This Week In The 'Drome: We fatten a calf, we bid basketball adieu, we speak derisively of the Rocky Mountains and more...
The Past & The Future vs. The Now: This week in the dead-tree, I write about the return of the prodigal Predator, as Alexander Radulov came back to Nashville after four years in the KHL.
Rads is a gifted, sublime scorer of goals. The Zone's Mark Howard has emphasized in recent weeks that when Rads scores, "it just looks different."
Something else looks different now, too: The expectations for the local team.
For years, the Predators have been overachievers, perpetually underrated and perpetually exceeding predictions, earning a patronizing head-pat from hockey experts. "Oh, great job, Nashville! You plucked your way into the playoffs!"
Now it's different. Pekka Rinne emerged as an elite goaltender. Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are the league's best defensive pair. David Poile saw a need at the deadline for a big stay-at-home defenseman, a tough face-off specialist center, and a shoot-first forward. With Hal Gill, Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn, Poile checked all three boxes.
And then he got a present in the form of the ebullient Radulov. Now, the Predators are not going to sneak into the post-season and put a scare in somebody.
True to their name: they are the hunters.
The offseason looms: a perpetual, annoying fog, not unlike the pollen which has beset the city. Will Suter stay? Will Shea stay long-term? Will Radulov return to Russia, as the KHL expects?
But, really, none of that matters. At least not now.
Only one thing matters as the NHL's anodyne new marketing campaign says: "Because It's The Cup."
The Week Behind
Roll Up The Hardwood: Systemically, basketball season in the Nashville area came to an unfortunate close all too soon.
Friday afternoon, Belmont just couldn't keep up with Georgetown, turning in an uncharacteristically inconsistent performance and never really threatening the Hoyas.
Vanderbilt's men, a team with so much promise and so much ability, will have to take solace in hanging the SEC tournament banner, as they fell just short of Wisconsin, despite Kevin Stallings turning to the zone in the late game, forcing prayers of shots from the Badgers, unlikely efforts which produced unlikely offensive rebounds. The 'Dores even got the ball into the hands of sharp shooting John Jenkins, whose stellar career at Vandy likely ends with the clanging rim in the waning seconds.
Vandy's women took care of MTSU, but themselves were eliminated by Duke, who took Memorial Gym's reputation as a shooter's gym to a whole new level, sinking what seemed like 96 percent of their shots.
MTSU's men knocked out UT's in the NIT, but couldn't find a way to solve Tubby Smith's Golden Gophers back at the Murphy Center and won't be heading to the hallowed gym at Madison Square Garden for that tournament's Final 4.
There will be no late runs for titles for Middle Tennessee's teams, but outside of Vandy — who looks like it will lose much of its men's talent — college hoops in the Music City have a bright immediate future.
Oh And They Actually Played Games, Too: Lost in the madness of the Radulopalooza a bit, the Predators actually played meaningful hockey games this week ... and, really, things didn't go well.
The team split in SoCal, losing Saturday at LA and behind a strong, Skittle-fueled effort from Anders Lindback, got a win in Anaheim Sunday. With Radulov in-bound on a plane, the team skated through its usual marauding at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers, a team full of young talent which has consistently given the Predators fits for the past two seasons. In a game touted even by the NHL's Web site as a potential Stanley Cup preview, the Predators were run completely out of the Consol Energy Center by the Pittsburgh Penguins, buoyed by likely MVP Evegni Malkin's two goals. But, hey ... guess who scored on debut?
It's become obvious Pekka Rinne is a little bit gassed and could use the rest — he'll probably get at least one game off this weekend — and the team does have some injuries to fight through: Colin Wilson is nursing a groin injury, Paul Gaustad has a nagging upper-body issue, Roman Josi hasn't played in ages (also due to upper-body). It's been a nasty streak — the Preds have lost four of their last five, including once in a shoot-out at San Jose — but it's not unsalvageable. It just needs to happen quickly.
Garbage Time: The Preds and Metro are close to a new incentives agreement, as the Preds new economic study estimates the arena has a $410 million economic impact. ... The National Association of Basketball Coaches lauded Rick Byrd and Kermit Davis. John Cooper at TSU is among the finalists for the John McClendon Award, named for the legendary TSU hoops coach. ... The Titans added defensive end Kamerion Wimbley, a signing which addresses an actual need and not just some whim of an old man.
