The Nashville Predators started out as an NHL franchise in 1998 and will only now make their first coaching change.
Today came news Barry Trotz is out as head coach of the Predators after the team missed back-to-back playoffs for the first time since the formative years of the franchise. Trotz brought Nashville its first two playoff series wins – in 2011 and 2012 – but never went beyond the second round. Even so, Trotz’s tenure will be remembered as a success, since he always seemed to get more out of a budget roster than it appeared he should.
The Predators announced Trotz’s contract won’t be renewed and that he’ll be offered a different position within the organization. Maybe he’ll remain with the franchise he helped pick out team office carpeting for a year before the Predators were competing in the NHL, or maybe he’ll seek out another coaching job in the league. If he does the latter, he’ll have no problem finding employment.
And though Trotz is out, Nashville’s failings shouldn’t completely fall on him. For most of his NHL coaching career, Trotz has propped up a roster that never had a strong scoring presence and he built a system and team that’s been a dangerous overachiever almost every season since they first made the playoffs in 2003-04.
But where the Predators Way failed was in drafting – and developing – scoring NHL forwards. David Legwand, traded at the deadline, and Martin Erat, who topped out at 23 goals in Nashville, represent the best homegrown front men. Scott Hartnell will be in that conversation, though he hit his peak in Philadelphia and Alexander Radulov too, though he left for the KHL. How much of this inability to develop scorers has to do with the GM who drafted them, and how much does it have to do with the coach who developed them? Perhaps both sides should shoulder part of the blame.
By not renewing Trotz’s contract, GM David Poile isn’t condemning the job his coach has done over the past two seasons. After all, last year the team lost cornerstone Ryan Suter and this season superstar goalie Pekka Rinne was out with an injury most of the year and wasn’t the same when he did return in March, posting an .894 save percentage over the final 15 games. Defense and goaltending has been central to this team’s success and it was these areas that took a big hit Trotz had no control over the past two seasons.
What this “new direction” means for the Predators, though, is that they want a coach who will develop his players and his systems differently. They want a guy who will develop scorers and try and find greater success through new avenues. Predators fans were happy with the scrappy nature of their team under Trotz, but he wasn't able to take them to the next level up and the city seems ready for change.
Calle Jarnkrok and Filip Forsberg – both acquired via trade in the past year or so – head a new batch of young Predator forwards the team will count on to become the big scoring presence they’ve never really had. Getting these players to develop into the best scorers ever brought up with the Predators franchise will be a major goal for the new coach to achieve.
But if these guys, and others, develop into the same tireless checkers who top out at 20 or 25 goals that were being churned out under Trotz, all attention will turn to the GM who’s selected each and every one of these players since the very first Nashville draft. The GM will almost always get a second chance, a second life with a new coach. The man behind the bench, however, has no cover. That's why Trotz is out today and Poile remains.
If after this not a lot changes and Nashville continues on as an overachieving budget team that survives on good defense and unflashy hard work, it won’t be a terrible thing. After all, they did make seven post-season appearances under that system.
However, if Nashville does carry on with its scrappy MO and low-scoring way of doing things, then we’ll look back and wonder why the franchise had to move on from Trotz.
Today’s move signifies a shift in Nashville’s philosophy, the first time it’s happened in franchise history. It’s up to the new coach to develop the forwards he’s given into players the likes of which Nashville fans aren’t used to.
If the new boss can achieve that, Poile will look like even more of a genius than he’s been built up as guiding Nashville. But if the same results keep coming back, Poile will be the next one to be replaced with a new voice.