The Nashville Predators have had a surprising run so far in their historic franchise-longest 8 game road trip, going 3-2-1 in what many thought would be the toughest part of their schedule.
With the trade deadline looming, a lot of decisions are ahead of the team, but there is one “should we, shouldn’t we” question that many fans are still asking: what do we do with Head Coach John Hynes?
Recency bias can be hard to overcome, especially when the team is doing well. However, we need to look with a critical view both at the body of work for Nashville, as well as prior to Nashville, what potential outcomes there may be, and what is or isn’t worth doing based on certain circumstances.
This one isn’t easy to talk about, but there may be a midseason move the Nashville Predators are too afraid to make, and it may not actually involve anyone’s’ favorite player.
The Body of Work
I’m going to go out and just say it: John Hynes is what he is. The records have indicated as such.
But to help the Nashville Predators fans see the entire picture, let’s go down the whole list of records Hynes has compiled as a head coach both with the Nashville Predators and beyond:
With the New Jersey Devils…
- 2015-16: 38-36-8 (7th in division)
- 2016-17: 28-40-14 (8th in division)
- 2017-18: 44-29-9 (5th in division; lost 1-4 in the first round)
- 2018-19: 31-41-10 (8th in division)
- 2019-20: 9-13-4 (fired)
With the Nashville Predators…
- 2019-20: 16-11-1 (5th in division; lost 1-3 in qualifiers)
- 2021: 13-16-1 (currently 6th in division)
Currently overall, Hynes’ record is 179-186-47. When you look at his record on the whole, you are what your record says you are, and Hynes’ record says that he is a very mediocre coach who seems to only be able to stumble into the playoffs out of luck and sheer player talent, rather than coaching acumen.
Hynes hovers around .500 not only in the seasons he’s coached, but in his overall career in the NHL. At the AHL level, he had success, but some aren’t cut out for the biggest stage and the brightest lights, and Hynes’ record says he is one of them.
The NHL is notorious for second chance (and even third chance) opportunities for mediocre coaches who don’t deserve them, and this may be just the case. The team management hired Hynes so quickly after Peter Laviolette was fired last year, and it made some scratch their heads, but the fanbase was so desperate for a change that they were ready for a new face regardless of who it was.
Looking back, not making an interim hire, and what feels like not doing our due diligence, may have really bitten the team overall.
The Bigger Issue for the Nashville Predators
Remember that bit about recency bias? It’s easy to get sucked into. Going 3-2-1 against teams that we thought we would lose to is great, though I’m still not sure what to make of this year’s Dallas Stars team that has played less games and been battling injuries much like the Nashville Predators have.
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Here’s the thing; this team was by no means close to being competitive in this division prior to the road trip – I mean, they were coming off a loss to the Detroit Red Wings at home for a reminder and some context.
If I had written this article then, the fanbase would take it and run with it. But things since have change for the better.
The recent record, with the addition of injuries to literally a third of our salary cap, give Hynes some excuses to fall back on. Hynes has what I like to call “coaching smoke screens”, because he can say “look at our recent efforts”, or “look who’s NOT on the ice”, but we need to see through these excuses and call a spade a spade.
This team wasn’t very good before the injury bug hit, and the reason for the recent success has nothing to do with Hynes’ system, and everything to do with sheer talent and effort from some vets, and from the rookies exceeding expectations.
If “youth” and hanging in games a little longer than we did when the season started is your team identity, you don’t have a team identity. Period.
Watch what’s on the ice. There is no offensive system, nothing we can hang our hats on. The offense is riddled with a lot of talented players who have had 30 to 60-point seasons in the past, and not even scratching the surface of their career numbers when adjusted for the 56-game schedule.
The defense has gotten by with veterans knowing who they are, playing their game, and trying to make the best moves they can. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm are who they’ve been for the better part of the last decade, albeit the offensive numbers have dropped a bit.
Dante Fabbro has shown improvement, but it feels like he could show more if he was better coached.
Matt Benning and Mark Borowiecki are improvements for a third pairing compared to years’ past, but they’re who we expected to get. There’s nothing that makes this defense any different than when Laviolette was the head coach – if anything they’re more reliant on talent than a defensive, or even team, system.
Speaking of systems, overall the team lacks any kind of coherence. The neutral zone transitions are abysmal. Special teams are a coin toss: the only reason the team has improved on the power play is because of the likes of Tolvanen and his lethal, yet almost artistic, shot (it’s worth a YouTube binge).
The Predators penalty kill is either the worst in the league, or one spot above it.
More often than not, the team needs outstanding goaltending to even contend, and if Juuse Saros or Pekka Rinne have a bad night, there is nobody who would bet on the team in front of them to take over and make up for the discrepancy, no matter how much effort is put forth.
