The Nashville Predators season is in trouble and it’s up to John Hynes to salvage it. General manager David Poile has tapped the former New Jersey Devils head coach to save the 2019-20 campaign. The Predators decided to shake things up by firing coach Peter Laviolette after he took over for Barry Trotz in the 2014-15 season.
Laviolette did bring a lot of success to the Predators’ organization. He led them to their first Stanley Cup Final and made the post-season all five seasons he was in charge. Nashville won its first two division titles in franchise history and earned the 2017-18 President’s Trophy.
However, things have gotten progressively worse the last three seasons. The Predators’ defence and goaltending has struggled this season. Nashville’s big guns have struggled to score. Injuries have also been a big factor. NBC Sports’ Mike Milbury said the team’s top three centres “are overpaid and don’t try hard enough.”
There’s plenty of talent on the roster, but a new voice in the locker room may have been needed. Laviolette is a players coach while Hynes comes in with a tougher edge.
What John Hynes Brings
The Devils slow start got Hynes dismissed. However, many issues like goaltending and high roster turnover may have hampered the club. Devils experts say that Hynes likes to run up-tempo practices and demands the most from his players.
Mistakes have plagued the Predators at times this season and Hynes is not a fan of them. Nashville’s penalty kill is near the bottom again at 29th with a 74.0 percent success rate going into Hynes’ first game in charge Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins.
Boston netted three shorthanded-goals as it beat Nashville, 6-2. Hynes didn’t have much time with the team, so night one could be written off due to unfamiliarity with the roster.
The Predators have talented defencemen like Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis that love to jump into rushes. That style was a welcome change from the more defensive game that Trotz ran in his long tenure. Nashville’s defence was terrifying on offence for two or three seasons under Laviolette’s system.
However, it seemed like players were caught up ice more than normal and the goalie duo of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros weren’t covering up those mistakes with their goalie play. It seemed like mistakes weren’t being covered like they had been in the past.
Saving the Season on the Fly
Hynes and Poile know each other through ties from USA Hockey. Despite the firing, Devils general manager Ray Shero had high praise for his former coach. Shero was an employee for Nashville from 1998-2006.
“John Hynes is bright young coach and great leader who has a track record of both effectively developing young players and successfully motivating veterans,” Poile said in a press release.
Nashville has struggled mightily in multiple shorthanded goals allowed.
However, Hynes does have some good things despite the Devils firing him. In a Hockey News article, New Jersey had the fourth-best penalty kill dating back to the start of the 2017-18 season. His teams killed off 82.1 percent of man-down situations.
New Jersey also didn’t give up a lot of shots and had the fourth-lowest expected goals against rate on the penalty kill. It’ll help that Hynes will be able to draw from a better defensive group with players like Josi, the still injured Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. There are also talented forwards like Calle Jarnkrok and Nick Bonino on the roster that can limit shots and opportunities.
What it Means for the Future
The Predators aren’t dead in the water as they’re only five points off the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. Poile may still deal some players at the deadline, but it doesn’t seem like he’s giving up on the season.
Nashville is only a few seasons removed from a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Most of that roster is still a part of the team. It’s not a lost cause, but the Predators need to get moving if they want to make it back to the post-season.
NASHVILLE, TN – JANUARY 07: Nashville Predators head coach John Hynes is shown following the NHL game between the Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins, held on January 7, 2020, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)