Beyond The Benches

New Times For The Nashville Predators

Since 1997, Barry Trotz had been the only head coach the city of Nashville ever knew until the end of the 2013-2014 season. He had seen 16 seasons behind the bench of a team that many thought would be an unfit market for the sport.

But something had to give. The Predators missed the postseason for the second consecutive season. The last time that happened was before their first playoff appearance in 2004. And for the second of what seems like many seasons, the phrase “lack of offense” became a common deterrent to the team’s success this year.

While their 216 goals was ahead of both the Minnesota Wild and the Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings, the Predators finished with a minus-26 goal differential, although that was mostly due to the absence of Pekka Rinne, who missed over four months with a hip infection. Nashville has never had a player who has scored more than 31 goals in a season since Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan did it in 2005-2006.

But the big reason behind all the offensive struggles is, that is all Nashville has ever had in terms of offensive skill. And that is often why Trotz preferred to employ his infamous tight-checking strategy year after year.  That often meant getting the opposition sucked into Nashville’s tight-knit forechecking scheme, and while it was successful in spurts, it made for some pretty boring hockey. Since 2007-2008, Nashville has not ranked higher than 16th in road attendance percentage. And that’s coming from a team that only missed the playoffs once from 2003 to 2012.

But after all, that was all Trotz had to work with and GM David Poile knew it was time to change the culture of the team. Enter Peter Laviolette. Since coming into the NHL, Laviolette has helped develop teams such as the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers into offensive juggernauts. He is known for contributing to the offensive success of players like Eric Staal, Justin Williams, Eric Cole, Claude Giroux, and Scott Hartnell, all of whom have had career years under him.

With talented young guns such as Craig Smith and Filip Forsberg and veteran Mike Fisher, there was already some potential for improvement immediately when Laviolette was hired. Then Poile made the deal that would really kickstart this identity-changing team into high gear. On day 1 of the 2014 NHL entry draft, the Predaotrs traded away grinders Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling for high-scoring James Neal. While Neal has been criticized as a defensive liability in the past, he is what Nashville has longed for since the beginning: a pure goal scorer, something Nashville isn’t known for having.

So if you thought the Central Division was tough toward the end of the 2013-2014 regular season, think again.