It is likely that most people who will read this article will not be fans of the Nashville Predators. In fact, your favorite team may even be in the same division as the Preds, making them a rival you face up to five times a year. I’m not asking anyone to jump on the Nashville bandwagon as they advance to the Western Conference Final for the first time in franchise history by beating the St. Louis Blues 3-1 on Sunday. What I would like hockey fans to do is be excited for Nashville, as their success is a very good thing for the NHL as a whole.
The Predators, who were given little chance by top analysts to go far in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, have swept the Chicago Blackhawks, defeated the St. Louis Blues in six and are currently waiting to face either the Anaheim Ducks or the Edmonton Oilers for a chance to play in the Stanley Cup Final.
More people are tuning in locally to watch Preds games than ever before, and this is a strong indicator that hockey is growing in the Nashville area. Take out some fair-weather fans and there is still a good chance that a percentage of the viewers watching now go on to become long-time Predators fans, undoubtedly getting their children into hockey and continuing to grow the sport on a local level.
Hockey fans should look at Nashville and Arizona as examples of expansion teams that have been successful in growing the game in their local communities. While the Coyotes’ TV ratings have not achieve the desired results in recent years, Auston Matthews is a testament to the fact that kids are growing up in Arizona wanting to play hockey, a phenomenon that likely would have never occurred without an NHL franchise in the area.
If Arizona is able to produce a first overall draft pick, then surely recent expansion franchises such as Nashville have a promising future as well. With more kids picking up the game from a young age, the pool of potential NHL players is expanded. This means the level of competition in youth hockey will rise as well, eventually producing higher quality hockey at the professional level.
Any fan that wants to watch the game grow should be excited when they see a fanbase like Nashville’s. It means that expansion is doing exactly what many in the hockey community hoped it would do, and that is get more kids involved in the game. The initial plan for Nashville, back in 1996, was to bring an NBA team to the city, and when that deal fell through, they went after an NHL franchise. Little did they know what a success story that NHL club would turn into years later. With the Vegas Gold Knights coming next season and rumors of another expansion on the horizon in U.S. cities such as Seattle, take into account these stories, and what good a new NHL franchise could do for the hockey world.