Friday, April 5, 2013

The Hippodrome: Spin City

Posted By on Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 9:15 AM

This Week In The 'Drome: What we didn't see coming

Its a rush to leave
  • It's a rush to leave

Opening Face-off

Now vs. Forever : If you read this week's Scene dead-tree column about the virtue of doing little at the NHL trade deadline and you also followed the sports pages, blaring with the news of the trade of longtime Predators forward Martin Erat, you learned a very important lesson about print deadlines.

I made an assumption Wednesday morning the Preds would stand pat, roll the dice with the current lineup and take their chances in the last few weeks of the season. (The Predators also traded Scott Hannan for a conditional 7th round pick, which hardly counts as a trade in any event.)

What I didn't know — what no one knew, including the coaching staff — is that Erat had asked for a trade to a "Cup contender," and GM David Poile obliged him.

In Erat's words: “I’m getting older, and it’s not going to be like I have seven-to-eight years to wait for another chance."

First off, the Predators are widely considered to have gotten a good deal for Erat, as highly-touted young Swedish forward Filip Forsberg becomes Predators property. Forsberg, should he pan out, would be the kind of forward the Predators haven't had since Alex Radulov.

In essence, they let Washington do the dirty work of finding, drafting and signing a dynamic young forward and simply traded into his rights. It's similar to what happened with Shea Weber: The Predators were unable to get him to agree to a deal so they let Philadelphia do the hard work and matched the offer sheet.

From a hockey standpoint, long-term, this trade has tremendous upside.

The difficult thing to come to terms with is that Erat is the third longtime Predator to want out of Nashville in the last 10 months. Ryan Suter signed elsewhere, as did Weber, and now Erat — who has known nothing but the Predators his entire career — asked for a trade. The half-full crowd will say that Weber wanted to be in either Nashville or Philadelphia and that he was seeking the most valuable contract he could find and that is, to a degree, probably true.

But it is a worthy question: Why are people in a hurry to leave Nashville? The Predators thought they shattered the perception that a Cup couldn't be won here by being aggressive at the trade deadline last year, but the old trope of just-good-enough-Nashville seems to have returned.

The Predators will push for the playoffs — and will have to do it with a regular 50-point contributor — but this summer will be the time for real soul-searching at Fifth & Broad and if a pesky perception problem is becoming an anchor.

The Week Behind

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Treadin' : Having never actually seen someone drowning, I don't know to what degree fiction reflects reality, but in the moving pictures it sort of goes like this: terrible spasmodic thrashing, weakening, submission and, finally, in the fateful denouement, eerie calm.

Such were the Predators. Surprising trade or no, they struggled mightily, barely keeping their head above the playoff water line, taking the loser's point in Colorado, and Chicago and winning at home against those same Avalanche. It wasn't pretty — indeed much of the game in Denver and the first two-thirds of the other two games could be described as "listless," but only by the most generous critic — but it was, in its way, working.

But Thursday, the Predators lost to Columbus, a longtime Central Division doormat on the margins of the playoff picture. The Blue Jackets were aggressive buyers at the trade deadline, and one move paid off for them last night, as new acquisition Marian Gaborik scored the game-winning goal, giving his new team their first win in regulation in Nashville since 2006.

The loss all but eliminated the Predators from the playoffs — they'd more or less have to win their last 10 games — but the reaction of the crowd was odd.

It was calm. There were no boos. No sarcastic cheers. No one threw anything onto the ice. As the fans poured out into the April night, there was little anger expressed. Which isn't to say there hasn't been anger — the fans have been thrashing about as much as the team has — but in those moments when the hope at the postseason dead — it was placid.

Aging: The Titans got a little bit older last week, adding 11th-year wide out Kevin Walter and nine-year veteran offensive lineman Chris Spencer. It's hard to be terribly critical of what the Titans have done in the off-season — though signing Bernard Pollard in an increasingly safety-conscious league just seems like inviting more attention to a team coached by Gregg Williams than is necessary or useful.
The additions of Walters and Spencer are relatively cheap and relatively safe and add a little experience and that crucial "glue" element to two units which could use a lot of both.

Garbage Time: A three-game sweep of Missouri and a midweek revenge win against MTSU has Vandy's baseball team at 26-4 overall, ranked No. 2 by more or less the entire collegiate baseball press. ... Belmont's Ian Clark was named honorable mention All-America.

