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Is it possible neither to over or underwhelm, but simply to whelm? For the Preds' Martin Erat, yes.

All's Whelm That Ends Well

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Near the beginning of the best reimagining of The Taming of the Shrew since Moonlighting — 1999's wildly underappreciated 10 Things I Hate About You — a pre-Dwyane Wade Gabrielle Union has an exchange with a pre-falling-off-the-face-of-the-earth Larisa Oleynik.

"I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?" Union's Chastity asks. Oleynik's Bianca responds, with on-the-button-nose timing, "I think you can in Europe."

"Whelmed," it should be noted, is an actual word: an archaic nautical term for "capsized or buried," though that usage has been ... well, whelmed as its prefixed cousins have taken over.

The definition which Bianca is foisting on us — her European definition, if you will: to be simply satisfied— is archly underused.

Too often in sport do we expect to be overwhelmed by a performance or player — an underdog who wildly exceeds our expectations. Cynics and hand-sitters are just as frequently underwhelmed, as an athlete can never live up to their "worth."

Rarely are we as observers satisfied when expectations are met.

This season, and especially since Christmas, the Predators have overwhelmed Nashville and the hockey world with a run of form as efficient as the Disney machine that churned out 10 Things.

In the middle of the surprising maelstrom is Martin Erat. The whirling-dervish Czech started his career by overwhelming fans as a seventh-round pick who quickly emerged as one of the team's top offensive threats. Then in 2007, he signed an astonishing seven-year, $31.5 million deal. Since then, largely because of that contract, he has been underwhelming — never quite living up to the expectations dictated by the millions he's paid, despite four 50-point seasons in the six seasons since the lockout. (In the other two, he managed 49.)

This season, however, Erat is simply whelming.

He leads the team in points — as he should as the Predators' top-paid forward — and barring injury, should have a career-best year, as he's pacing for 64 points.

As usual, he should manage his predestined 20 goals, but he's contributing more assists than ever before — and that's a reflection of the change in the team as a whole.

Scoring by committee is nothing new in Nashville. Never have the Predators been a team with one or two thrilling scorers. Instead, coach Barry Trotz and GM David Poile have been satisfied with spreading legitimate, if not flashy, scorers up and down the lineup. This year, the goals still come from everywhere, but they come more briskly. Erat has benefited from playing alongside Mike Fisher — who is one of the team's goal-scoring leaders — and the sharp-shooting Sergei Kostitsyn, the elfin winger who scores plenty but would score more if only he'd shoot it.

As Fisher and Kostitsyn have found their touch, Erat, perhaps no longer seeing himself as having to be The Man, has settled into his role as a cog — a still-spinning cog, it should be noted — in Trotz's Rube Goldberg offense, a collection of strange parts that finishes the job even if no one can tell exactly how the whole contraption works.

As the Predators have charged their way into the Stanley Cup conversation, Erat has emerged as one of the team's best forwards — and that's just how it should be for the European.

He's not overwhelming, as he was early in his career, and he's not underwhelming, as he has so frequently been since.

Bianca would call his year "whelming," and the ancient mariners wouldn't disagree — he's burying all the old criticisms, too.

Email editor@nashvillescene.com.

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