In June of 2003, the annual NHL Entry Draft was held at the current Bridgestone Arena in the middle of the lower Broadway honky tonk row entertainment district. At the time, the Nashville Predators had just completed their fifth season and had never made the playoffs.
The Preds chose defenseman Ryan Suter with the seventh overall pick in the first round. In the second round, they chose fellow D-men, Kevin Klein (35th) and Shea Weber (37th) and the three have been together in the Predator organization ever since.
Since that draft, the Predators have made the playoffs seven of the last eight seasons and the three defensemen have become the cornerstone of a solid defensive core for which the team has become known.
Since making the Predators out of camp after the lockout in 2006, Suter has played 542 NHL games and 39 playoff games over the course of seven seasons, all in Music City.
On July 1st, Suter's current four-year, $14 million contract will expire. He he has the option to become an unrestricted free agent at the age of 27, in the prime of his NHL career, after having the most complete year of his career.
Last summer, Suter saw his defensive partner, and current Norris Trophy favorite, Shea Weber, awarded $7.5 million for this season at team-elected arbitration. Many feel that Suter would get that, or more, since few top defensemen of his caliber ever make it to the open market.
Earlier this year, Suter publicly stated that he wanted to focus on the Predators' season and their expected deep Stanley Cup playoff run which ended unexpectedly on Monday night in Glendale when the Preds went down in five games to the Phoenix Coyotes.
On Wednesday night, an emotional Ryan Suter waited out all of the television cameras and finally emerged from the Preds' locker room clean out to speak with a few media members with no cameras to catch the misty-eyed turmoil that lay within him.
He clearly is unsure of where his hockey-playing future lies. After avoiding any discussions about becoming a free agent over the last few months, the reality of his impending decision has hit hard.
Suter explained, "Right away after the game (Monday), someone asked me (about free agency) and it kind of made me mad. I got caught off guard where you are in playoff mode and you lose and you don't think about it. Then all of a sudden its brought up and I haven't had time to sit back and talk with my family and figure out what we want to do."
"This morning I talked with David (Poile) and we talked about everything and the future and how everything will go," Suter continued. "I think we are going to meet again in a couple of weeks and kind of make a decision."
Suter plans to be hands on in the negotiations. "It's such a big decision for me and my family it's best to go through my agent but obviously whatever he talks about, I need to know."
At this point, it is clear that the young defenseman is ready for a break. "Your emotions are so high throughout the year and you try not to have any distractions and you are so focused. Now that the year is over, you just want to get away from everything and wind down."
"You have meetings going on and you are trying to get back home to your family. It's time just to get away from it for a while."
In conclusion, Suter made it clear that he wanted this summer's signing to be his last. "Wherever I sign, I want to be there for the rest of my career and that affects the family - the wife and the kid. Everything plays in to it."
Where the Nashville Predators lie in Suter's future is anyone's guess. There are 29 other NHL teams that would love to sign him and he has the option of choosing the team that offers the best shot at winning a Stanley Cup while offering his family the quality of life that they desire.
The countdown has started. Ryan Suter has 52 days to decide if he will finish his career in Smashville or somewhere else.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOntheGlass