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We don’t have to talk Kadri anymore; the Leafs could do worse than to follow the Nashville model of work, work, work

One good thing to come out of the Leaf brass’ earlier-than-expected decision to bring up Nazem Kadri last week is that the always-percolating “call-up” issue no longer exists.

Fair or not, worth all that ink and attention or not, the deal is now done.  The Leafs will be loathe to do anything but promote how well he is playing (the opposite of their tactic during training camp, when they wanted to settle down public expectations) and ensure he stays in the line-up.

Here’s the thing:  If they were to send Kadri back at any point, it would be seen as a much more serious statement about his future prospects with the big club.  So that will not happen.  No one really expected him to do anything other than go back to junior before last season, and while there was a rippling of hope that he would make the jump out of camp this year, most fans recognized, I think, that a stint with the Marlies would be time very well spent.

In truth, there is no reason to suspect Kadri will ever have to go back down.  He certainly has the talent to play at this level.  His real impact will only be apparent over time, but he can make plays.  That much we know.

But now, fans don’t have to spend time any hoping for him to get the call.  It’s happened.  Fans will focus on what's here, not on who might be on the way.

The Predators started this season well but after an injury to Ryan Suter they have struggled in recent games.  However, they have had some slow starts in recent years and seem to have a history of playing better as the season wears on.

Nashville, as a hockey franchise, is often looked at kind of sideways by those of us in “big” (if not necessarily successful, mind you) hockey markets here in Canada, especially Toronto.  We tend to clump a lot of southern U.S. hockey markets under the same umbrella—Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina, Phoenix and yes, Nashville.

Amazingly, somehow both Carolina and Tampa Bay have managed to win a Stanley Cup, something that has eluded the well-monied Toronto franchise lo these many years.

But in terms of consistency, I don’t know if you can find a better model to build a franchise than what the Nashville Predators have accomplished since joining the NHL in the late 1990s.

While there have been some ownership glitches, and years where they had precious little money to spend, they have stayed with the same management team since Day One.  David Poile, who built the Washington Capitals into a contending franchise back in the early 1980s from the ground floor up (when that was not easy to do), has been the GM from the get-go.  He hired Barry Trotz a year before they even iced a team, and Trotz is still, remarkably, the man behind the bench.

While they have not had significant playoff success, they have, with a limited budget in a small hockey market, been able to compete very well through the years.  They seemingly get a bit better every year in the tough Western Conference.  That speaks volumes about their ability to draft, develop and make the best personnel moves they can make under sometimes very difficult circumstances.

Just a couple of years back budget constraints put them in a position where they were virtually having to give some players away.  Yet Poile has continued to keep the team very competitive, despite not having top-five draft picks since their early days.

What’s the secret ingredient?  I’m not completely sure.  But what it seems to me to be is that they rarely miss on players.  That is, they bring in some guys that can score, but mostly they draft and or sign and trade for character, guys with a very strong work ethic.  Every night (almost) is the same movie with these guys.  Dump the puck in, go chase it.  Bang around.  Be physical.  Try to keep goals against down and take advantage of the other’s teams mistake and impatience.

In the early days it was with Vokoun and Dunham in goal.  They finally let Vokoun go, but Rinne is there now and may be able to help them move ahead come playoff time.

From what I remember, Tom Fitzgerald (who later spent some time with the Leafs under Pat Quinn) and Scott Walker were the meat and potato veteran leaders in the early days.  I seem to recall Greg Johnson came on board a bit later, too.  There was not much fancy about their games.  Just a lot of sandpaper and desire.

Cliff Ronning added a bit of dash, as did Steve Sullivan later on.  David Legwand was their first-ever high draft pick, and Scott Hartnell was another early high pick who joined the team at 18 and just kept getting better every year.  (Hartnell was one of those that had to be let go a a few years ago because of salary issues.)

Former Canadian World Junior forward Jordin Tootoo, still around every many years in Nashville, is almost the epitome of a Predator—intense, competitive, not maybe the most skilled guy but someone who fights for every inch and ice and can happily drop the gloves if needed.

Over the years Poile drafted wisely and developed guys like defenseman Dan Hamhuis (now in Vancouver), and just kept inching the squad along, bit by bit, year after year.

A few seasons ago they even tried bringing in Forsberg for a playoff run.  Didn’t help them advance, but it sent a great message to their supporters.

After all these years, Legwand is still there.  Sullivan, too.  Martin Erat has been a consistent, dependable player for many years.  On the back end they have two fine young leaders in Weber and Suter.  But I would venture that few, if any Leaf fans would look at their forwards and say, we have to get one of those guys here.

Yet, they compete.  They had a great playoff series this past April, and by all rights should have advanced into the second round.

So again, what’s their “model”?

I guess it’s character.  And toughness.  And good coaching.  Throw in continuity and  investing limited dollars wisely.

Every team talks about those things.  Few make it happen.  But Nashville is one of those that has.  The Leafs could do far worse than follow that model.


Quick update:  My colleague Buddy Oakes from a very good hockey blog, Preds on the glass, just forwarded a link to a story about the Preds at           

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