“Some things never change,” usually describes the Nashville Predators pretty well, especially when it comes to their coaching staff.
But as we’ve alluded to in the first two parts of our series on the Preds coaching staff, the addition of Lane Lambert in 2011 and the firing of Peter Horachek this summer, shows change may not be quite the stranger it has been in the past. After last season’s terrible results, it was clear several things needed to change and Nashville decided at least one of those changes needed to involve the coaching staff. Associate coach Horachek was relieved of his duties in late May, and the Predators announced the hiring of former NHL-star and 20-year-pro, Phil Housley as an assistant coach the next day.
Defenseman Housley’s NHL career was filled with a long list of accolades. Drafted sixth overall by the Buffalo Sabres, the Minnesota-native played stellar hockey essentially from day one. The year after finishing second in the Calder Trophy voting his rookie campaign, Housley became the youngest defenseman to score 30 goals in a season at the age of 20. The next 18 years weren’t too shabby either. When Housley hung up the skates in 2003, he finished as the highest scoring American blueliner of all-time with 338 goals and 1,232 points, not to mention, seven All-Star selections and a silver medal from the 2002 Winter Olympic games.
On the ice, Housley’s value is indisputable, but behind the bench, it’s not quite as solid.
The Predators took a calculated risk when they made Housley a coach at the NHL-level for the first time. He’s not a novice at coaching in big moments having lead the United States to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships earlier this year—and his playing career certainly speaks for itself—but just because someone has succeeded at one level does not mean they will automatically find success at a different one.
At this point, we have to view Housley as somewhat of a wild card for Nashville this coming season. His impressive playing career and success in limited coaching action point toward a smooth transition, but they by no means guarantee it. After all, the list of former star players who didn’t pan out behind the bench is a pretty long one.
Housley will be expected to assist in the development and offensive growth of Nashville’s young defensemen including Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Seth Jones and Mattias Ekholm. Trotz has also mentioned he will assist in coaching the Preds power play, which as we’ve talked about before, certainly needs some help.
The well-stocked cupboard of Preds novice defensemen and a below-average power play, will give Housley plenty of chances to prove his worth in this first season and Preds fans will probably be able to tell quickly if the new voice in the team’s locker room is getting his message across.
On paper, the organization made a great hire with the selection of Housley. The skills he brings to the table are just what the doctor ordered for a Predators team in dire need of a quick turn around. The progression or regression of Ellis, Josi and Jones this season (along with a more effective power play) will show quickly if he was the right pickup in reality.
At the very least, getting a big name like Housley goes to show that when it comes to the Nashville Predators, some things do change after all. And for a franchise that still is without its first divisional crown or a Stanley Cup, that may be a good sign for what’s ahead.