Everyone likes to play “what if” with their brackets.
Team B eliminates Team A, then goes on to face Team C. What if it was A who’d won the first series and was playing C? Maybe C would have been a better matchup for A, and A could have gone on to the conference finals, instead of going out in the first round. NHL managements aren’t immune to this. I don’t have any insider information on this, but I’d be shocked if they’d figured out a way to stop asking what if?—it’s a human instinct, not just a sports one.
Getting swept, or going out in the first round, or both, is usually a good way to have some big changes made to a team—maybe rightly, maybe wrongly.
We all remember the Chicago Blackhawks blowing up their entire staff after their first-round exit at the hands of Pekka Rinne in 2017, before the next round had even started. The Anaheim Ducks jettisoned their coach after losing to the Preds in 2016, though that may have been more because it was Bruce Boudreau’s fourth consecutive Game 7 home-ice loss after building a series lead than because it was a single loss.
We’ve seen this from the other side. Now it’s time to see it from this side.
Head coaches are sometimes just the scapegoat, sacrificed to make fans feel like something is being done. It says, “Hey, we messed up and that should have gone better.” Sometimes that’s not really true, and the winner of a playoff series advanced on doing things right and getting lucky, instead of because their opponent did things wrong.
Different coaching could, maybe, have gotten the Preds a few wins against the Avalanche, but the talent disparity between the teams—the Avalanche having spent years in a rebuild accumulating futures who have had time to develop, the Preds...not—was huge. I don’t blame Hynes for the loss, though I think there are things he could and maybe should have done differently anyway.
I also don’t think relieving Hynes of his duties is the solution to the Preds’ problems.
Right now, the Nashville Predators are not a great team. They’re not even that good a team. They have a few excellent players who are aging into their 30s, a few young players with high ceilings who have yet to demonstrate that they’re going to consistently reach those ceilings, and a lot of guys who are fine players, or okay players, or who work hard but aren’t distinguishing themselves at the NHL level.
Career seasons from Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg, combined with a Vezina-finalist performance from Juuse Saros and offensive production from Roman Josi that had people pointing back at Hall-of-Famers’ seasons from 30 years ago, let the Preds just barely squeak into the playoffs. That’s not sustainable. That’s not a recipe for long-term, repeatable success.
The Predators need big change. Whether you think coaching was at fault in their series loss, and Hynes shouldn’t have been hired or has done his job and should head out, or whether you think the problem is more fundamental than that and David Poile needs to go, they were not just a few tweaks away from beating a fully-healthy Avalanche team. The longer the series went on, the clearer that became.
But the Avalanche went into that series as a clear favorite; they went into the season, and then the postseason, as an obvious Stanley Cup frontrunner. It’s very easy for a risk-averse general manager, or a risk-averse owner, to say, “Well, we lost to a good team. We don’t need to make changes.”
If the Avalanche lose, doubt starts entering the picture. If the Avalanche lose soon, and decisively, that doubt gets a lot bigger.
The best hope the Preds have of getting a sorely-needed shakeup is if the Blues win this round. It’s not pretty. I don’t like it. Their fans will be smug when they head east to Bridgestone for games next season, and even smugger if the Blues advance much past the second round. Division rivalry is real, and we can probably all think of a few Blues players we hope wake up barefoot in a room full of LEGO.
But if the Predators can start putting together a better team with a stronger chance to win as a result, it’ll be worth it.