When Scott Walker looks at the Nashville Predators from a distance, he sees that not much has changed.
The work ethic and the competitiveness that he helped forge as one of the franchise’s original players remains a hallmark for a team that has made the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons.
Less than a week away from his 38th birthday and one year into the rest of his life — he retired following the 2009-10 season — he worries about that consistency, at least in one respect.
“I almost start to feel like the fans will start to take it for granted,” he said. “There’s a lot of teams that are ‘original six’ teams that would love to have made the playoffs as many times as these guys have in the last [seven] years.”
Walker was in town Wednesday as part of the franchise’s ‘Skate of the Union’ festivities.
He came to the Predators in the 1998 expansion draft following four seasons with Vancouver. He immediately set what — at the time — were personal bests in games played (71), goals (15), assists (25) and points (40) in Nashville’s inaugural campaign. Two seasons later, he racked up 54 points in 74 games and in his next-to-last season with the franchise, 2003-04, he had a career-high 67 points in 75 appearances.
To this day, he ranks third in all-time penalty minutes (465), fifth in goals (96), sixth in points (467) and ninth in games played (410) for Nashville.
The Predators traded him to Carolina, which was roughly a month removed from a Stanley Cup championship, prior to the 2006-07 season, and he had 51 points in 81 games in his first season there.
“My first year [with Carolina] I had one of my better years,” Walker said. “Maybe statistically, it was a little off one of my better years here. But I played less — I was a third-line guy, I didn’t play a lot of power play or penalty kill. For me, I thought that was good.
“But it was all from what I left with here and taking it to a team that had won the Stanley Cup and knowing that work ethic is everything. I think I endeared myself to the coaching staff there and their management. Those were all things I learned here.”
Now he is trying to teach those same things to the next generation.
He quickly transitioned from his days as a player to a coach when he signed on last season with the Guelph Storm, a team that included Predators prospects Taylor Beck and Michael Latta.
Since his days in Nashville, he also faced a personal crisis when his wife was diagnosed with cervical cancer, which he says was successfully treated.
Never, though, has he lost his connection with the Predators.
“I’d be out at a restaurant or at my home watching a game with the Predators and my buddies will say, ‘Who’s going to win?’” he said. “… I’m like, ‘I don’t know for certain, but I know you’re always going to get a hard game against them.’ That’s probably more important nowadays because there’s so much parity. If your team’s going to work a little bit harder, then you have more of a chance to win than the other team.
“I’m proud of what we started here, but that comes from the coaching staff all the way up though management and the scouts — they’ve done a tremendous job, they have had great drafts and they always sign and trade and get quality people in here. You feel good and proud that you were a part of it, especially when you were one of the ones who was an original player.”
And you never take it for granted.