The Nashville Predators are a professional ice hockey team based in Nashville, Tennessee. They are members of the Central Division of the Western Conference of the National Hockey League (NHL).
In late 1995, rumors began to circulate that the New Jersey Devils would be relocating to the planned Nashville Arena. Nashville offered a $20 million relocation bonus to any team that would relocate and the Devils attempted to terminate their lease with New Jersey before finally restructuring it to stay put.
After the attempt to get the Devils, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman noted that Nashville would probably at least be considered in upcoming expansion. The arena was opened in 1996, and after an attempt to bring the National Basketball Association (NBA)'s Sacramento Kings did not go through, the city instead went after a hockey team.
In January 1997, a group led by Wisconsin businessman Craig Leipold made a formal presentation before the NHL requesting an expansion franchise. When Bettman and league officials visited Nashville to tour the arena, thousands gathered on the Arena plaza to greet them. In June, the league granted conditional franchises to Nashville, Columbus, Ohio, Atlanta, and Minneapolis – Saint Paul. The Nashville team would be scheduled to begin play in 1998 if they met the NHL requirement of selling 12,000 season tickets before March 31, 1998. Of the four cities, Nashville was the only one with a completed arena, and therefore began play first. A month later, Leipold named former Washington Capitals general manager David Poile as the franchise's first general manager. Portland Pirates' head coach Barry Trotz was named the franchise's first head coach on August 6. Mitch Korn was named the first goaltending coach for the franchise.
On September 25, 1997, Leipold and team president Jack Diller held a press conference where they unveiled the franchise's new logo, a saber-toothed cat (Smilodon floridanus). The logo was a reference to a partial Smilodon skeleton found beneath downtown Nashville in 1971 during construction of the First American National Bank building, now the UBS Tower.
Once the logo was unveiled, the franchise held a vote among fans to choose a name. Three candidates were culled from 75: "Ice Tigers," "Fury" and "Attack." Leipold added his own submission to the vote, "Predators." On November 13, Leipold revealed at a press conference that his submission had won out and that the new franchise would be known as the "Nashville Predators."
At one point, rumors began to circulate that the team would move before the first puck ever hit the ice. One rumor had Leipold trading franchises with the Edmonton Oilers, with the Oilers moving to Nashville and the Nashville expansion franchise moving to Houston, Texas. Leipold shot this rumor down, saying "here is no chance."
When awarded a franchise, the city of Nashville paid 31.50% of the $80 million fee to join the League. The city has engaged an affiliate of the team to operate the arena and that agreement protects the city against annual arena operating losses over approximately $3.8 million. The $15 million payroll of the team was the lowest of the NHL.
The Predators first took the ice on October 10, 1998, where they lost 1–0 at home to the Florida Panthers. It was the only sold out game of the Predators' first five bouts in Nashville. Three nights later, on October 13, they defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3–2 for their first win. Forward Andrew Brunette scored the first goal.