by J.R. Lind
This Week In The 'Drome: Poile's gamble, Tootoo's adieu, Baker bounced, an All-Star city and more ...
Omission v. Commission : In the end, Ryan Suter opted for hotdish over hot chicken.
The NHL's top free-agent defenseman inked a 13-year, $98 million deal with the Minnesota Wild — owned by Predators' founding owner Craig Leipold — and doing so, rebuffed Nashville, which reportedly made a similarly structured offer.
Suter cited the well-worn "family reasons" for his decision. He'll also get to play with top forward free agent Zach Parise, who signed an identical deal for the Wild, making this South Beach awfully similar to that one.
David Poile is irked (and so is Shea Weber). He says Suter promised him — in November — that he'd remain a Nashville Predator. It seems that Poile took Suter at his word, figuring after a few days of Rumspringa, he'd come back to Nashville.
He was wrong.
Where's the fans' vitriol aimed? Well, that's a moving target. Thirty NHL clubs knew all along Suter would command a hefty payday, but the scion of an American hockey legacy also said he wanted to contend, to compete for a Stanley Cup. He chose a team that's been to the playoffs but twice, and not in five seasons. Certainly, the Wild are better today than they were, but we aren't talking about a team that was on the cusp of a championship.
Some folks are pointing the finger at Poile, claiming he didn't do enough to entice Suter to stay, but it's hard to see what more he could have done at the trade deadline. He added the parts he needed. Sure, he could have made a run at Jeff Carter, the former Columbus forward traded to L.A. — proving a crucial part of the Kings' Cup run. Carter was shipped from the Blue Jackets for a laughably low cost, but there's no way of knowing if the Jackets would have traded him within the division.
And perhaps there was someone out there — a truly top-flight goal-scorer — who would have been available to add, but at what cost? What if that cost was Ryan Suter himself? And for all the "I-told-you-so" crowd — if this season was Nashville's best chance to win a Cup, you would have been A-OK with trading one of the team's three biggest stars right in the middle of the run? Sure you would have been.
Poile's sin may be one of naivete rather than mismanagement. He, apparently, took Suter at his November word, never thinking he was out of it, always thinking he'd have the last crack.
His gamble didn't pay off, but, hey, there's plenty of blame to go around.
Now attention turns to re-signing Shea Weber — and hopes that Poile won't make the same mistake twice.
In the meantime, the Predators look at finding a partner for their captain and while the sky is darker today, it's not falling.
The Week Behind
Heel Turn : Before Sunday, Jordin Tootoo was not the most popular man in the Motor City, as well-liked as new fuel standards. Even after he signed with the Detroit Red Wings, he's still not universally beloved.
Jordin Tootoo, arguably the most beloved Predator of all time, signed with the villainous Red Wings and, in the mold of all great heel turns, managed to make no one happy.
Once-whistle-tooting Predators fans can't believe Tootoo would play for the enemy, the pay raise be damned.
Red Wings fans struggle to find something nice to say about their new acquisition, the Predator who, pre-Shea Weber's glass-aided shoving of Henrik Zetterberg, was the most hated of the Nashville players.
Expert trolling, Jordin. Look forward to seeing you Dec. 15.
Baker Bounced : Brian Baker's remarkable run at the All-England Club came to an end with a straight-set loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber, but there's good news.
First of all, Baker's failure to reach the quarterfinals is no disappointment, of course. He was a qualifier and had a decent run after more than five years off the tour. More importantly, though: Baker will crack the Top 100 in the rankings he started the year 458th and that means a guaranteed berth in any future Grand Slam, including the upcoming U.S. Open.
Garbage Time: Vandy gave Melanie Balcomb a contract extension, which helps explain her new home. ... The Titans announced their public practice schedule for training camp. ... A Knoxville woman who helped inspire A League Of Their Own died this week. ... David Givens is suing the Titans again. ... And happy trails to MTSU baseball coach Steve Peterson, retiring after a quarter century in the 'Boro.
Quincy Poindexter Teaches Physics: We at SouthComm sure do write about charter schools a lot, but somehow this one slipped under the radar.
The Memphis Grizzlies have been approved to operate a charter school. As far as we can tell, none of the other Tennessee-based professional sports teams have decided to make a foray into the world of semi-public education — presumably, the Titans wouldn't ask Pacman Jones to be the adjunct on personal finance.
Cold Calling Balboni: In this month's edition of Nashville Post magazine, Ken Whitehouse's Where Are They Now feature tackles, perhaps, the most beloved Nashville Sound of all: sweet swinging bomber Steve "Bye Bye" Balboni [paywall warning], who would later win a World Series in Kansas City.
What's Balboni up to? He's an advance scout for the San Francisco Giants, but he fondly remembers his time with the Guitar Swingers, which — contrary to our collective memory — was just one season:
“I fell in love with Nashville; I just had the best time,” he said. “My only regret is we didn't win the league championship that year. We got to the game, though, just couldn't get the win. It was a good team, good guys and the people in Nashville were tremendous.”
The Week Ahead
Three Stars For Tennessee : Three Middle Tennesseans will get a chance at Tuesday's All-Star Game in Kansas City.
