My point was that “The Predators are clearly saying that they are not planning on just making the playoffs or hoping to finally break into the second round. They are saying that they are not happy with the early exit last season and are building a team that is tough enough to make a run at the cup.”
My expectations were partially realized. Throughout the season, O’Brien added the grit, confidence, and swagger to a team that needed a little more of all three and was vital to the team’s successful playoff push in March and April that landed them with the fifth seed in the Western Conference finals.
His two goals and seven points during the regular season don’t tell the story of what he meant to the Preds. He was paired with young Cody Franson for most of the season and helped him with the finer points of being a pro. O'Brien also was the first man on the scene of any roughness that needed response when he was on the ice.
During the first round of the playoffs against Anaheim, O’Brien found himself in the penalty box far to many times, taking seven penalties in the first five game. After numerous meetings with Barry Trotz, the coach showed him data about how much better the Preds were on the penalty kill with him on the ice and it finally clicked.
O’Brien explained, "I was taking too many penalties and hurting the club. Coach Trotz has been great with me. He just talks to you man to man. I just had to take a little step back and not play quite as physical."
In his last seven playoff games, he only took two minor penalties and was an Even in the +/- category while providing grit against his former team.
Going in to the Vancouver series O’Brien stated, "That will be very interesting. We're in for a good challenge and I'll definitely have to control my emotions and just play hockey." He was able to do jut that.
O’Brien had a good series against his former team and played much more under control, ”It was obviously a little bit different after being traded from there at the beginning of the year and then ending up playing them in the playoffs. We gave them a good run but we just came up a little short.”
One of the reasons that O’Brien ended up in Nashville was his inability to get along with Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault and an aggressive media in Vancouver. That was never an issue in Nashville as he behaved as well as a choirboy and was fully respected by Trotz and enjoyed playing for him.
At the locker clean out he gave kudos to the Nashville media, who had presented him with the first ever “Media Award” for his willingness to speak out and give the “real” story during the season and not just spew cliches.
O”Brien explained, “You guys are just a little easier on us than maybe the Canadian media was. A lot of the stuff that gets said up there gets blown out of proportion and rumors start flying and people start running with it.”
”The media down here in Nashville are very respectful of the players and you treat us with respect. It’s fun to work with the media in Nashville.”
With the off-season now in full swing, O’Brien will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 if he is not re-signed by the Predators.
He hasn’t had time to focus on a new contract but would like to come back. “We haven’t really even talked about it Those things seemed to work their way out however they happen. It was a great year and my teammates were unbelievable. The fans were great and it was a great city. Hopefully, I’ll be able to come back.”
I, for one, would like to see Shane O’Brien back in a Predators sweater in September. He is a proven winner, provides the swagger that the Predators need, and is also one of the more interesting players to have spent time in Music City .
Buddy Oakes for PredOnTheGlass