Fifteen years, 1,114 games, 519 wins. If head coach Barry Trotz has been anything for the Nashville Predators, he’s been ever-present.
The only head coach Nashville has ever known, Trotz has slowly risen up the charts and achieved several NHL records, including becoming the longest-tenured coach in the NHL this summer (after Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff was fired). Trotz’s system—a hard forecheck combined with player-specific defensive roles—has been consistently successful, just like the team’s boss.
Trotz was given the reigns of the new Nashville Predators expansion team in 1997 after being promoted from a head-coaching position with the American Hockey League (AHL) Portland Pirates (where Trotz won a championship in 1993-94). Then-owner Craig Leopold liked Trotz’s ability to win games even without the most talented roster on the ice and gave him the main spot behind the bench.
Trotz was a perfect fit for Nashville because the situation was what he’d always known. Never would he find himself running a team accused of having an overflow of talent, and never would he find himself coaching a team with the league’s highest payroll. From the beginning, the Predators have been a team in a non-traditional hockey market striving to hit quality attendance numbers by putting a financially-responsible, group of underdogs on the ice.
And to the surprise of many, it has worked pretty well.
It didn’t happen immediately, but slowly the franchise has trended upward under the leadership of Trotz. Starting with the 2003-04 season, the past nine campaigns of his employment have been a picture of remarkably repetitive quality.
Seven of the last nine seasons, the Predators have overcome the doubts and question marks at the beginning of each season and gone on to make the playoffs. Despite not having a super-star forward and always being in need of more scoring, the Preds have competed in a strong Central division and attempted to upset superior playoff opponents year after year.
Winning consistently usually equals job security for head coaches, and for 14 seasons, that’s been the case for Trotz. The problem with Trotz’s wins, however, is that they’ve haven’t been at the ultimate level. Making the postseason became a Nashville tradition from 2004-08, but winning in them did not.
It wasn’t until 2011 that the Preds won a playoff series, and even then they lost in the second round. Fans were at first ecstatic that the team from Music City had final removed the “first-round” skeleton for its proverbial closet, but as it so often does, winning brings a thirst for more success and not getting it brought a bad taste to the fans’ mouths.
Making the playoffs (and even winning a round) just isn’t enough anymore.
Consistent, mid-level success doesn’t feel the same as it did before. The Predators fan base has begun to see their team as a group of winners and they’ve begun to ask for more than first- or second-round playoff exits, because they think their team is ready for more.
From an unknown commodity to a household name, Trotz has now developed into a top-tier coach in the NHL. He was a great choice to guide Nashville from expansion team to playoff competitor, but the verdict is still out on whether he’s the right man to get Nashville to the next level.
If the Predators have truly reached the point where success is measured on what the team does in the playoffs and not the regular season, then it’s time to move on from the underdog, under-privileged mindset and get a roster and coach that better position the franchise to win their first divisional title and Stanley Cup.