One of the things people marvel about the Nashville Predators is their stability. John Hynes, hired this week, is only their third coach in the 20 years of their history. They’ve only had one GM, and that’s David Poile. Something about southern loyalty or whatever. One might have to ask though…why?
Because when you total it up, the Preds record of success doesn’t really justify keeping things the same this long. There are two division titles, both in the past two years, and one Final appearance. The latter was their only journey even beyond the second round. It’s always spurious to judge a team merely on playoff success, because the sport itself and the playoff structure can be so random. But we’re talking about 20 years here.
On regular season parameters, the division titles could be a touch misleading. There have been regular 100+ point seasons, including three of the last five. If you’re gobbling up over 100 points, where you finish in the division is again, sort of random, basically however many overtime or shootout points you or the teams you’re competing with have gathered.
Still, this isn’t like the Lightning who kept losing to the eventual champion. The Preds lost to those same Hawks in ’15 that the Lightning did, and outplayed those Hawks for at least three of those six games and saw Pekka Rinne undo all that work. But last year they lost to the ultra-boring Stars and the year before that it was the Jets, and each of those then bit it in the next round.
Still, after 20 years, you’d think more than one Western Conference championship would be required to keep David Poile in the GM chair. And he may be out over it now.
Poile fired Peter Laviolette, because the Preds have been amongst the favorites for a few years and are currently out of the playoff picture. The pressure is clearly being felt, and expectations are clearly not being met. This isn’t just a good time for home and visiting fans alike anymore. The feeling that the Preds might miss their window is starting to get palpable in Tennessee.
How much responsibility does Poile take for this season? Or last? Well, last year is a mixed record. The pickup of Mikael Granlund made all the sense in the world on paper. Is it Poile’s fault that Granlund completely flattened out upon arrival? You could make the argument either way. The acquisitions of Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds only made the Preds slower and dumber, and harkened back to the 1st round pick given away for Paul Gaustad. It’s something that Poile has had a weakness for during his entire tenure. They certainly didn’t provide enough dash to get through the blockade the Stars were putting up in the first round.
This year? Again, Granlund not adapting to a team and style that should have hit him between the eyes isn’t totally on Poile. He sacrificed PK Subban because they had depth on the blue line, which they always seem to have, so they could sign Matt Duchene. And yet even with Duchene, no forward is scoring at a top-tier, first-line forward rate. Forsberg leads with 30 points in 36 games. Duchene has 29 in 39, which is kind of what he’s always been. This has been a bugaboo of the Preds for a while, no true game-breaker up front other than maybe Forsberg, and you still have to do some back-bends to call him that.
But then, most GMs’ and coaches’ fortunes simply hinge on PDO, and mostly on their goalies. The Preds do everything mostly right. They’re top-ten in Corsi and expected goals percentages. They have the puck most of the time. What they can’t get is a save, and especially on the penalty kill. The Preds have a .798 SV% on the kill, which has sunk both Rinne’s and Juuse Saros’s overall SV% below .900. Is that on Poile? Because if you go by the chances their PK is giving up, the Preds actually have a good kill. But it doesn’t matter if the goalies let every chance in. Certainly no one was advocating for the Preds to make changes in the crease in the offseason, if Rinne is turning into dust now.
But it’s never that simple in these calculations. If the Preds miss out, you have to feel there will be a house-cleaning. One wonders what Poile thinks he’s going to get out of John Hynes, who only had a good season in New Jersey when Taylor Hall said so. It reeked of a desperate move without a plan. Was Hynes really in the wings all the time to replace Laviolette? If so, why? Lavvy certainly has a shelf-life, but is it his fault that Rinne nor Saros couldn’t stop a sloth on the penalty kill? Did Poile only pull the trigger when Hynes became available?
Maybe Hynes knows how to get Ryan Johansen away from the postgame spread and playing like a top line center again. Maybe he can juice Viktor Arvidsson. But what’s clear is that the Predators aren’t content to be everyone’s cute little getaway anymore, and perhaps for the first time since they actually played games, they might be on the lookout for a new GM.