Hartnell and Timonen return to their roots in Nashville
Friday, 01.13.2012 / 8:22 PM / NHL Insider
By John Manasso - NHL.com Correspondent
NASHVILLE -- After he came off the ice following practice on Friday, Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz spent a good few minutes chatting – most of them laughing -- with Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen, an original Predator who was selected to the 2012 Tim Horton's NHL All-Star Game the day before.
Flyers forward Scott Hartnell later walked across the short hallway separating the teams' two locker rooms at Bridgestone Arena, looking for Predators defenseman Shea Weber. When he learned that Weber had already left the building, he seemed slightly disappointed before quickly breaking into an affectionate embrace with one of the Predators' equipment managers.
"It actually feels like coming home," Timonen said of visiting Nashville." I have so many good memories from this rink and this team and coaching staff and everything."
When the two teams play against each other on Saturday, it will be hard not to remember that two of the Flyers' best players grew up in Nashville's organization. It will be only their second appearance in the Music City in 4 1/2 years. Hartnell was selected sixth overall by Nashville in 2000 and played his first six seasons with the Preds, scoring 93 goals in 436 games.
He was only 18 when he made his NHL debut with the Predators in 2000.
"It's pretty neat," he said. "It brings back a lot of great memories. Being here as a young kid, growing up here. The city was awesome. The people down here are super nice. I miss the city a lot. In the hockey world, you've got to move on some times. It's nice to enjoy the city, but I try and come back once a summer to get my fill of honky tonk and see some old friends."
Gone after the 2006-07 season with Hartnell, Timonen entered this season as the Predators' third all-time leading scorer with 301 points. Both players were sent by the Predators to Philadelphia at the June 2007 NHL Draft in exchange for a first-round pick, which became Nashville defenseman Jon Blum, at a time of financial weakness for the Predators.
Immediately after the deal, Timonen and Hartnell each signed six-year deals worth a combined total of $63 million. At the time, Nashville owner Craig Leopold had reached a deal to sell the team to Jim Balsillie, who was going to attempt to relocate the franchise to Canada. The deal ultimately did not go through; however, Predators general manager David Poile did not know what his budget was going to be, so he came to the conclusion, with the start of the unrestricted free agency period just a few days away, that he would not be able to re-sign the players and got back the pick that he had sent to Philadelphia for Peter Forsberg.
In 2010, Timonen and Hartnell were key players in the Flyers' run to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, where they fell short to Chicago.
"You look back and you say the ‘what ifs,'" Trotz said. "The ‘what ifs' are at that stage in our development -- and we're a nontraditional city -- you have to take some routes and at certain times, you have to move players that we probably didn't want to at the time, be it budgets or what have you, had to be met, so you had to do that. That was just reality for the Nashville Predators as an expansion team in the South.
"But it's come full circle. Now we're going after the Hartnells and those level players to add to our existing team. That's very good."
Defense - PHI
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 25 | PTS: 26
SOG: 62 | +/-: 12
Nashville added center Mike Fisher at the trading deadline last season from Ottawa and the acquisition helped the organization advance to the second round for the first time. Trotz, who was once a scout, said the organization takes a lot of pride in the players around the League who have "Nashville DNA."
Others would include defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who helped Vancouver advance to Game 7 of the Final last season, and Washington goalie Tomas Vokoun.
Trotz said he enjoyed catching up with his old players.
"It's good to see them," he said. "We were just laughing. It's good. They're jabbing me, they're ragging me already… They're mocking me, I'm mocking them. It's all good… They were part of our organization -- a big part -- for a long time. You've got good friendships you like to see them have good success."
Hartnell was told that Trotz said he deserved to be on the All-Star team with 19 goals and 19 assists in 42 games and that he was having a career year at age 29.
"When I was a young kid, kind of goofing off maybe a little bit too much, Barry did a good job making sure I worked hard every day at practice and, more importantly, making sure I was prepared for games," he said. "I've only had a couple coaches, and he's definitely up there. He got a lot out of our players and I was fortunate to break in with this organization and learn about being a pro, being a man and all that stuff."
Hartnell said his trade from Nashville to Philadelphia was a "weird story." He said he received a call from his agent telling him that he would get a call from a team within 24 to 48 hours to try and negotiate a contract. When he asked Poile which team that might be, Poile could not provide an answer.
"I was shocked that I wasn't going to get a contract offer or anything like that," he said. "You start with one team and you think you're going to be there forever, right?... I sat there all night thinking 'who is this team that's going to call and maybe I'll play with.' And there was the area code 856 and I found out it was Philly and I was super-pumped about it. The negotiation wasn't too terribly tough, and now Philly's my home."
Left Wing - PHI
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 38
SOG: 103 | +/-: 18
Timonen also said he was "shocked and surprised."
"I was here for eight, nine years and I was the captain the last year," he said, "so it was a shock, but then I realized and I talked to different people and they didn't know what was going to happen to the team and I move on."
One thing Timonen will not forget is that Poile gave him his chance at the NHL. In 1993, he was drafted by Los Angeles in the 10th round -- these days, the draft is only seven rounds.
Before the 2004-05 work stoppage and the rule changes that came after it, defensemen who were 5-foot-10 and 194 pounds like Timonen were at a clear disadvantage. Bigger was better and teams like Philadelphia went for huge defensemen like Derian Hatcher at 6-5 and 225 pounds, and Chris Therien at 6-5, 234.
But Poile and his staff saw something in Timonen when he was playing professionally in Finland.
"I've been saying this in many times in different interviews," he said. "I have to give David a lot of credit. I respect what he did for me. I don't know if he's the biggest reason, but he's up there why I'm here. He actually told me he thinks I can play in this League and he's going to give me a chance and here we are."