Sloan Helps to Steady Admirals Ship
Jan 26, 2012
By Jason Karnosky
National Hockey League teams can never have enough quality defensemen. The demands of an 82-game regular season and two-month playoff schedule means that the depth of franchises is always being tested.
The Nashville Predators are an organization that believes strongly in this philosophy. Despite carrying elite blue liners like Shea Weber and Ryan Suter on their roster, the Predators spent the summer actively shopping for more defensive talent.
Tyler Sloan was one of the players Nashville zeroed in on that could make a difference in the postseason.
“Sloan’s a player that has had lot of success and brings NHL experience,” Predators assistant general manager Paul Fenton said. “We thought he was player we could bring in to be either our sixth or seventh defenseman or play in a depth capacity to be able to call up when we needed him.”
For Sloan moving west represented a significant shift in his career. Dating back to the 2005-2006 season, Sloan’s home was with the Washington Capitals organization, where he played in 99 regular season National Hockey League games over the course of five-plus years there.
During that time, Washington grew from a 28-win team in Sloan’s first full season to one of the league’s top teams, averaging 51 wins per year in his final three campaigns. Splitting time with Hershey, Sloan was a part of three Calder Cup winning clubs, capturing titles with the Bears in 2006 (over Milwaukee), 2009 and 2010.
That distinguished resume made the 30-year-old blue liner an attractive possibility for the Predators this past offseason. For his part Sloan saw Nashville as a team that would give him a legitimate shot.
“I had a few offers that were similar two-way deals to one I signed with the Predators,” Sloan said. “But from what I was told to start the season Nashville potentially had three spots open on the backend and a lot of young guys without a whole lot of experience, so this was probably going to be my best opportunity to make the (big) club.”
Though Sloan missed out on a fulltime spot on the Predators out of training camp, he arrived in Milwaukee ready to make an impact with the Admirals. There he found one of the few American Hockey League clubs that could rival the success of the Bears.
Sloan immediately went to work making a name for himself in Wisconsin. Playing alongside Nashville’s prized prospect Ryan Ellis, the Admirals top blueline tandem carried Milwaukee to a 19-8-0-1 record in its first 23 games, grabbing first place in the Midwest Division.
“It was good to have a player like Sloan come here from a different organization of success and bring some his knowledge from winning (multiple) Calder Cups,” Admirals forward Chris Mueller said. “Hopefully, he can help us reach that goal.”
In part due to the things Ellis learned from his mentor Sloan, the Milwaukee rookie now has a comfortable home with the Predators (Ellis has skated in 14 games with Nashville since his recall on December 26).
Meanwhile, Sloan’s game was also peaking prior to the New Year. However, the veteran defenseman saw the injury bug pop up in the month of January, causing him to miss a total of four games.
“I’m dealing with something that I’ve dealt with the last five years and something I am going to deal with for the rest of my life—having a herniated disk in my neck,” Sloan said. “I had it aggravated in a game against Texas and when it flairs up I just have to wait for the nerves to calm down.”
Perhaps what has been most frustrating for Sloan was the time period when his symptoms occurred. In recent weeks similar injury problems struck in Nashville, offering opportunities for Admirals players to move up. Sloan’s recurring neck issues closed the defenseman’s door to the Predators.
“Honestly, I don’t think I deserved to be called up because I haven’t played consistently enough this month,” Sloan said. “So even if I was healthy I doubt that I would have got that call.”
Milwaukee did not handle Sloan’s absence particularly well, posting just one win in their four contests without number 89 in the lineup.
“It’s been kind of a helpless feeling watching my teammates (struggle),” Sloan said. “Hopefully coming back (Friday against Chicago) I can be a little bit of spark and provide some energy and leadership out there, but at the same time calm the defensive zone down a little bit.”
Sloan’s teammates are looking forward to having their top defenseman back to patrol their blue line.
“Tyler is the kind of guy you need to have around when times get tough,” Mueller said. “He’s a great leader, who carries a lot of maturity with his decisions and that’s why he’s been in the AHL and NHL for so long.”
Sloan could reopen his door to Nashville if he can return to the form that made him Milwaukee’s plus/minus leader with a rating of +15 (seventh best in the AHL).
“Sloan’s attractive because he has the ability to play in the National Hockey League and that is something that we always keep in our mind,” Fenton said. “But (when an opportunity arises) we are going to promote the best player and all of our guys understand that.”
Sloan eagerly awaits his return to the NHL for personal reason—to fulfill a personal milestone many players never get a chance to achieve.
“I’ve got to get back up there and play in my 100th NHL game,” Sloan said. “I’m stuck at 99 and that’s been very frustrating.”