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Preds pundits peck their pick of Pekka Rinne — is this the dawning of the new Predator Way?

The Seven Million Dollar Man

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There are two sides to the mystery religion that is The Predator Way.

There is the on-ice component: Barry Trotz's formula of hard work, tough defense, attention to detail, aggressive forechecking and just enough offense to take advantage when the breaks come.

That's the side that's talked about. It's served the team relatively well through 1,000-plus games at Fifth and Broad. And Predators fans take pride in it. It's an article of faith that this is how they win.

If the gruff Trotz embodies the aspect of The Predator Way seen by all, it has a shadowy side embodied by the team's lanky, long-faced general manager David Poile — a financial enforcer who, in his grimmer moments, looks like the Lord of the Manor in a Vincent Price Poe adaptation.

Like one of those feudal viscounts, Poile is a master of the black arts — pulling underachievers off the scrap heap, drafting deftly, squeezing blood from the proverbial turnip. The best of his hidden jewels make a name for themselves in Nashville, but they make their money somewhere else.

That, too, has been an incontrovertible article of faith: The team's stubbornness will help build stars, and the team's cheapness will forbid it from keeping them. This hidden half of the system is represented not by the anonymous grinders Trotz favors, but by the cold calculus of the payroll.

Poile took criticism this summer for his stasis. The team made precious few moves, letting players walk away to more lucrative contracts. Same as it ever was, fans would typically shrug. But this time the Preds added little in return.

The conventional wisdom was that Poile was saving dollars to sign the Big Three — Poile would need every cent to sign goalie Pekka Rinne and defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.

Yet even while acknowledging Poile as a master, even while seeing the logic in his inertia, there were doubts even the Gandalf of the Gulch could meet the challenge. Keeping star players — it's just not The Predator Way.

So it was a shock when the team announced it had inked convivial, physics-defying Finnish goaltender Rinne to a seven-year, $49 million contract — the largest deal in team history.

No doubt Rinne is a star — a finalist for the Vezina Trophy given to the league's best net-minder, a regular atop the statistical leaderboards, an endless source of highlight saves.

But a $7 million man? Rinne's deal was the un-Poilest thing David Poile has ever done.

It is a rejection of the articles of faith 13 years in the making. Rinne's contract — and, if they follow as promised, Suter's and Weber's — is the Predator equivalent of finding out the Earth is, indeed, an oblate spheroid and not flat as you'd always been told.

The big deal for the big Finn — coupled with rookie Craig Smith seeming the goal-scorer the Predators have always sought — made sense of Poile's stasis. Even as he spent the summer looking like he was standing still, he could say, like Galileo, "Eppur si muove."

Ownership said the contract was yet another cultural change for an organization that's gone through some serious maturation in the past two years, another of its long-overdue steps up Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Having realized security (the franchise is stable and not relocating), love and belonging (even Canadians have become tired of writing "Nashville is a hockey town?" stories) and esteem (a playoff series win), the team now seeks self-actualization in the form of a Stanley Cup.

And to do it, they'll have to reject all the preconceived notions of the past. Chairman Tom Cigarran says he and his partners are willing to pay Suter and Weber — within reason — to keep them in gold jerseys.

That will mean spending well above the salary mid-point, a gamble given that so much of the league's revenue sharing is tied to that number. That will also mean Nashville can no longer operate on the cheap, as some prognosticators say Weber and Suter's contracts could push Nashville into the top 10 in payroll. With so much salary tied into a goalie and two blueliners, will the team's roster be so top-heavy it will inevitably topple?

Or will it bring a Stanley Cup?

Those are questions only time can answer. This pending reformation of The Predator Way can only be judged in hindsight.

Whatever the outcome, things aren't the same. And that may take some getting used to — for Nashville and the rest of the league.

Email editor@nashvillescene.com.

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