Halftime Entertainment

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Book Club: Friend of the 'Drome Jim Diamond co-authored the biography of Predators' hockey ops adviser Brent Peterson. Peterson was once the non-scary assistant coach of the Preds before being diagnosed with Parkinson's and then Vandy installed some kind of robot thing in him, which is pretty cool. Anyway, the man can tell a story, so check the book out in hard or electronic versions.

Texts From Last Week: It was a busy week for your Neighborhood Dromer, so we didn't get a chance to talk about the "interview" I did with Lamar Wyatt, which may or may not have been the last interview he ever did.

As much fun as that was and as funny as I hope it was, it couldn't possibly compete with the unintentional humor of Greer Stadium being included on a list of the best minor league stadiums selected by Cal Ripken and published by Men's Journal, unless that list was "Best Minor League Stadiums in Davidson County."

Anyway, the Sounds opened last night. The actual mayor threw out the first pitch.

The Week Ahead

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Hazards — Moral and Otherwise: In the next few weeks, there will be, without a doubt, suggestions that Barry Trotz tank the remainder of the Predators season.

It is a position that is simultaneously understandable and despicable.

Certainly, with little hope of the playoffs, the team's interests are best served by improving their draft position, especially in a year with such a strong crop of prospects. But, then, fans are being asked to either advocate their team lose or cheer for a team trying not to win.

All American professional sports leagues reward failure in this way. Widespread tanking was supposed to have been curtailed by the implementation of draft lotteries, but in a sense they've actually exacerbated the problem they sought to cure. A lottery gives more teams a chance at the best pick, but gives more chances to worst teams. It incentivizes bad teams playing even worse and merely mediocre teams playing badly.

An interesting solution is to award draft position based on success after a team is mathematically eliminated from the post-season, which still gives the best chances to the worst teams (as the truly awful would be eliminated earliest) but puts value in winning. It has the added benefit to leagues of creating intriguing late-season match-ups between bad teams. The old joke about teams playing in the [Insert Great College Player Here] Bowl where the loser wins would be reversed.

Anyway. The Predators play four games against three future Conference III opponents this week, with a weekend back-to-back, home-and-away with the league-best Blackhawks and home for the Blues Tuesday and the Stars Friday.

Overtime

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It's Populism Run Amok: There's a notion in America that "leadership" is a universal virtue. That everyone must possess it and anyone who isn't a good leader is, therefore, not a good person.

This expresses itself in sports quite a bit. We expect all of our athletes to be great leaders and those who aren't — or are perceived as not being great leaders — are considered generally less-than.

It's a delightfully democratic and populist notion. It's also absurd. Not everyone is good at being a leader and not everyone can be a leader. And a lack of capacity at leadership is not a failure.

Sometimes in sport, leadership is thrust on someone and perhaps they aren't wired for it or prepared for it or maybe they don't even want it. This can be explicit — as when a team gives its captaincy to someone who turns out to be wishy-washy or ill-suited for the tasks such a position requires — or implicit — as when fans decide someone should be a leader, whether they are or not.

Asking someone who isn't a leader to lead and then blaming them for bad leadership is just like asking a goaltender to play forward and then wondering why he can't score, or moving an offensive guard to quarterback and getting angry because the run-and-shoot becomes the flop-and-splat.

Then there is the worst case scenario — when bad men who are bad leaders seize power. This happens most frequently with coaches and most frequently at the college level. (As an exception, Vince Lombardi was, by all accounts, a dictator, though not a violent one, but he did demand obsequiousness from all who were around him, including a mythmaking press.)

This week we saw what happens when unsavory men are giving dictatorial authority. Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice was videoed flinging basketballs at his players' heads, calling them gay slurs and generally being a despicable asshole. There is a portion of people who are seriously defending him (including some ex-players in a classic piece of Stockholm syndrome). And then there are segment of the population pointing out that this likely happens in lots of places.

There's no doubt Rice's behavior is repeated on courts and fields across the country and that doesn't make it less detestable. Rice was fired — as he should have been — and he shouldn't be re-hired ever anywhere for any job that puts him in any sort of leadership position, especially involving young people. And this behavior, where ever it is, should be exposed and its perpetrators similarly treated.

Edmund Burke's alleged quote (there's not much evidence he ever said it) about evil succeeding when good men do nothing has been troped and trited to meaninglessness, but in this case, it couldn't be truer.

Letters to jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. Ears to 102.5 The Game at 6 PM on most Tuesdays.

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