This team is a rudderless ship, and players are regressing under coaching that often times looks in over its head.
Bad habits keep rearing their ugly face
On top of the issues we know about, we see the bad habits game in and game out, and they persist often without improvement, or at best, are habits that are slow to improve, but should be corrected much quicker.
There’s little to no consistency, and it’s not due to effort, but by design. Hynes has rolled out the same forward lineup from a previous game in just three (3) instances.
I’m not a coach, I don’t claim to be one, but you have to think with all the young players that have been called upon (by necessity and not by choice), that consistency is critical to player development.
Even your most seasoned veterans benefit from consistency. Why we see a line that had success in the Tolvanen – Mikael Granlund – Forsberg line (beloved as the “#Stacheville” line) get broken up, is beyond me.
The team, and really more specifically, John Hynes, is as consistent as a Magic 8-Ball, especially when it comes to lineup decisions. What’s worse is, the New Jersey Devils fans tried to tell us, warn us, when the change and hire was made. Tigers don’t change their stripes.
I could write an even longer list, an even thicker critique, of Hynes, but this article would go on to be a thesis. The point is, don’t let the smoke screens fool you: this team is what it is, yes, but really, I think it’s more that John Hynes is who HE is.
What Can the Nashville Predators Do?
I know that many people are on the side of “he deserves a full season”, but I also know that many are on the side of “he should have been fired before we left to go on the road trip.”
Where you land on this argument seems to depend on how firmly you believe Hynes is who his record says he is.
There are a lot of things to consider, especially with the pandemic and what a coaching change midseason means and would look like. In one part, it says “this team doesn’t have it, and that’s why we’re making the move.”
On the other hand, a midseason change can tell a fanbase “we don’t tolerate mediocrity on the ice, and we’re going to send a message as such.” What the Predators do is anyone’s guess, but let’s at least talk through some options.
I’ve talked recently about possible coaching candidates should the the Nashville Predators decide to eventually move on, and though the team may have a question in regards to coaching at the NHL level, at the AHL level, they have someone on the payroll who was just last year named Coach of the Year for the AHL. He also had his team poised for a championship prior to the shut down. I’m talking about Karl Taylor, AKA #FreeKarl.
Remember the youth that was discussed? They’ve looked great in the lineup, and while they are rookies and have made some mistakes, they’re improving quickly, and there isn’t a question of whether they belong or deserve their time on the ice.
Taylor knows these guys, he’s developed these guys, and he could potentially get the most out of them.
Taylor should be the guy, if at the very least, on an interim basis. He’s developed these players, and he can put them in a position to succeed better than what we’ve seen.
Some may say “there’s a coach already on the staff in Todd Richards who could be named the interim.” Not buying it. Look at the Minnesota and Columbus teams he coached, and you’ll see a coach with a very similar record to Hynes, with very similar issues. Birds of a feather, flock together, and I want no part of it if a change is going to be made.
Let’s say Nashville moves on, and gives Taylor a chance: I’m not saying the team will immediately be a contender for the Central Division this season, or even next season. However, such a move is putting in place a developmental guy that can get the team to where it ultimately wants to get to, especially when it comes to the potential for a “soft” rebuild, or even a full on reset.
Taylor knows how to work with young talent. If he doesn’t pan out, you can move on to him for someone else, but at the minimum, you put in place someone who won’t stunt the development, and maybe can give you more consistency than what we currently have. I’d rather rebuild with a developer who can show progress, than trudge along with mediocrity.
I don’t have all the answers. but the longer the Predators wait to make a move, the harder it is to gage the potential of someone like a Karl Taylor.
At the same time, giving Hynes a “full season” just seems like we’re prolonging the inevitable. I’m not saying this season is entirely Hynes’ fault. There have been some managerial decisions that are questionable at best, and at worst make you pull your hair out.
At the end of the day, I don’t believe Hynes is the long term solution (at all), and I don’t think he’s really the short term solution either.
We are at the precipice of change, a fork in the road of whether or not we pull the trigger on, at , a soft rebuild, or hit the reset button all together. I would rather move forward with changes that feel inevitable, rather than kicking the can further down the road.
Hynes isn’t our guy, I’m not sure he ever was, but what I can say for certain is, if a change is made midseason, we shouldn’t give anything but the interim tag until the season is over. When a change is made, if not midseason, at the end of the season, they need to do better due diligence than what was done on January 6th, 2020.
The reality, when you look past the smoke screens, is this: the current Nashville Predators aren’t very good in the system they’re in, the franchise and fanbase deserve a fresh start, we need the right man for the job, and arguably most importantly, the fans deserve some honesty about who and what this team is.
Honesty starts with saying what we probably already know, but may be too afraid to fully admit, that Hynes isn’t the man for the job.