Predators GM Poile on signing team's first Tennessee player, growing hockey in Nashville

blakegeoffrionpreds.jpgWhen the Nashville Predators signed solid college performer Blake Geoffrion, I couldn’t help but focus on the rich “Boom Boom” heritage of his hockey family. One other interesting thing to note, though, is that Geoffrion is the first Tennessee native the team ever drafted, as an story points out.

While they lack the deep hockey roots of a traditional market and the big budget of a larger city-based team, the Predators have scratched and clawed their way to multiple playoff berths. They’ve done so thanks to deft drafting by their long-time general manager David Poile and the wise guidance of head coach Barry Trotz. As other clubs seem to fire their coaches and GMs at the drop of a hat, both Poile and Trotz have enjoyed remarkable careers that spanned nearly the entire run of the franchise.

Poile reflected on drafting Geoffrion and the uphill battle the Predators still fight in gaining the attention of the Nashville market.

Poile and the Predators are building hockey in Nashville, where football is king. Between 1971 and 1989, there was only one year of professional hockey in the area and Poile had to start from scratch. Thirteen years after the birth of the Predators, they are still building a hockey foundation.

“It is still certainly a work in progress,” Poile said. “We are doing well, but we could do better. We are still trying to promote and sell the game and that is what our job is. Maybe a player like Geoffrion will come in and help get more people interested. (It’s similar (to Washington), so maybe I am a little bit of a pioneer here in some of these areas. It is kind of neat to go into an area that hasn’t had much of a base for hockey.

“Those of us who have been in it, grew up in it (Polie’s father was an NHL player for five of the Original Six teams and was the general manager for expansion teams in Philadelphia and Vancouver), we know how great the game is. It’s kind of neat to see how it catches on and how minor hockey grows and then you get players like Blake Geoffrion who eventually plays for your team and some kids will say, ‘Maybe I won’t play baseball or football, maybe I will try hockey.’

“Football is king, that’s OK; we just want our fair share.”

Of course, for all the good feelings about the relative success of the franchise, winning is the best way to grow hockey. Just look at the Cup-winning Dallas Stars versus the just-now-competitive Phoenix Coyotes. Making the playoffs is great, but one of these days the Predators need to advance to the second round. The postseason seems to be a time in which the team’s lack of scoring punch (and budget) catches up to them, but if they can find a way past the richer teams, they could be on to something in Nashville.

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    The Panthers are healthy scratching Bolland, and he is their highest-paid forward, but they insist they’re not sending a message

    Dave Bolland, Derek Nansen
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    It feels like there’s a story brewing in Florida, where Dave Bolland — the team’s most-expensive forward, at $5.5 million a season — has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games.

    But according to head coach Gerard Gallant, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

    “There’s nothing to talk about,” Gallant said, per the Miami Herald. “He sat out, our team is playing well. There’s nothing more than that. We have to sit two guys and I like the way we’re playing. The next game is a different game. We may change something up, who knows.”

    Bolland had just one goal and five points in 18 games prior to getting parked in the press box. Well, technically he got dropped to the fourth line before hitting the press box, but you get the idea. He’s not exactly in Gallant’s good graces.

    Not helping Bolland’s case is the fact that, as Gallant pointed out, the club is playing pretty well without him. The Panthers have rebounded from a rough start to November by winning back-to-back games against the Islanders and Red Wings, which set them up nicely for the remainder of this current five-game road swing.

    Florida has games still to play in St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see when — or, if — he draws back into the lineup.

    In closing, a reminder that Bolland’s in the second of a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

    Canucks rookie Virtanen exits with upper-body injury, won’t return


    After sitting out Friday’s game in Dallas, Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had to be excited at drawing back in for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

    Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long.

    Virtanen suffered an upper-body injury after playing just 1:45 in the opening frame, and was ruled out of the contest during the intermission. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it looks like Virtanen was injured on a hit by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

    Virtanen didn’t take another shift following the incident, and Getzlaf was given a minor penalty on the play.

    While we don’t know what the injury is or it’s severity, losing Virtanen for any length of time would have ramifications for the Canucks and this year’s Canadian entry at the World Juniors. There has been talk of Virtanen possibly being released by the Canucks to participate in the tournament; last year, he was part of the team that captured gold in Montreal and Toronto.

    Virtanen has played in 18 games for the Canucks this year, scoring one goal and four points while averaging 10:17 TOI per night.

    McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

    Todd McLellan

    Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

    Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

    In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

    Some of the more choice quotes:

    “I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

    “When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

    It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

    Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

    They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

    Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

    “We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

    Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


    The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

    After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


    You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

    “It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

    “We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

    There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

    His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

    Not good.

    Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

    Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.