Two seasons have passed since the Predators made the playoffs. Two seasons of mediocre to worse play has put the franchise on the outside of eighth place. Two seasons before Nashville was poised to go further, maybe to a Western conference finals, but it was not meant to be. With all skippers, the honorable ones go down with the ship.
The names being batted around for the possible head coaching gig in Nashville include Peter Laviolette and Guy Boucher, the latter recently signing a contract to coach in the Swiss league for SC Bern. Another potential candidate is the new assistant coach for the Nashville Predators, Phil Housley, who is more than able to coach up young talent since leading the US junior squad.
UPDATE: JR Lind confirmed that Housley runs the PP and Lambert runs the PK, so check below for a change of casting.
Suitor #1: Phil Housley
First, let's address the interim. Phil Housley is the offensive defenseman and Hall of Fame player that didn't allow his size to hinder his ability in the NHL. The young blue line for the Predators has been tested this year, especially after theKevin Klein trade in which a 29-year-old veteran was replaced by a 23-year-old "project" in Michael Del Zotto. The defense definitely shows promise but over-eager mistakes and typical rookie miscues have caused an obscene amount of rubber going the wrong way.
After extra information, Housley has also been in charge if the Predators PP that ranks eleventh in the NHL this season. He has been grooming young talent like Victor Bartley, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and most notably Seth Jones who anchored Team USA at the World Juniors where Housley was head coach. Growing pains are a part of any young blue line and aside from the numerous gaffes, the Predators have tremendous strength on the back end with Shea Weber leading the team in points and all NHL defensemen in goals (including PP goals). The reigns are there for the taking if Trotz gets shown the door and Housley would be a perfect combination of familiarity and a fresh set of ideas.
Suitor #2: Guy Boucher
The elephant in the room is his newly signed contract in January that locks him into coaching SC Bern until 2014-15. Boucher was on fire and running through the ranks of the coaching world much like Chip Kelly did in football. His offensive and defensive acumen is incalculable and he brought this new style and outlook on hockey to each team he oversaw. In Drummondville he guided them to their best season to date and from there he ended up with the Hamilton Bulldogs, the AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. In his first year at Hamilton, he won Coach of the Year honors and the next season was offered a head coaching job for two different teams: Columbus and Tampa Bay.
Boucher joined the Lightning and led them to an Eastern Conference finals appearance where they lost in Game Seven to the Boston Bruins 1-0. The next two seasons were not as "Cinderella" as his opening bid in Tampa Bay as the Lightning failed to make the playoffs both years. The less-than-stellar goaltending and on-ice personnel may have been the detriment of those two non-playoff seasons rather than the coaching of Boucher. The bright spot in these seasons was Boucher's ability to coach up offense and produce goals. In his playoff year, the Lightning ranked seventh in the NHL in goals per game with 2.94. The next season, Tampa Bay dropped one spot to eighth with 2.83 goals per game and remarkably the season he was fired the Lightning ranked third in the NHL with a staggering 3.06 average. SC Bern was wise enough to snatch up Boucher for their hockey team, but the question remains whether or not Boucher would be tempted to come back for a head coaching job in the NHL.
Suitor #3: Peter Laviolette
Laviolette is the story of a brilliant start followed by a mediocre finish. He began his coaching career with the New York Islanders and took them to the playoffs both years. He was then give the reigns to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003 and led them to the top of the mountain winning the Stanley Cup in the 2005-06 season. Aside from this one successful season with Carolina, Laviolette failed to make the playoffs any other year with the Hurricanes and was fired after 25 games in the 2008-09 season (with a winning record). He was then hired by the Philadelphia Flyers in the middle of the 2009-10 season and had immediate success taking them to the Cup finals, losing to Chicago in six games. The next year saw the Flyers atop the Atlantic Division only to lose in the second round of the playoffs and in his third season lost in the second round to the New Jersey Devils. Laviolette failed to guide the Flyers to the playoffs the next season and three games into this year was fired by the organization.
Coaching offensive talent is the backbone of Laviolette throughout his career. In the last four seasons, the Flyers have been in the top ten in goals per game, two of which they were top three. Since he started coaching, Laviolette has an average position of 9.72 in the league for goals per game, in spite of one season when his Carolina coached squad finished dead last in the league.
For a little perspective to how the Predators have fared over the past five seasons, two of which the Predators made the playoffs and reached the second round, here are the goals per game results:
A little bit of offense can go a long way in the fast-paced, goalie-pad shrinking era of the NHL. The Predators have been without any dynamite offensive scheme for a while as the numbers above show. Granted, the Predators don't have some of the elite level talent that these other coaches have had, but even in years where Boucher and Laviolette didn't have that luxury, they were still able to keep their teams in the upper half of the league. The crop of young talent that the Predators have with another potential forward coming in the upcoming draft makes it imperative for a different perspective and game plan to showcase the offense and find ways to win games in which the Predators goalies and defense allow only one to two goals (eight games were lost 2-0, 2-1 or 1-0).
As Dirk pointed out and has been discussed to the tune of 500+ comments, it might be past time for a change to come to Nashville and these are three of many options that could lead to the next level and beyond for a franchise and a fan base that are grinding their teeth and wringing their collective hands for change.