As far as NHL franchises go, the Nashville Predators are the antithesis of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In a non-traditional market with attendance and ownership issues, the low-spending Preds have nonetheless maintained a surprising level of stability, employing the same general manager and coach tandem (David Poile and Barry Trotz) in their 12th season as they did in their first.
As financially prudent as any organization in the league, Nashville has also managed to somehow win plenty of regular-season games, making the playoffs in four out of five seasons since the lockout.
Despite all of their challenges, they're a model of consistency and are, again, on pace to finish well ahead of the Leafs this season.
The Predators arrive in Toronto for Tuesday night's match-up with a 7-5-3 record, the equivalent of a 93-point season that would be their sixth 90-point campaign in the last seven years. Nashville has averaged 99 points a season the past five years, the league's fifth best record in that time.
The Leafs, for all their advantages and perpetual "win now" mentality, have averaged only 83.8 - 23rd of 30 teams - with three different GMs and coaches presiding over five, playoff-less seasons.
It's not a pretty comparison.
"Nashville's very disciplined, well coached team that's difficult to play against," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said after Monday's practice. "They have a lot more talent than everybody's led to believe.
"Three solid lines, everybody on their team buys into the system and they get great goaltending. And they have two excellent defencemen in [Ryan]Suter and Shea Weber."
That talent, however, takes some pretty interesting forms.
Nashville's leading scorer this season is Cal O'Reilly, a 24-year-old Varna, Ont., native who was a fifth-round pick and has spent four seasons in the minors getting seasoning. With Matt Lombardi, the Preds only free agent signing of note, out with a concussion since the second game of the season, O'Reilly is their first-line centre.
The team's other key contributors include a hodgepodge of veterans and youngsters, with last year's top scorer, Patric Hornqvist, perhaps the most unknown 30-goal man in the league.
Suter, meanwhile, has missed all but five games this season, returning on the weekend from a leg injury to log his customary heavy load. Injured, too, for much of the season has been winger Martin Erat, the Preds' second best goal scorer a year ago.
Weber is a minus-8 this season, no doubt feeling the burden of facing opponents' top lines in the Western Conference on many nights.
So, sure, the Predators have some talent, but with all of their injuries and given their budget, certainly not oodles more than a team like the Leafs. There are significant holes on that roster - 5-foot-8 defenceman Francis Bouillon does play 22 minutes a night - just like many other teams that don't spend anywhere near the $59.4-million cap.
For the most part, Nashville is simply winning games the way most mediocre teams in the NHL do these days: good goaltending, good defence (i.e. the trap) and a few timely goals.
A lot of that comes back to Trotz, who surely at some point should have earned a Jack Adams Award along the way for coaxing so much out of so little.
And, you can bet, for much less than Wilson has commanded in Toronto.
"Barry's a good coach," Wilson said. "Solid. His teams are always disciplined. You have to be very patient when you play one of Barry's teams."
Expect that patience to be on display on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre, as the home team desperately seeks its second win in 13 games.
Anything but another 100-point season and a playoff series win will be a disappointment, even without the big market, big money or anything else that should guarantee that success.Report Typo/Error