Predators fans are growing eager to see a winner. - USA TODAY Sports
Are fan expectations rising above the level at which David Poile and Barry Trotz can deliver results?
On the latest episode of the 303:30, a bloggers roundtable considered the question of whether David Poile and Barry Trotz need to worry about their jobs, given the disappointing results we've seen this season. Rather than following up last season's success with a run for the Central Division title, the Predators are fighting for a chance to even make the playoffs, something more like what we experienced in 2008 or 2009.
After advancing to the second round of the playoffs each of the least two seasons, anything less than that will be seen as a setback, but are things so desperate that heads need to roll down Broadway any time soon?
What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Sometimes, the mood among fans can change awfully quickly. Ryan Porth of Smashville 24/7 chimed in during the roundtable with "this cycle of mediocrity has to come to an end at some point. Poile has to get this team to the top or someone else is going to have to do it. Trotz is going to have to get this team to the top or someone else is going to have to do it" (as quoted by Jeremy at Section303.com).
Yet only last month, he was touting the Predators as The "It" Team In The "It" City:
Every spring the team inches closer to a Stanley Cup, while Smashville has become "the place to be" in this city 41 nights a year. There also is a substantial "it" factor that has people coming back, just like the city itself. When they experience a Predators game for the first time, they get lost in the atmosphere and the music and the game and the entertainment - and suddenly, there's no looking back. They're hooked.
"My wife and I found something to be invested in with the team - not only financially, but emotionally and socially. We've made lifelong friends because of our love of the team," Delph said.
The city caught Preds Fever during the 2011 playoffs - the franchise's breakthrough moment - and it hasn't let go.
That's quite an about-face, in just a matter of a few weeks. Have things really turned so quickly for the worse? Or has the recent stretch of poor play suddenly cast a different light on the last several years?
The difficult thing to accept is that when it comes to hockey teams, even ones with a number of young players working their way up the learning curve (Colin Wilson, Craig Smith, Gabriel Bourque, Roman Josi, etc.), progress is rarely a straight-line process. There are setbacks and reversals of fortune, but that doesn't necessarily mean you react to those by changing the leadership.
Why David Poile Should, Or Shouldn't, Go
If the owners really wanted to fire David Poile, they could certainly find reasons - the long-running inability to attract or develop top offensive talent, the handling of Ryan Suter (who walked away for nothing) and/or Shea Weber (whose last two contracts were determined by an NHL arbitrator and the Philadelphia Flyers instead of the Preds), and the obvious absence of any banners hanging from the rafters at Bridgestone Arena.
Although Barry Trotz recently opined that "offense can win you games, but defense can win you championships", this team which is so famously dedicated to defense hasn't ever won a championship, whether for the Central Division, Western Conference, or of course the Stanley Cup.
There are many positives to Poile's tenure that don't stand out so starkly, but are invaluable to the stability of the franchise, however - a drafting & development system that continues to crank out elite homegrown talent on defense and in goal, and a deep-rooted organizational culture that is committed to "the Predator Way". Whether you're down with that philosophy or not, the fact that it is consistently applied from Nashville through Milwaukee is an organizational strength that pays off when injury strikes and guys have to be called up.
Simply put, even if David Poile were given his walking papers, a true cultural change wouldn't come about without a much more thorough turnover.
Is that what's needed?
Can David Poile & Co. Get the Job Done?
Anyone who has read OTF over the years knows that I'm critical of the Predators' leadership on occasion. For a long time they reserved a roster spot for a designated fighter who can't take a regular shift, and often eschew offensive specialists in favor of hard-working pluggers whose best work is done along the boards, rather than near the net. With the Paul Gaustad contract, the team is now paying thrice as much as what they used to for guys who delivered similar results, like Jerred Smithson and Scott Nichol.
That said, I do believe that this group is capable of hanging banners at Bridgestone Arena. They had a decent chance of doing that last season, boasting the richest collection of offensive talent seen here since 2007 during the playoffs, before they shot themselves in the foot with the whole Radulov/Kostitsyn affair. In the short term, they have some real difficulties to work through given the high cost of the Weber & Rinne contracts (for years, the Preds thrived on cheap but top-notch goaltending & D, but it's not cheap any more).
If you judge a leadership group by saying anything less than winning the Stanley Cup is a failure, you're likely to be sorely disappointed for decades at a time. With 30 teams in the league, even an average team is doing well to win once in a generation. In 3 of the last 7 seasons, however (2007, 2010, 2012) the Preds had a good shot at a Central Division, Western Conference, or Stanley Cup championship. Many other teams around the league (some with the greatest resources available to them, too) haven't come close to that kind of opportunity.
Make no mistake, however, the pressure to succeed going forward will be higher than it has been in the past. When it comes to growing the business of the Nashville Predators, the first step (as frequently mentioned by CEO Jeff Cogen) is to fill the building. The team is now doing that with regularity, boasting of a 25-game sellout streak.
The next step, once an expectation of ticket scarcity starts to set in among Nashville sports fans, is to raise prices. That will be a tough sell if the team doesn't have any genuine accomplishments to show off, although the team is doing such a great job marketing these days that a good portion of the crowd is there simply for the event experience rather than living & dying with the on-ice results. My guess is that the portion of the fan base that would stop buying tickets if the team doesn't make the playoffs is very, very small.
Can David Poile & Barry Trotz raise banners at Bridgestone Arena in the years ahead? That's the question of the day, and I'd like to get your thoughts on that in the comments below. In the meantime, make sure you head over and listen to the latest 303:30, it's sure to get you thinking...