NASHVILLE -- Paul Kariya could have played just about anywhere he wanted, including Edmonton, but he surprised a lot of people when he chose Nashville.
But, according to Kariya, the only people who should have been surprised by his move to Tennessee are people who don't know hockey.
He'd done his research, completed his due diligence and, most importantly, played against the Preds enough times to know they are an emerging power in the NHL.
And after an 8-0-1 start, the second best in NHL history behind the 1993 Toronto Maple Leafs (10-0), Nashville really does look like the place to be.
"The most important thing is the hockey situation here. I really like their hockey club,'' said the seven-time All-star and 2002 Olympic gold medallist. "If you're not a big-time hockey person who sees them play a lot you wouldn't realize what kind of talent they have here. They have all the makings of a really good team that's getting better. It's a good fit.''
Kariya should know. When he hit the free-agent market last summer, he dissected each interested team like he was a forensic scientist.
"He asked about everybody from trainers and minor-league players to NHL players,'' said head coach Barry Trotz, who said it was more a case of Kariya interviewing the Predators rather than the Predators interviewing Kariya.
"All you can be is honest and tell them what you think,'' said Trotz. "I told Paul, if you want to sit back and trap and play cautious hockey, then don't sign with us.
"But if you want to skate and be on an aggressive team that wants to push the envelope and be part of something special, then sign here.''
Kariya liked what he heard, and knew enough from all his trips here as a visitor that Trotz wasn't blowing smoke.
"From the first time I remember coming here, I never enjoyed playing against them, even in the first years of their expansion,'' said the speedy winger, who has a tidy 10 points on the season. "They always had really good skating clubs that work hard and it was never an easy night here. Their talent level has increased, but they've kept that talent level and that work ethic.''
A NEW LEVEL
Fast and scrappy with a no-nonsense coach and terrific netminding, Nashville has always been a handful, but the addition of Kariya, and Chicago's Steve Sullivan last season, lifted them to a whole new level.
"We had a good core group but it wasn't really recognizable,'' said Trotz. "Nobody knew who Tomas Vokoun was, nobody knew who Kimmo Timonen and those guys were. We had a good group and some really talented kids coming up, and by Paul choosing Nashville he's really validated what we've been trying to do."
Unfortunately they're one of about eight markets that's really having trouble drawing fan (the Preds are 23rd in attendance with 14,036 a night) but it's not for the lack of an exciting team.
"Nobody expected us to go 8-0, but we're happy with it," said Sullivan, who has 12 points in his first nine games.
"We've been lucky in three or four of our games, we still haven't put a good 60-minute game together, but we have a lot of speed here and a lot of skill and we're using it to our advantage.''