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Year of transition for Preds

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, June 10, 2009

RANKIN INLET - The 2008-2009 NHL season was a year of ups and downs for Jordin Tootoo and the Nashville Predators.

Tootoo said the Preds weren't concerned with experts saying they wouldn't be in the hunt due to the players they lost during the past two years.

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Rankin Inlet's Jordin Tootoo of the Nashville Predators lets one fly during NHL action. - photo courtesy of John Russell/ Nashville Predators

He said the team was focused on starting the season on a positive note with the players it had.

"We lost some key players to free agency in the past two years, and we had a few injuries to guys who have been in the league for a number of years and play big roles on our team, like Steve Sullivan," said Tootoo.

"We worked with the guys we had, and that's a good stepping stone to becoming a better team when you can work effectively with what you have and overcome adversity."

Tootoo said the Preds battled through an early-season slump and the players took a good look at themselves in the mirror at the midway point.

He said they realized if they wanted to be in the playoff picture, they had to work harder and that's when the season turned around.

"Our goaltenders really stepped up for us and we started to win a lot of close games through determination.

"It's really intense during the final 15 games when every win is so important.

"We worried about ourselves and not what was going on with the other teams we were fighting with.

"There were only a few points separating the teams from fifth to 10th place for awhile and the streak we went on, when we earned points in seven-straight games, gave us a chance at the playoffs."

The Preds came up just short in their playoff run.

Tootoo said it still bugs him that they would have made the playoffs if they'd won game #82 of the season.

"We didn't get it done and St. Louis did, so they went to the playoffs and we went home."

Tootoo said the NHL system, where teams get a point for an overtime or shootout loss, makes it awful tough to catch teams ahead of you in the playoff race.

He said 80 points got you to the dance 10 years ago.

"Now you need 95 to get in, so you have to get a point in almost every game.

"You can't go on a six-game regulation-time losing streak because it's so tough to make those points back up."

For the past few years in Nashville, the backup goalie has become the team's number one by the end of the season.

Tootoo said attitude and work ethic may have played a bigger role in the strange situation than talent.

"It all starts in practice and, from what I see, starting goalies sometimes just mosey through practice and it eventually affects their play.

"Coach always says practice like you play and Pekka Rinne was working really hard in practice this past season, doing a lot of extra stuff with guys.

"That, obviously, paid off because he was our go-to guy the last half of the season.

"The past few years our backups became the backbone of our team, but we're getting both guys back next year and that should help us have a good start."

Tootoo said players don't talk much about teams struggling with the business side of the league.

He said players play the game because they love it and don't worry about things they have no control over.

"Mentally, it becomes strenuous when the media's all over you about it.

"But ownerships and the business side of the game are out of our hands.

"As players, we do what we can to support our teams and owners but there's only so much we can do."

Tootoo doesn't mince words when asked about the Alexander Radulov situation.

Radulov left the Preds, with a year to go on his contract, to play in Russia.

Tootoo said Radulov had a lot of people second guessing what kind of person he is by his behaviour during his one season in Nashville.

He said Radulov was a star in Russia and expected to be a star in Nashville, but first you have to establish yourself in the NHL.

"He went back to Russia, so we started the year with the guys we had in the dressing room and that's how we planned on finishing it.

"We didn't expect him back, and the guys in our room didn't really give a darn.

"We actually wanted him to stay there because he was too much of a distraction to a lot of players."

There has been noise out of Nashville recently, that the Predators are talking to Radulov about his possible return for the 2009-2010 season.

Tootoo said that wouldn't be a great atmosphere for the start of the season.

"We talk amongst us guys and, personally, I don't care for him coming back.

"He didn't want to be in Nashville in the first place, so he can stay in Russia and do his thing there.

"We don't need guys who don't want to be here.

"The NHL's the best league to play in and we want character guys with us."