Nashville's grinder hockey is partly in the hands of Rich Clune. (PHOTO: @KWilsonPreds on Twitter)

Rich Clune, Barry Trotz, And The Advertising Strategy

Rich Clune scored his third NHL goal last night on a penalty shot (“100 percent, no lie”). It’s the last thing Nashville Predators fans expected from him. In fact, it might be the last thing Rich Clune himself expected.

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Nashville Predators

Rich Clune has as many goals as Martin Erat! (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

Even Coach Barry Trotz probably didn’t count on seeing such a sight, and it is he who has championed Clune and given him more ice time than probably anybody else in this town would have in his position. Though the specifics of the event might have been unexpected, the end result – hard work that helped his team – is exactly what Trotz has expected from Clune during his time with the Nashville Predators.

The Advertising Strategy

Late last year my wife and I got the chance to go visit a big group of old internet friends. One of the activities we enjoyed with all these old friends was a night of no-limit poker. One friend, Chako, employed one of my favorite poker strategies: from the moment he sat down, he went out of his way to give everybody the impression he was crazy. He raised every chance he got, showed big bluffs whenever he was able to run them, and generally irritated the table by running the game.

Then, once everybody was convinced that he was off his rocker, Chako sat back and proved that he was anything but. He began to fold everything but the biggest starting hands, playing a more standard, conservative style. The thing is, nobody noticed. They had all seen enough to classify him as a crazy man. They stopped paying attention when he stopped being involved in so many hands, but their initial impressions of him remained. This is the essence of a strategy called “advertising.”

Some poker players will tell you that advertising is a bad choice. It can cost you a lot of money up front to “invest” in your crazy image, and that money might not make its way back to you before the game is done for the night. Employed well, however, it can pay off big. People who haven’t noticed your shift in strategy will remember you as the crazy guy. They they’ll trip over themselves to hand you their money when you have a huge hand, convinced you’re betting big as a bluff like you did hours earlier. Chako walked away with about three times the money he started the night with, living proof that this strategy can pay off.

Applying the Strategy With Rich Clune

Rich Clune had to fight for his spot on the roster from the moment he hit the ice in a gold sweater. He took fighting majors in three of his first five games. He was lucky to see seven full minutes on the ice during a game, partly because so much of his time was spent in the penalty box. The Preds’ Western Conference opponents took notice, because how could they not? Nashville’s waiver-wire acquisition took on the aura of the loose cannon within a very short time.

Then a funny thing happened. In early February, Rich Clune started to contribute on offense. He couldn’t fight because of a cut on his face, so the coaches told him to start driving to the net and bothering the opposing goalies. He did, and he was rewarded with an effort goal against the St. Louis Blues, one which proved to be the game-winner in a blowout victory for a desperate Nashville team.

At the end of February, placed on a line with Craig Smith and Sergei Kostitsyn, Clune’s energetic play helped to create two Smith goals – a welcome development since Smith had struggled throughout his sophomore season. Then he scored another one himself in last Friday’s 6-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. And then came the penalty shot last night.

Though some of the change in Clune’s role is down to his facial injury keeping him out of fights, more of it is down to Coach Trotz deciding to give Clune an opportunity to play in more offensive situations. He was working hard at a point when many of his teammates weren’t, so he got the chance to do more. And best of all, no opposing coach would expect Clune to do anything but stir up trouble. After all, he’s that crazy guy!

The End Result

The end result looks an awful lot like what happens on a good night using Chako’s advertising strategy: opponents, convinced that Rich Clune is only on the ice to hit people and get in fights, respond to him improperly. Taking advantage of that improper response, he contributes on offense and walks away from fights that wouldn’t do the team any good, like he did late in the third period of the Dallas game against Jamie Oleksiak. He’s playing smart hockey when his opponents expect him to play dumb hockey.

Two goals and two assists in his last seven games makes Rich Clune a bigger contributor of late than quite a few of his more accomplished teammates. Nobody in Nashville is going to depend on him for offense, least of all Barry Trotz. But he’s adding an extra dimension to a team that sorely needs it – and the best part is that nobody saw it coming. If Trotz can find a way to motivate his more pedigreed forwards this team might make the playoffs yet.

Tags: Barry Trotz Nashville Predators Rich Clune

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