NASHVILLE - Want a glimpse at the future of the Winnipeg Jets?
Look no further than Nashville, Tennessee.
The Predators have built the kind of organization the Jets are talking about building, using the same principles the Jets tout.
In fact, Jets head coach Claude Noel guesses his time in the Preds organization — he spent four seasons as head coach of their American League affiliate in Milwaukee — played a role in his getting the job in Winnipeg.
“This is a role model for a lot of teams on how to draft and how to build a franchise,” Noel said. “It’s a pretty good formula. Having worked in this environment for eight years has helped me in a lot of ways.
“That may have come into play when I got hired here.”
Mainly using the draft — 16 members of the current roster are draft picks of the organization — and employing a stability that’s rare in pro sports, Nashville has built a team that’s made the playoffs six of the last seven seasons.
Just one other NHL team, the Detroit Red Wings, has won at least 40 games in each of the last seven years.
Another franchise cornerstone in Nashville is the family atmosphere. It’s not uncommon, for example, for head coach Barry Trotz to pick up new players at the airport.
Now in their 14th year, the Preds have had the same head coach and the same GM, David Poile, from the start.
Of course, you can serve homemade apple pie and ice cream every day, and if you’re a loser, nobody’s going to be happy for long.
“They’ve progressed every year, and they’ve drafted real well,” Noel said. “They’ve been consistent. This organization has really shown stability in their staff and personnel. They’ve stuck with people and it’s worked really good for them.”
Long a low-budget team that lost star players to free agency, the Preds are bulking up, financially, too.
Last year they won their first playoff series, and they made bold moves at this year’s deadline, ready to make a run at the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
“We’ve been the underdog it seems like forever,” Trotz said. “And we’ve been given a lot of credit for that. But if we’re going to grow as a franchise and an organization, you want to take the next step and not be an underdog. You want to be a team that everybody considers a top team in the NHL.”
RISK/REWARD: Jets centre Jim Slater hasn’t forgotten he missed half of last season with a concussion.
Dropping the gloves and exchanging punches with an opponent, though, the way he did to spark the Jets comeback in Washington, Friday, remains part of his job.
“Obviously you’re one punch away from having another one,” Slater said. “So it’s kind of in the back of your mind. But when the team needs something, I’m more than willing to go and do whatever that is.”
Friday’s scrap with Brooks Laich, Slater’s third fight of the season, came seconds after the faceoff following Winnipeg’s first goal of the game.
“I didn’t plan it. But you kind of know something has to be done at some point to get the team going. It was right after a goal to make it 3-1, and guys were starting to feel good. That maybe just added to the punch of it.”
The pun wasn’t intended.
The punches were.
“I don’t think either of us landed any,” Slater said. “It was more for show, I guess.”