Nine days ago, the Nashville Predators began looking for a new head coach for the first time in nearly 17 years.
Due to a shortage of candidates, the list for selecting Nashville’s second-ever bench boss remains pretty short right now. But if a few head coaches get the axe after some disappointing playoff performances, the pool might get a little deeper.
If a couple coaches are let go over the next few weeks, will they want the Predators job? How enticing is running the show in Nashville?
Seven characteristics of the Predators head coaching job:
1. Central challenges: Five out of the seven teams in the Central Division qualified for the playoffs this year and things are only going to get more competitive next season. The bottom dweller in the division, the Winnipeg Jets, finished just seven points out of the final Western Conference wild card spot this year. The new Predators coach will have to go up against Stanley Cup contenders in the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and now the Colorado Avalanche nearly 20 combined times per season, year after year.
2. Inexperienced staff: If the current set of assistant coaches are kept under the new regime (and if one of them doesn’t take the lead job himself) than the Predators coaching staff will remain pretty green at the NHL level. Assistant coach Lane Lambert has two seasons under his belt with Nashville and in the NHL (one of which was the lockout-shortened year in 2013). Assistant coach Phil Housley just completed his first season with the Predators and rookie year as an NHL coach.
3. No interest in a rebuild: Out of the playoffs the last two seasons, the Predators and general manager David Poile have attempted an “on-the-fly rebuild” versus a long-term overhaul. Postseason qualification is the standard of success in Nashville and the ownership group and their GM will do almost anything to avoid missing out for a third-consecutive year. Nashville finished three points out of the playoffs this spring and with young forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Filip Forsberg in the wings, the Predators should be in the running for the playoffs again this next campaign.
4. Shea Weber: Because of the many clubs that don’t have one, it’s worth mentioning when a team has a true superstar. Nashville captain Shea Weber will be in the prime of his career the next few seasons and if the current trend continues, there will not be a better defenseman in the game. Though the quality of Nashville’s forwards may be in repeated dispute, the Predators defensive corps could be the best they’ve had in years next season and that starts with Weber.
5. Small changes are big: The franchise is about to play its 16th season this fall and only one man has ever been the coach. That means one style of play, one system and one philosophy on selecting lineups have defined how the show has been run for a decade and a half. A new coach will likely be seen as both a breath of fresh air and an outsider who is shaking up a recipe that’s worked in the past.
6. Limited flexibility: Currently, 11 of the 12 forward spots for next season are filled on the Predators roster. Poile has vocally complimented the club’s D corps, so despite having a few restricted free agents this summer (Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and Michael Del Zotto), that appears unlikely to change much either. The new man at the helm in Nashville will have to be content with primarily changing the team’s style of play, because the players on the ice look to be relatively set in stone.
7. Pekka Rinne: Defense has defined Nashville over the years and (in large part) that’s for good reason. With Weber and two-time Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne on the back end, playing a style that aims for low-scoring outcomes is kind of the logical choice. Rinne is one of the best goalies in the NHL and has five years left on his current deal, so the Finnish netminder is likely the main in the crease for the foreseeable future.