Welcome to One Thing Wednesday—a new weekly article asking what one thing (and one thing only!) a particular person in the Predators organization or on the roster should do to improve the team. For our inaugural One Thing we are going to start near the top and ask the team here at OTF, what is one thing that John Hynes should be doing right now to improve the Predators?
It is no secret that this season has been tumultuous for the Predators, and many would argue that Head Coach John Hynes’s entire tenure has been challenging. With fan patience lagging, injuries to key players, and a tough road trip ahead, what is one thing we think John Hynes should do right now as head coach?
Keep pressing in on the culture changes that the team needs to make.
Even the eternal optimist in me can see that a deep playoff run is likely not in the cards for this Predators team. I wouldn’t even be totally shocked if John Hynes isn’t coaching the team for the 2021-2022 season (although I think that is too hasty a move—but that’s an article for another day). But I do believe that Hynes can make valuable progress with this team if he keeps challenging the bad habits and mental struggles the team wrestles with.
Despite frustrations with some coaching choices, I do think that Hynes clearly sees what the issues are with this team. I even think he knows what needs to happen to change the self-sabotaging habits the players collectively have. I just don’t know if he will have the time to develop this team before his stint in Nashville comes to an end. Whether he remains here long enough to see the Preds learn to play with mental toughness and far more consistency or not, he can continue to push them along that path.
Teams are starting to take liberties with several players and aren’t facing any retribution. The team was already banged up with multiple players on the IR list. I’ve seen Roman Josi targeted numerous times over the past few games and no one really went to bat for him—and now he’s joined the group on IR. Sure, he scored the winning shootout goal first, but when players board and bloody your captain, someone needs to catch a beating. Not just for revenge, but to send the message that the Predators won’t let opponents push them around.
Give Eeli Tolvanen consistent minutes with Filip Forsberg.
Look, my expectations here are low. I’m not asking Hynes to shift around his entire system, I don’t need a totally different approach to culture, and I’m not going to ask for him to put Frédéric Allard in the lineup. All I want is for Hynes to put Tolvanen in a position where he can build confidence and chemistry with an impact teammate who’s hopefully going to be here a bit longer.
Tolvanen is going to be playing top-six minutes on a regular basis next year if all goes according to plan, and on a team as bad as this one I really don’t see the point of putting him in a group where his best linemate is Nick Cousins. Colton Sissons isn’t going to help this kid score goals, John, and there’s not much of a point trying to spread the wealth when there’s essentially pennies to go around. Give Tolvanen more ice time and watch him sprint into the Calder race.
Take higher-quality shots. Please.
You all know how I feel about this by now, I’m sure. But I’m going to make one last plea.
First, a really quick summary. Expected goals (xG) are essentially a probability of a shot becoming a goal based on location, angle, and rebounds, among other factors—because blocked shot location is recorded as where the block happened, not the shot, xG values get assigned to only unblocked attempts. We can look at shot quality (which Evolving Hockey refers to as “expected Fenwick shooting percentage”), which is just the total xG divided by the number of unblocked attempts.
I get it, it seems like a lot of math for a made-up stat, but I promise it’s relevant. First of all, Nashville is dead last in the NHL at shot quality at 5-on-5 as of this writing. Second, teams that shoot better shots score more goals (see below). So please, Coach, I’m begging you to make these guys stop taking tons of point shots—I promise you, it’s not working.
Bryan edit: here's a static image since the chart has issues on mobile.
Adapt or die. (Or more likely...stay alive but maybe get fired.)
It’s true for any coach in any sport at any level: if you’re in charge of a team, there’s a “my style” of doing things. John Hynes is no exception. He has a style of play which he wants his players to embrace, he has certain expectations for the locker room culture (likely reasonable), all that fun stuff.
But what separates okay-to-good coaches from great coaches is their ability to adapt—that ability to sit down and say “I still believe in this system, but it’s just not working at this time, so what else can I do to get us some wins?”
We’ve seen some hints of the latter from John Hynes recently. Specifically, there’s been a notable shift in how the team is setting up chances on the power play (other than just “give Eeli the puck and see what happens”). But on the whole, the Predators are still playing the same brand of hockey as the 2016 Predators, and it’s simply not the same team anymore. I’d love to few subtle tweaks that maximize the current Predators’ strengths, as opposed to trying to fit them into roles they’re not comfortable with (like Arvidsson as the power-play one-time trigger man).
Give the younger assets as much ice time as possible.
John Hynes is not the coach of the future for the Nashville Predators. He just isn’t; whether or not it is his fault, the incoming overhaul that this organization will experience will almost definitely include a change at the position of head coach. So, with that in mind, what can he still accomplish in his time here that could benefit both him and the organization? Focus solely on development.
The Predators are a lot like the Cuban Missile Crisis; everyone is holding their breath, waiting for one bomb (or trade) that will begin the meltdown (or rebuild). While dealing those players is a job for David Poile, Hynes can put Nashville in the best position possible by fully embracing the youth movement. Best-case scenario, he finds some players that could actually help at the NHL level right now; worst-case, those players are still given the ice time to adjust to the pace, physicality, and skill of the NHL.
Not only does this help Nashville, but it helps Hynes, too. After he’s gone and the Hynes era is a memory that’s as forgettable as the Ken Whisenhunt era was for the Titans, he will be back on the market for another gig. At that point, why would another franchise want to hire a guy who’s had two mediocre-at-best stints as a head coach? He just developed Eeli Tolvanen into a quality scorer, that’s why!
As Kanye West once said, “We all gon’ be dead in 100 years. Let the kids have the ice time.” (I’m pretty sure that’s what he said, anyways.)
John Hynes should embrace the youth movement.
That’s it. That’s the one thing.
There are a variety of “opportunities” for John Hynes and clear room for improvement for the Predators this season. It is going to require more than just one thing for the Preds to inch up the Central division standings, but some of these—or something else—might be a much-needed help for the team and the players.