Basically, Radulov seems too lovably child-like, on and off the ice, to be some shrewd financial mastermind, who has positioned himself perfectly to force a two-league bidding war for his services over the summer. But he probably is, and maybe he'll leave us again. In the meantime, though, I'll thoroughly enjoy the beauty, once again.
Our Man In New Mexico: Check out Alex Heard's notes from the scene (in the Scene) of Vandy's weekend at the NCAA's.
Awwww Of The Week: Jim Diamond took a break from Radsmania to yank on the heartstrings with this great piece on a local youth hockey player who got to hang out with the big boys.
The Week Ahead
Welcome Back: Another funky week for the Preds, travelwise. They'll come back from last night's short trip to Pittsburgh for a Saturday night, special-start-time, broadcast-across-Canada game with the former Atlanta Thrashers, who are now calling themselves the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets, in a testament to how gawd-awful bad the Southeast Division is (yes, they are in the Southeast of ... something?), are fighting for a playoff spot. Many folks had this game circled long before it became Radulov's home debut: Atlanta was put upon as a bad market for hockey much as Nashville was (and, in certain circles, still is). A certain Southern pride comes from welcoming back the Thrashers-in-new-clothes. As part of the Thrash-to-Smash promotion, former Atlanta fans had a chance to buy tickets for this one, too. Should be an exciting, sold-out night for Rads to come back.
The team plays two crucial divisional games, starting Sunday in Chicago against the suddenly resurgent Blackhawks, nipping on the heels of the Preds and Red Wings for the 4/5 spot in the playoffs; although, sixth might be a bit more useful, since they'll get to play whatever 90-point dog manages to win the Pacific division. Tuesday is a trip to St. Louis with the Blues leading the division despite having just one win against the Preds thus far. Barring an epic collapse, Ken Hitchcock's club will win the Central Division title and should take the Western Conference's No. 1 seed.
Worthless Prediction: Boy, it's a tough week and the team needs to get going soon to right the ship after the recent slump. Four points would be nice.
U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A! After last night's rout against Cuba, the US U-23 team continues their quest to qualify for this summer's London Olympics with two more games at LP Field.
City Paper editor Steve Cavendish is all over this and breaks it down for you with five things to know as the weekend-full of doubleheaders continue. Even the most casual of soccer fans have something to watch, as Freddy Adu — who most people have probably heard of — is captaining this side.
Worthless Prediction: This is America, dammit. See y'all in London.
You Loved Him Too Much: In the opening essay of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman blames John Cusack for, well, numerous things, but among them the inflated expectations of love.
He says that when women say they love John Cusack, what they mean is that they really love Lloyd Dobler, the protagonist of Cameron Crowe's syrupy Say Anything, which was a far better band than it was a movie. But Klosterman continues that if a lovestruck boy ever actually stood outside a woman's window, blasting Peter Gabriel, she'd have him arrested. He is, of course, absolutely right.
And it is, in part, what happened with Nashville and Peyton Manning.
According to SI's Peter King, Manning was turned off by the circus atmosphere sure to come if he joined the Titans, playing in a state where there are numerous 13-year-old boys sharing his name. He got a glimpse at his visit to Baptist Sports Park, as hundreds of people came to MetroCenter voluntarily for some reason, to catch a glimpse of the quarterback. Radio talkers insisted their sources knew Peyton would come here, he had to come here. This is his home (this is not his home, nor has it been unless you count the time he spent at the school two-and-half-hours east of here).
But, no. Peyton wears orange again and again his helmet has equine decoration.
Perhaps this was purely a football decision (although, surely, the $96 million contract didn't hurt): Manning saw a team who went 8-8, won their division, won a playoff game with Tim Tebow at quarterback. And Peyton Manning — even a Manning coming off injury — is so many light-years better than Tebow. Surely, then, the Broncos will be true contenders with him.
But, perhaps, King was right. Perhaps the insanely private Manning saw he could be the one celebrity to make Nashville break its own rule of leaving stars alone to live their lives. And maybe he didn't want to go down like that.
Still not over Peyton jilting Nashville? Get over it. And then email me about something else at jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. And be sure to listen from 4-5 PM Tuesday's as I join the Sports Revolution on 102.5.