The party's over in Nashville, but it's just starting at Cup finals

Nashville, we hardly knew ye.

Owner Craig Leipold bought the Predators for $80 million and could sell the team for $220 million. That's a $140 million profit. A silo full of milk and cheese. Leipold said he lost $70 million during his tenure, so that's a $70 million profit for buying a hockey team in Tennessee and living in Wisconsin.


Every week, we present an NHL photo and I provide a caption. E-mail me your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state) and the next week we will use the best ones and provide a new photo.


"Dude, where's my Zamboni?" (Getty Image)

Your submissions:
"Ar, there be whales here."
-- J.D. Frankland (El Segundo, Calif.)

"Vodka!?! I am gonna get Alfie for this!"
-- Eric (Pittsburgh)

"Darn this New Jersey tap water!"
-- Nick Krieger (Washington Twp., N.J.)

Ray's latest ploy to keep the crease clear -- Dentyne Ice.
-- Chris Neufeld (Kadena Air Base -- Okinawa, Japan)


"God bless you. I hope an anvil falls on your head tomorrow." (AP Photo)

Imagine not being laughed out of a bar in 1972 if you said, "Someday, a guy who lives in Wisconsin will get an expansion team in Nashville, sell it a few years later and make $70 million." I bet you would have gotten a can of Blatz or Schlitz shoved up your left nostril out of sheer stupidity.

So, as Leipold prepares to leave with his $70 million bag of money, Predators season-ticket holders are out tens of thousands of dollars in tickets, parking, bad beer and hideous uniforms. It's the same old story.

And look who is back in town. Our boy, Jim Balsillie! After agreeing in principal to buy the Predators from Leipold this past week, it is seems likely that he will work hard to get his team and move it to Kansas City, Las Vegas, Winnipeg or Ontario.

He can help his boy Phil Anschutz get his team in Kansas City, get a state-of-the-art arena built for him in Vegas with the huge potential for revenue stream or bring a team to Canada and receive hero worship. One of those things will likely happen, whether it's after next season or in the future. Bet on the Preds leaving after the 2007-08 campaign. That was the plan in Pittsburgh, and now that's the plan in Nashville.

If paid attendance in Nashville does not average at least 14,000 next season, and the city can buy all of those tickets, the Preds can pay an exit fee of $18 million to get out of their arena lease and leave Music City USA. Balsillie has $18 million in his glove compartment. Also, the Preds had fewer than 9,000 season-ticket subscribers despite the success of the team, which amassed 110 points this season (tied with Anaheim for third best in the NHL).

Next season, the Predators will not be the third-best team in the NHL. I would suspect nearly all of their key unrestricted free agents will walk. Paul Kariya, Kimmo Timonen, Peter Forsberg and Scott Hartnell will sell their homes now and look to move elsewhere. Forsberg will just check out of the local Hampton Inn.

There is too much uncertainty with the team. Will they be in Nashville one more season? Two? Three? Will they find a way to leave in July?! Who knows? We do know that losing those four players will change the Predators' place in the standings. The Predators can then bring up the financial losses and shed more payroll by trading existing contracts for draft picks. ( The Preds do not have a first-round pick this June.)

The message will then be clear that the Predators want to move. Neither the fans nor the city will continue to shell out hard-earned money in an attempt to play a game of financial chicken with a billionaire. "Let's all buy Predators tickets, watch them lose to Columbus 5-1 and keep the Preds in Nashville!"

It will be a lost year.

Listen, I don't care what Balsillie does with the team. Nashville has shown it probably isn't an NHL city. Fewer than 9,000 season tickets for a 110-point team might be good for arena football or indoor lacrosse or the WNBA, but the NHL isn't like any of those leagues. There are other markets that will produce much larger season-ticket numbers. I've been writing for years that I'm all for another team moving to Canada. That's where the NFL-like passion is, and certainly Ontario can support another NHL team. Kansas City is the favorite because it has a rent-free arena ready to go and Balsillie can hook up his boys in the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG).

