Nashville Predators: John Hynes Enters Make-or-Break Coaching Season

There’s been skepticism surrounding the Nashville Predators hiring John Hynes as their head coach since Day 1, and even after going on a wild late-season surge to make the playoffs again, Hynes still has plenty of doubters.

This upcoming season for the Nashville Predators figures to be a bumpy one thanks to the front office finally committing to some sort of a rebuild, but where does that leave Hynes in his future as a NHL head coach?

Hynes has one more year left on his current contract with the Predators, which was signed on January 7, 2020 shortly after Peter Laviolette was fired as the team looked disjointed and were in tailspin.

To Hynes’ credit that season, he managed to steer the ship into the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, but the team was unceremoniously ousted by the Coyotes. Bubble hockey and an unexpected pause to the season is why I give a free pass to Hynes despite the Predators getting upset by Arizona.

Then we have this past postseason which saw the Predators show a valiant effort in the first round against a loaded Hurricanes squad, but was eliminated in six games.

Another postseason disappointment, but a series that on paper the Hurricanes should’ve won easily. They actually had to grind that one out as the Predators battled hard.

Nashville Predators don’t need another head coaching search

As wild as it seems, the Predators have had only three head coaches in their 23 seasons. Barry Trotz carried on as the beloved head coach until 2014, Laviolette came in with a strong reputation and instant success, and now we’re in the uncertain tenure of Hynes.

It looks like Hynes is hitting a crossroads this year in his coaching career. He’s finally getting a chance to go through a normal offseason and training camp with the Predators. You’re not going to see me heavily scrutinize Hynes for the odd, pandemic shortened 2020-21 season.

However, this is where the heavy critiques can start coming into play for Hynes. How is he going to lead this roster full of youth and inexperience. In some ways this should be a head coach’s dream as there shouldn’t be too many egos, and a lot of room for coaching moments and developing players.

Hynes has the chance to mold this into his team, and finally break away from the reputations this team has built of being able to make the postseason regularly, but not do much else outside of 2017.

Unless the Predators completely tank and show very little competitiveness from start to finish, I can’t see Hynes getting fired during this upcoming season. He’s owed some patience and time to see if a new foundation can start being built.

Hynes has big opportunity to mold this young team into his own

Training camp, which will open in late September, will be very interesting to watch how the lineup is constructed, and what Hynes tries to employ. We of course expect a team that predicates itself on defensive-minded hockey, and one that’s going to lean heavily on strong goaltending from Juuse Saros.

Is Saros lifting this team once again farther than it probably deserves the best case scenario we can hope for with this year’s Nashville Predators? I’m not that pessimistic about it, and I actually believe that we’re in for some entertaining hockey with players like Tanner Jeannot, Eeli Tolvanen, Alexandre Carrier, Cody Glass and even Philip Tomasino getting ample amounts of NHL minutes.

The core has been broken up in a dramatic way this offseason with the departures of Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Ellis and Calle Jarnkrok. Will these losses buy time for Hynes to get this team back to a Stanley Cup calibier level?

Where Hynes comes into play is how far can he coach this young team with low expectations from the outsider’s perspective? I’m not going to sit here and say that the players or coaches in that locker room have low expectations. They’re competitors who expect to win, and prove people wrong.

Realistically speaking, Hynes needs to get this team at least close to achieving the playoffs. If they come up short, but show improvement despite going through so many changes to their core, then I’ll be pleased with the direction the team is heading in.

On the other hand, if the team is downright horrendous and shows no improvement or development throughout the season, then we’re going to have a problem and that coaching seat will get hotter by the day.

Unless you just really have a strong dislike for Hynes, then we all need to be rooting for him to take charge as the long-term answer behind the bench for a roster that’s got a lot of new faces on it.

Hynes coached the 2017-18 New Jersey Devils to 97 points in the standings, but other than that has never achieved as a head coach more than 84 points in a regular season.

Many have the Predators projected to around the upper-80’s in points, including JFresh Hockey’s WAR roster builder which projects the standings:

This projection has the Predators finishing with 87 points, which would be well-short of another playoff berth and most likely have a late season playoff push out of the picture. We’ll see if another roster addition can shift that mediocre projection that JFresh sees from this team.

Be that as it may, if that’s around where the Predators finish then the next offseason debate will be whether or not to keep Hynes around or if we’re going to be searching for the franchise’s fourth head coach all-time.

I’m pulling for Hynes, outside of the obvious reason that I want the Predators to succeed, but also because I think he’s a genuinely good guy who the players respect. He comes off as a players coach and one that I’m intrigued to see how the younger players respond to.

It’s impossible to answer that question now, but Hynes is most definitely entering a make-or-break season as head coach not only of the Predators, but maybe as a head coach in the NHL.