice finished last in the Central Division with a defense that has lacked size, strength and experience, and an offense that last season was the only one in the Western Conference that couldn't score 200 goals. True story: Dunham went to dinner at Barbara Mandrell's house and got a pep talk for dessert. "There have been some games when the ice seemed tilted down in our direction," Dunham says. "But we knew this team was going to make progress in baby steps."
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October 16, 2000

25 Nashville Predators

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Insider

CATEGORY

SI RANKING

SKINNY

FORWARDS

26

Rookie Classen may be a nice surprise

DEFENSE

27

Unit has difficulty clearing the puck

GOALTENDING

19

No. 1 Dunham is injury-prone but talented

SPECIAL TEAMS

24

Fitzgerald and Johnson shine as penalty killers

MANAGEMENT

8

Poile and Trotz have franchise pointed right way

Nouveau Country music fan Mike Dunham acknowledges that much of his first two seasons as the goalie of expansion Nashville would make sufficiently melancholy fodder for a Hank Williams song. Lyrics to The Ballad of Mike Dunham would disclose that with poor ol' Mike between the pipes, the Predators have twice finished last in the Central Division with a defense that has lacked size, strength and experience, and an offense that last season was the only one in the Western Conference that couldn't score 200 goals. True story: Dunham went to dinner at Barbara Mandrell's house and got a pep talk for dessert. "There have been some games when the ice seemed tilted down in our direction," Dunham says. "But we knew this team was going to make progress in baby steps."

When Barry Trotz talks about his team, it is with the telltale tunnel vision of an expansion coach: He proudly points out that last season his team played in 42 games decided by one goal or fewer. (Trotz neglects to mention that it won only 15 of those nail-biters.) The club has won 28 games in each of its first two seasons, more than any other expansion team in the '90s, and Nashville was one of only nine teams in 1999-2000 to improve its totals of goals scored and goals allowed over those of the previous season. Trotz expects a breakthrough year from explosive second-year center David Legwand, the No. 2 pick in the draft in '98, who had 13 goals and 15 assists in '99-00, and he is hoping for a cavalry charge of talented prospects such as forwards Denis Arkhipov, Scott Hartnell and Pavel Skrbek to upgrade the club's size and speed before season's end. "In two years we've had rime to weed out our roster and build enough depth to create competition for jobs," Trotz says. "It's time for our guys to stop asking themselves, 'Do we belong in the NHL?' "

Dunham, 28, is looking to erase his reputation as a streaky goalie following an off-season during which the avid golfer drained his first hole in one and married a Nashville news anchorwoman. "I hope those are positive omens for this season," Dunham says. "If our team can make a serious run at the playoffs, then maybe we can shed that expansion label for good."

Not so fast. These guys aren't playoff Predators yet, just less vulnerable prey.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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