Analysis: Nashville fans should enjoy the Preds while they can

You’ve got three years left, Predators fans. Enjoy your team while you can.

As Ken Campbell notes in his exclusive story on the reworked arena lease agreed upon by the city of Nashville and the soon-to-be-confirmed new team ownership group, the Preds are guaranteed to remain in Tennessee until the end of the 2010-11 season. But look a little lower in the story, and you’ll see the agreement places not a single restriction on the franchise relocating after three years.

No more minimum attendance numbers that lock them in for another 10 years. No specific break-even point. Nada. Now, it’s simply a question of whether the team is financially solvent – a vague term to say the least – that decides whether the team stays or goes.

So let me get this straight: Craig Leipold couldn’t make the business side work after a decade’s worth of attempts, but a more convoluted ownership collective is going to be successful in just a third of that span? And at a time in NHL history when the salary cap is expected to rise to above $60 million in the next couple seasons, bringing the salary cap minimum level up with it?

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Uh, sure they will.

Now, I certainly hope the team sticks around for the long term. Contrary to the ultranationalist Canadian view, hockey does need to grow outside its traditional boundaries. But, as one high-placed NHL source made clear, there is considerable doubt the Preds will quickly find sufficient financial traction and community interest to keep from being uprooted.

“They’re good now for at least three years,” the source said, “but after that…”

After that, the source’s voice just trailed off. Much like the Preds will, come 2011.