This was supposed to be the Nashville Predators year.
Now it's turned into a bit of a nightmare.
Not only are the Preds trailing their second round series 2-0 to the Phoenix Coyotes, they will now be without two of their top forwards for Wednesday's pivotal Game 3.
GM David Poile announced in a statement on Tuesday afternoon that Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn are being suspended "as result of violating team rules."
“The Nashville Predators have a few simple rules centered around doing the right things,” Poile said. “We have always operated with a team-first mentality and philosophy. Violating team rules is not fair to our team and their teammates.”
"Team rules" is pretty vague, but in most cases, this is a violation of the team's curfew. Nashville had an off day on Saturday in Phoenix, and it's believed Radulov and Kostitsyn used that opportunity for some off-ice activities in the hot spots in ritzy Scottsdale. (One report had them out until 4 a.m.)
And Radulov, in particular, didn't look himself in Game 2 on Sunday. (NBC analysts ripped him for his play here.)
"He was terrible on both sides of the puck," NBC's Jeremy Roenick said during Game 2. "When you want to win in the playoffs, you have to have your best players being your best players. Radulov right now might be the Nashville Predators worst player."
Both players were added late in the year for a potential Stanley Cup push and have been among their top six forwards ever since. Kostitsyn has two of the Preds six goals in Round 2, while Radulov leads the team in scoring in the playoffs with six points in seven games.
So this took some real courage for Poile here, who has to know this may be low budget Nashville's best chance to win in a while. While they're down, the Preds still have two games at home to get back in the series, and Game 3 is basically a must-win.
“Pretty easy decision,” Poile said to The Tennessean. “Our creed is always to try to do the right thing. I try to do that in my personal life, so I should try to do it in my business life, and we’ve just done the right thing. We put the team ahead of a couple of individual players and we’ll see where we go from there.
“It’s just a team rule. Everybody has the same team rules, and what they did was unacceptable, and coaches and myself had to come to the plate and do the right thing for the team.”
Nashville's forward lines obviously are going to take a hit here:
1. Bourque - Legwand -
A.Kostitsyn - Spaling - Hornqvist 3. S.Kostitsyn - Fisher - Erat 4. Yip - Gaustad - Smith
As per On The Forecheck, these were the new combinations they had at practice on Tuesday:
1. Bourque - Legwand - Hornqvist 2. S. Kostitsyn - Fisher - Erat 3. Yip - Spaling - Smith 4. Halischuk - Gaustad - Tootoo
That's a significant downgrade, although it's worth noting the Predators played without Radulov and Kostitsyn until late February and had one of the better records in the league.
Maybe this motivates players like Craig Smith and Jordin Tootoo, who have had to take lesser roles since the newcomers were added, to play hard and earn more ice time the rest of the way?
This also does not bode well for either Radulov or Kostitsyn sticking in Nashville long term. Radulov will be a restricted free agent this summer and has likely put himself in line for an off-season trade while Kostitsyn will likely walk as an unrestricted free agent.
Neither is going to command as much on their new deal with something like this hanging over their heads.