For Nashville Predators fans, there aren’t many books which delve into the history of the franchise, either at the organizational or personal level. There’s Hockey Tonk, which chronicles the early days of the team, My Toughest Faceoff, about longtime associate coach Brent Peterson and his battle with Parkinson’s Disease, and most recently former fan favorite Jordin Tootoo published his memoir All The Way: My Life On Ice. As a team approaching twenty years in the National Hockey League there are plenty of stories to be told about the Preds, and a growing audience of fans who are eager to read them.
Into this void Justin Bradford steps with his Nashville Predators: The Making of Smashville, which provides a fresh overview of the Predators story from its humble beginnings up through the present day. Through countless interviews with players, coaches and management figures he touches on a number of team highlights, and there are some very enjoyable moments when these interviews take on the intimate, multi-perspective tone of oral history, such as with defenseman Jamie Allison’s nearly-realized opportunity to play goal in December 2005, a classic hockey tale that fans of any NHL team would appreciate.
There are two serious criticisms to level at this book, however, the first of which involves editing. While typos, awkward word choices and grammatical errors are commonplace and accepted on blogs (where Justin established himself with Penalty Box Radio), when you publish a book bearing a $21.99 list price readers should be able to expect professional-quality text. Many may not be bothered by such things but for me they made for jarring potholes along the narrative road.
My second criticism is that this book can be seen as more of a love-fest than a history, portraying the Preds’ story in an exceedingly charitable light. The quotes often heap lavish praise on team management and Nashville fans, almost formulaic in their repetitiveness at times. The story seems to leap from one amazing accomplishment to the next, with the team typically characterized as an overachieving underdog. It’s important to remember, however, that despite all the glowing accolades, the Nashville Predators still haven’t won even one division title, made a single deep playoff run (to the conference finals at least), nor has an individual player, manager or coach won a major NHL trophy. Since their inception in 1998, the Preds are the only team in the entire league which hasn’t achieved any of these goals.
Names like Jim Balsillie, Richard Rodier, “Boots” Del Biaggio and the Sommet Group make no appearance in this book, which is a gross historical oversight. David Freeman’s role in assembling a group of local investors to buy the team in 2007 is mentioned, but not the situation which led to his stepping down as team chairman in favor of Tom Cigarran. Alexander Radulov’s 2008 defection to the KHL is similarly absent. I imagine those subjects may be difficult for members of the Nashville Predators to talk about publicly, but they are important, fascinating, unique elements of franchise history that shouldn’t be forgotten. If anything, they represent the obstacles that the organization has overcome in recent years to reach the point where arena sellouts are common and the team seems well-positioned to compete for years to come.
In short, I have no doubt that Preds fans will enjoy what’s in Nashville Predators: The Making of Smashville, and especially for newer fans it can serve as a primer on where the team has come from as it continues into the post-Trotz era. But what’s left out could make a riveting book of its own (so there you go, Justin, now get to work on that sequel – a good place to start would be Lompoc, California).