If the arena in Winnipeg is NHL caliber in terms of amenities and revenue, it has a shot. Otherwise, Balsillie has to get going and get an arena deal soon for it to be built in time for the 2008-09 season. Perhaps, he already has the framework in place. One way or another, things will likely take shape soon.

Whatever the case, turn out the lights Nashville, the party's over.

One more series
Well, after eight months, here we are. The final series. A best-of-seven for the Stanley Cup. Both teams won 48 games during the regular season and both have won 12 playoff games. One team, one coach, one city will be changed (for the near NHL future, anyway). One team will be able to say, for the rest of their lives, I am a Stanley Cup champion. That is huge. Unbelievably huge.

The ASH line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley has separated themselves from every other line in hockey. If Ottawa wins this finals series in five games, then it will be an ASH Wednesday. It's hard, however, to believe Anaheim could possibly lose four of five games to anyone.

I'm picking Ottawa in this series because of the big line, and the fact that Anaheim continues to lean on 22-year-old Ryan Getzlaf, which is always dangerous. That's a lot of responsibility for a young player.

Anaheim has the better goalie and two Hall of Fame defensemen. They have a Hall of Famer in Teemu Selanne, who should find some holes in Ray Emery if he can get quality chances. And that's the question. Ottawa has lots of speed, lots of jam and plays terrific defense. Anaheim does not have a prolific offense. That sets up well for the Senators.

But Ottawa has yet to face a scary, physical team this postseason. Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo are not scary teams. Anaheim is scary. Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson won't have it easy against the Ducks. They will get physically pounded in this series. Chris Neil will enjoy playing the Ducks because he becomes an important figure in terms of responding to their physical play. I also get a sense Mike Fisher is going to do something big in this series. It seems tailor-made for him, too.

These are two great teams. I'd love to see a seven-game series and the thick drama it would provide as players on both teams look for their first Stanley Cup. Anaheim can win this series if Jean-Sebastien Giguere is out of his mind, but I think Ottawa will win because:

• The Senators are a very good defensive team that can score.

• Their defense is very rugged. More rugged than Minnesota, Vancouver and Detroit.

• Ottawa has had easy travel. You could hitchhike to Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo.

• Alfredsson, Heatley and Spezza are top-shelf players, possibly Hall of Famers. They have good size, good reach and are flying right now. They will score power-play goals.

In the end, it's a coin flip. These are two great teams. The games will probably be low scoring and close. I think if Ottawa splits in Anaheim, it will come back home and win two there and control the series. Anaheim will be looking to punch Ottawa in the face, kill some early-series power plays and wear down a Senators team that hasn't had a street fight. How the games are called is a huge factor. If the game is called close, it favors Ottawa. If the refs let them play, it favors Anaheim.

I'll say they call it close and Ottawa wins in six.


The San Jose Sharks' recipe for offseason success? Re-sign Brad Stuart and Tom Preissing. Next, trade Patrick Marleau to New York for Marc Staal and then trade Mark Bell back to Chicago for a bag of pucks. Now, use that cap space created to sign Drury or Briere. Finally, hand Ron Wilson his pink slip and hire Pat Burns. Problem solved.

Cape Breton

I see no reason to make a coaching change in San Jose. They need more personality on the back end and I would be very careful about trading a talent like Patrick Marleau.


What will happen with Bertuzzi and the Red Wings? Do the Wings take a chance and sign him even with his bad back? Wings fans have been complaining that he didn't contribute enough. A lot of hockey fans, including Wings fans, are still very much against him for the Steve Moore incident. I have mixed feelings myself. I can't throw in my support for him until he proves his back has healed, and I think sometimes his poor play is the result of guilt over that cheap shot. Your thoughts?

Osan AB, South Korea

I would only sign Todd Bertuzzi for a very low salary and at one-year intervals. His health and demeanor are not worth any long-term investment.


