The first professional hockey team in Tennessee to be a member of the National Hockey League (NHL) was the Nashville Predators. Professional ice hockey has been played in Nashville since the early 1960s, when the Nashville Dixie Flyers were members of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), a minor league association. Over the past thirty years, other Nashville team names have included the South Stars, the Knights, the Nighthawks, and the Ice Flyers. Knoxville and Memphis also have hosted teams in various minor leagues since the 1960s.
Beginning the 1998-99 season as a member of the NHL’s Central Division, the Predators have played all home games at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, a facility shared with the Nashville Kats of the Arena Football League. Leipold Hockey Holdings, the majority investor, and Gaylord Entertainment Company, the minority investor, jointly own the Predators.
Craig Leipold is Chairman of the Nashville Predators. Team president is Jack Diller, a former executive with the New York Rangers. The executive vice-president, Business Operations, is Tom Ward, formerly of the Charlotte Hornets of the National Basketball Association. The general manager and executive vice-president, Hockey Operations, is David Poile, previously with the Calgary Flames and the Washington Capitals. In 1998 Poile managed Team USA at the World Championship tournament. In 2001 the NHL awarded Poile its Lester Patrick Award for his contributions to the development of hockey in the United States.
A highly respected hockey executive, Poile has relied heavily on his former associates at the Capitals to build Nashville’s initial coaching and scouting staffs. The head coach is Barry Trotz, a former Washington Capitals scout and coach of the Capitals’ top minor league affiliate in Portland, Maine. The assistant coaches are Paul Gardner, a former NHL first round draft selection who scored 201 goals and had 201 assists in his ten-year NHL career that included a stint with the Capitals, and Brent Pederson, a defensive specialist as a player, who coached the Portland Winter Hawks to the Canadian Memorial Cup championship in 1998. Craig Channell, chief amateur scout, held a similar scouting position with the Washington Capitals before coming to Nashville. Hockey experts rate the team’s first three first-round draft choices, center David Legwand (1998), goalie Brian Finley (1999), and forward Scott Hartnell (2000), as key cornerstones of the franchise.
In its first three seasons, the Predators have produced consistent improvement, from 28 wins and 63 points in 1998-1999 to 34 wins and 80 points in 2000-2001. Leading players include Mike Dunham, a goalie who is projected to be a member of the USA Olympic team in 2002; Kimmo Timonen, a defenseman who will play with Team Finland in the 2002 Olympics; team captain Tom Fitzgerald; aggressive winger Scott Walker, who led the team in goals in 2000-2001; and top scorer and veteran center Cliff Ronning. The team’s attendance rate, which has averaged 94 percent of capacity the first three seasons, is among the league’s leaders and indicates that the franchise has begun its history with a firm foundation for future success. The team’s charitable foundation has also made a positive impact on the broader Nashville community.