The club was founded in 1998 when the NHL granted an expansion franchise to Craig Leipold. After five seasons, the Predators qualified for their first Stanley Cup playoffs during the 2003–04 season. In 2008, ownership of the club was transferred from Leipold to a locally based ownership group. The Predators advanced to their first Stanley Cup Finals in 2017, but were defeated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. In the following season, the Predators won their first Presidents' Trophy and Central Division title.
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 the NJSEA before ultimately restructuring it to stay in New Jersey.
After the attempt to get the Devils, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stated Nashville would probably be considered in upcoming expansion. The arena was opened in 1996, and after an attempt to bring the National Basketball Association's Sacramento Kings did not materialize, 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. One 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.
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."
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.