I'm a long-time reader, but this is my first time to write in. I've been moving around Texas the past few months, switching between going to school, doing an internship and visiting my parents at home. It's been getting more and more frustrating trying to watch the playoffs. First, a few of the Stars-Canucks games were only aired on Fox Sports Net, and got preempted by early-season Astros games down in Houston. Then, later playoff rounds were played on Versus. I find out that my cable provider has changed Versus to a secondary channel, and is thus not provided with the basic 100-channel package.

When can we hope to see the NHL where it belongs, on ESPN again, if ever? I don't know how sports TV contracts work; could the NHL and ESPN at least agree on a deal to show the playoffs? The NHL doesn't deserve to be treated on the same level as the Professional Bull Riders Association.

David Gray
Fort Worth/College Station/Houston, Texas

Versus is the exclusive cable provider for the NHL. ESPN has always been interested in the NHL, but at a price that makes sense to those making the decisions. The NHL can come back to ESPN any time they want.


I don't know what heaven is going to be like, but I'll bet I'll feel something like I do right now. I'm so happy my Ducks are in the dance. I think we've got a great shot at winning. I look at Ottawa and don't see the offense outside of their big three, and they'll have to look at Pronger and Niedermayer and Beauchemin and O'Donnell every shift. I think they can be corralled, and with Giggy playing like he is, where is their scoring? On the other hand, Emery has been good, but he's no Backstrom, Luongo or Hasek. I think the Ducks win in five, right here in Disneyland.

Your bud,

Good analysis, Rik. Both teams are playing the best opponent they have seen thus far. If someone doesn't step up, either team could win a quick series because both teams are so good. Sometimes in a matchup like this, where two good teams meet, one gets the upper hand early and just rolls.


I have read in numerous places that the Penguins will be players in the free-agent market this offseason (including your May 22 mailbag). However, after many years of payroll slashing, I find it hard to believe the team would go after guys like Forsberg, Kariya or Timonen.

Even the local Pittsburgh papers have them focusing on their own guys (Recchi,
Roberts) and even trying to pry Alexei Morozov back from Europe. All of these deals would be short term and relatively cheap.

While I agree that these guys would make the team much better going into next year -- what is it that has the non-Pittsburgh media excited about the Pens in free agency? Crosby and the lads were good all year, and I think Ray Shero is not going to tinker with the lineup as much as some suspect.

What are your thoughts?

Steve Johnson

The Penguins need more scoring and better defensive acumen up front and in
front of Marc-Andre Fleury. But the Penguins will get better every year because they are so young, and young teams normally get smarter, stronger and better. Add the right players as the young players simply improve, and the Penguins can make huge steps quickly. The Penguins need a winger for Sidney Crosby, one for Evgeni Malkin and one for Jordan Staal. They also need some defensemen who have the ability to choke a raccoon to death with their bare hands.

Hi John,

If you are the Flyers, do you keep the second pick or trade it? If you keep it, who do you take? If you trade it, to whom and for what?

Mike G.
Marlton, N.J.

Listen to your scouts and pick the best player. You can't beat the value of a young, fast, talented player who you only have to pay $850,000-900,000 a year. Unless a team blows you away, and that happens sometimes, keep collecting assets.


After three rounds of having you pick against my Sens, I am disquieted to see that you took the Sens in the finals. If we go down, it's on you.

Eric Lay

My bad.

Dear John,

As a Wings fan, it was heartbreaking to see the team get close to getting its prestige back this season with a deep playoff run that ended too soon. However, the team still has a lot of good, young talent and prospects in all positions, but the goalie position is one that is interesting. Hasek is 40-whatever, Osgood has shown to be a good backup these days and Jimmy Howard still is waiting for his chance. What do you think the Wings will do next season to secure the net?

Mike from Detroit

I think they might take a run at Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or crosschecks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.