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25 NASHVILLE Predators
Pete McEntegart
October 14, 2002
Here's a guarantee: This undermanned club won't make the postseason
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October 14, 2002

25 Nashville Predators

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

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Erat, Arkhipov and Legwand best of the bunch



Lacks a stopper to match against top players



Dunham a solid workhorse, gives team a chance



Excellent coaching, hustle make penalty killing work



Slow progress, but G.M. Poile building good product

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.

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