Braves second baseman and man of Columbia Dan Uggla will get the start for the National League at the pivot, voted in by the fans. Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey of Nashville and Rays fireballing Murfreesborian David Price were chosen for the pitching staffs by managers Tony LaRussa and Ron Washington, respectively.
The burning question is whether Dickey and Price will get the start, making the first few innings an all-Tennessee affair.
The Mets are kicking the tires on how to use Dickey the rest of the week. His arm isn't so much the issue as is how a move in the rotation affects the rest of the staff. Dickey's knuckler doesn't put much wear and tear on the arm and he can, if managed correctly, theoretically pitch every other day, but that's not the case for, say Johan Santana.
Price started Wednesday against the Yankees and won't pitch again before Tuesday — indeed, he would be scheduled to pitch for the Rays but for the All-Star Break — but the pressure on Washington to start Tigers star Justin Verlander may be too great.
Worthless Prediction: Everyone wants to see Dickey get the start, so unless he's somehow made an enemy of LaRussa, he oughta get the ball first. Price? That's dicier and we may not know until the very last minute.
What's Next? : David Poile has to do something.
He's got to find a partner for Shea Weber — first and foremost. Young Swiss blueliner Roman Josi may very well be a first pair defenseman, but he's not there yet. If he moves up — assuming the hilarious sight-gag third pair is going to be gigantic Hal Gill and diminutive Ryan Ellis — that leaves a hole beside Kevin Klein on the middle pair. There are options in the system — but there's nothing appealing about critical minutes for Jon Blum or Mattias Ekholm. Suitable Plan B Matt Carle signed with Tampa. Pittsburgh's Paul Martin may be available in a trade, as might Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester — whose $6.6 million cap hit is often scoffed at, but could be helpful in getting the Predators to a reasonable cap number, as they are currently $15 million or so from reaching the floor.
And as Titans fans once clamored for a big-time wide receiver, the Predators fans clamor still for that elusive top-flight goal scorer. These, friends, are not grown on trees and there is no real-life Create-a-Player feature or a way to force a trade. There are some free agency options — Russian winger Alex Semin is out there — and there are trade options — Anaheim is allegedly shopping Bobby Ryan again.
And then there's the nuclear option: trading Shea Weber now for a boatload — presumably including a young scorer.
That likely isn't going to happen, unless Weber is forthright with Poile about his intentions and those intentions absolutely don't include the Predators.
Worthless Prediction: Poile will find his man on defense and it'll likely be via trade. The price will be high — as even the goofiest GMs in the league know they have Poile over a barrel after Suter's departure. As for the forward? That may be harder to work without a blockbuster deal.
Are We Cool? : For the better part of the 20th century, Nashville carefully crafted its image: It was a place where dreams came true.
Stars were made here: Unwashed talents trickled into the city, worked hard, got a chance, eventually subsuming themselves to the machine, coming out on the other side with bouffant hair and a Nudie suit, backed by Owen Bradley's sweeping symphony of quasi-country sounds.
The super-talented that resisted the machine — Hank and Johnny come to mind — become our biggest successes, but those that succumbed had their own reasonable level of success.
Nashville carved its niche — successful to a certain degree, appealing to a certain market. Work hard, follow the rules, do what works and you'll get yours.
Sound like a familiar formula? Both the Predators and the Titans have followed that pattern to some degree and, as such, have had moderate but not smashing success.
Now Nashville the City has an image evolving: declared "Cool! No, Really!" by GQ, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and other coastal arbiters of hip.
Free agent recruitment is a lot like economic development: sell yourself as a city on the up, a place people want to come to. Nashville's embraced that New South Boosterism as a city — going for the "what a great place to live!" vibe in the 90s and early 2000s, but now, embracing our new apparent coolness, trying hard to attract young, techy firms in addition to stodgy industrial behemoths.
We're more than a middle-of-the-dial, south-of-the-Mason-Dixon hit machine — or at least we tell ourselves that. We try to convince ourselves we're the primo destination for nearly every big-ticket event under the sun from college football to baseball to the Super Bowl.
As for our sports teams: They are content to sell Nashville the old fashioned way. Friend Of The 'Drome Sam Page wrote about this back in February:
That's why Barry Trotz, David Poile, and the rest of the Predators organization need to change their tune. Stop selling Nashville as a suburb and start selling it as a stage. Nashville needs to be a place players come to challenge for the Stanley Cup every year, with private schools and income taxes being small things that tip the scale against Detroit, not major selling points.
We can debate to death what "good schools" and "great place to live" really mean, but the fact is that it's not getting it done. No, Minneapolis isn't hipper than Nashville and that's not why Ryan Suter left. And did Derrick Mason's signing with the Ravens have anything to do with Baltimore being cooler than Nashville? Not really.
But these things can be tiebreakers. If Barry Trotz and David Poile and the now-departed, but still-casting-a-shadow original Titans regime are content to be Owen Bradley — having some success with a proven formula — or even if they are Phil Bredesen, talking about the charms of Nashville as a family destination, then maybe the Preds and the Titans need to find a Jack White, willing to leverage Music City's new-found cool oeuvre, willing to take some chances and willing to try something new.
Notes and jokes? Gotta get through July here, people. Hit me at jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com and listen Tuesday's at 4 when I join 102.5's Sports Revolution.