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VOL. 41 | NO. 41 | Friday, October 13, 2017

Hartnell comes home in search of Stanley Cup

Former Preds’ first-round pick ‘desperate’ for title

By John Glennon

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Scott Hartnell ran into unexpected difficulty back in 2000 on one of his very first road trips with the Nashville Predators.

It happened during “Rookie Night,” a time-honored tradition in which the team’s first-year players pay for the pricey dinners of their teammates and trainers.

Unfortunately for Hartnell, just 18 years old at the time, he discovered at night’s end he wasn’t going to be able to foot the tab.

“I didn’t really have the concept of money, I guess you could say,” Hartnell recalls with a laugh.

“I didn’t have any credit cards back then and I’d just gotten a bank account. So, one of the veterans, I’m not sure whether it was Cliff Ronning or Scott Walker, had to pay for everything.

“When we got back to Nashville, I had to go out and get a check from the bank for him.”

Almost 17 years later – and a full decade after Hartnell last wore a Predators jersey – he’s returned to Nashville this season, presumably both wealthier and wiser in the ways of the world.

In the 10 seasons Hartnell played elsewhere after the Preds traded him to Philadelphia in 2007, he has piled up over 200 goals, reached the playoffs seven times and came within two victories of hockey’s greatest prize.

But he’s never won the Stanley Cup.

So, the 35-year old Hartnell, signed to a one-year contract with the Preds during the past offseason, would like nothing more than to capture the Cup with the team that made him the sixth overall pick in the 2000 draft.

“For myself and where I’m at in my career, this is the twilight of it,” Hartnell acknowledges.

“One thing I haven’t done obviously is win a Stanley Cup, the thing that 31 teams are going for. It’s something that I’m desperate to have and very hungry for it.”

‘Just like you haven’t left’

The very fact the Predators re-signed Hartnell during the past offseason is an example of how things have changed since he was last here.

In the 2007 offseason, the team was in the midst of unloading players, the result of former owner Craig Leipold’s decision to put the Predators on the market.

That’s why Hartnell and all-star defenseman Kimmo Timonen were shipped to Philadelphia for a first-round draft pick, all-star goalie Tomas Vokoun was traded to Florida for a first-round pick, and all-star forward Paul Kariya left without a new contract offer.

These days, the Preds are in a much more secure situation, stabilized by local ownership that took over the club from Leipold. Nashville sold out all 41 of its regular-season home games last season and made a memorable run to the Stanley Cup Final.

“It’s definitely a team I wanted to come to and help, especially after the year they had last year,” says Hartnell, who became a free agent after the Columbus Blue Jackets bought out the last two years of his contract.

“This team really seems like it’s grown the last couple of years, and we’re trying to build on that.”

Scott Hartnell battles Teppo Numminen of the Phoenix Coyotes in front of goalie Sean Burke during a 2002 game in Nashville. Hartnell scored 93 goals in 436 games over six seasons for the Predators.

-- Ap Photo/John Russell

Hartnell recognizes how different a city Nashville is since he was last part of the Predators, but notes there is enough sameness – the same practice rink, the same ice arena, the same good people – that he’s felt comfortable in his return.

“You drive around a couple of times, and it’s just like you haven’t left almost,” Hartnell adds. “It’s just very comforting to be here in this town and be part of the fold again.”

Replacing lost firepower

There’s also a sense of familiarity for Hartnell in his coach here, even though it’s not Barry Trotz, who was guiding the Predators during Hartnell’s previous stint.

Peter Laviolette, who coached Hartnell for parts of five years in Philadelphia, is entering his fourth season at the helm of the Predators.

Hartnell enjoyed some of his best seasons under Laviolette in Philadelphia, totaling a combined 61 goals and 55 assists during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.

“He’s the kind of guy that does a great job of feeling out the guys in the room – when you need rest, when you need to be pushed,” Hartnell says of Laviolette.

“He tells it as it is. When you’re not playing as good as you can be, he’s not going to let you continue down that road. He lets you know. But he’s just a fun-loving good person, and you want to play for a guy like that.”

Laviolette, whose team lost forwards Mike Fisher (retirement), James Neal (expansion draft) and Colin Wilson (traded) from last year’s squad, recognized that Hartnell could help the Predators. Hartnell scored the first goal of the Preds’ season, in a loss to Boston.

“I think he helps replace some of the element we lost with a couple of our wingers,” Laviolette points out. “He’s a power forward. He can come in, bang, he’s physical, he goes to the front of the net and he can score goals.

“He’s also a terrific guy in the locker room.”

A perfect fit

Laviolette isn’t the only one who thinks Hartnell – a veteran of 17 NHL seasons and 1,187 games entering this year – will be a big locker room boost for a team that’s young at a lot of positions.

Predators center Ryan Johansen appreciated what Hartnell brought to the Columbus Blue Jackets when the two were teammates there in 2015-16.

“It starts with how he carries himself and approaches the game as such a professional,” Johansen says.

“And having the personality he does, he’s a lot of fun to be around. I could go on and on about Harts. He’s going to fit in on this club perfectly.”

Preds goalie Pekka Rinne, the only Nashville player remaining from Hartnell’s earlier stint here, agrees.

“When you have a veteran presence like him, a lot of times it calms everything – all the ups and downs of a long season. You know he’s been there and he’s gone through different situations in a hockey season many times.”

Hartnell remembers well the lessons he learned in his earliest years, from former Predators veterans like Tom Fitzgerald, Greg Johnson, Bill Houlder and others.

As his career comes full cycle and Hartnell returns to Nashville, he’s eager to set that same kind of example for a new generation of Preds’ players.

“I know that guys look up to the older guys when they’re playing,” Hartnell points out. “So, I have to make sure that every practice, I’m working my butt off, and that every game, I’m doing the right things, leading by example.

“That’s one thing those (former Preds) did. They came to work every day, and that’s something I’ve emulated throughout my career.

“I think that’s why I’ve been able to stay and play in this league at this level for so long.”

Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.