Game Thirty-Eight Preview: San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators

2nd in Pacific Division
4th in Western Conference
5th in Central Division
12th in Western Conference

The first time Nashville came to San Jose in their inaugural season, some wag put a sign up reading, "The legendary San Jose-Nashville rivalry rekindled."  After two straight first-round playoff tilts against each, perhaps now there is a touch of rivalry.  However, these are not your Predators of the past few years, the smart up and coming young team.  Gutted by ownership looking for the first person willing to write them a check and get this woefully misplaced franchise off their hands, Nashville is the benchmark for most everything that ails today's NHL.

And it's all the Sharks fault.

When San Jose made a successful go of it in the early '90s, far too many people were dazzled by its success and decided they could do likewise in their town.  They overlooked how the Sharks enjoyed three huge advantages over most other locations.  First, a much larger population base in the San Francisco Bay area from which to draw fans than most other potential team locations.  Second, the area already had a core of hockey fans, evidenced by how the annual pre-season game a local promoter put on in Oakland was invariably packed regardless of the two teams involved.  Third, the team intelligently placed itself as the entity making San Jose, long the snubbed stepchild looked down on by San Francisco and Oakland, a major league city.  The "this is our team" vibe by San Jose and Silicon Valley denizens can never be discounted as a major force behind the Sharks being embraced by all whether they had a clue or not -- usually not -- as to what hockey was about.

Now, look at the teams that have entered the NHL since the Sharks first swam into the Cow Palace in 1991.  In the class of 1992, Ottawa... okay, despite all the shenanigans by local and national politicos making the team pay for everything including a freeway off-ramp to its arena, plus some funky ownership at various times in the team's brief history, was there any question it would thrive?  Tampa Bay won the Cup a couple of years ago, but before then had a spotty fan base.  Class of 1993: Anaheim enjoyed the advantage of the Disney promotional machine its first few years, plus was able to tap into the Orange County vs. Los Angeles sentiment.  Once Disney wore out its welcome, new local ownership stepped in and stepped it up.  And yes, there's that Cup thingy they're currently safeguarding.  Florida started out strong, but now are almost an afterthought by everyone... including residents of south Florida.  Nashville arrived in 1998 and has discovered from the get-go it is decidedly second fiddle to the Titans in an area capable of supporting only one professional sports franchise.  Since flying into Atlanta in 1999, the Thrashers have had little if any impact on the city's sports scene.  Finally, in 2000 the NHL got it right by putting a team back in Minnesota, where ownership has done yeoman work integrating the Wild into the state's hockey-mad mentality.  Columbus?  Still hasn't recovered from that first logo, and won't until they win something.

The moral of the story is all parties concerned were dazzled by the triumph of Los Tiburones de San José without taking into account the special circumstances under which the team thrived, and the NHL's mad expansion dash in the years following the Sharks' creation has been anything but a success.  The end result?  Franchises like Nashville, which with all due respect to its fans has neither enough of them nor sufficient support from the local business community (a/k/a luxury box owners) to compete.  Sure, the team has a new ownership group saying all the right things.  But they're not going to be able to change the fundamental circumstances stating the Predators would be best served by emulating their logo of a saber-toothed tiger and becoming extinct as far as residence in Music City USA is concerned.  Hamilton would be far more hospitable.