After the Nashville Predators pulled themselves out of a five-game slide against the St. Louis Blues last Thursday, hopes around Nashville were that the Predators had finally turned a disastrous early-season start around.
On Saturday, however, former Predators head coach Peter Laviolette brought his Washington Capitals to Bridgestone Arena and left with a 3-0 victory. Nashville had plenty of opportunity against Washington – forward T.J. Oshie and defenseman John Carlson left the game early in the first period, but turnovers and a stagnant power play left the Predators unable to get on the scoreboard, and now face a Western Canada road trip (plus trips to Seattle and Colorado the following week) coming off a Saturday night loss in front of a packed house celebrating Halloween.
It’s 2022 – if there isn’t some corner of the internet calling for a head coach’s job, it’s a surprise, and Nashville is no different. Nashville went into last season with expectations for the team consisting mostly of “just try an make the playoffs”. The Predators responded by doing just that, before being swept by eventual Stanley Cup champions the Colorado Avalanche.
This season, however, things were different. The Predators had a relatively busy offseason, and improved the roster (on paper, at least) by trading away Luke Kunin to San Jose and adding Nino Niederreiter and Ryan McDonaugh. Simply making the playoffs this season won’t be enough, and for good reason.
However, the start by the 3-5-1 Nashville Predators has a lot of fans wondering if Hynes, currently in his third full season as the Predators’ bench boss, has not delivered the results for this team that fans were hoping for. Personally, I think that discussion may be a bit premature this early in the season — not even accounting for the fact that Hynes signed a two-year extension this offseason — because a nine-game sample size isn’t much to go off of.
Still, with his predecessor leaving Nashville with a victory Saturday night, there were many uncomfortable parallels between Laviolette and Hynes that were further pushed into the spotlight. So let’s take a look at Laviolette’s final season and the current season by coach Hynes and look for the warning signs that Nashville’s head coach should pay close attention to.
The First Nine Games
Let’s take a look how the first nine games of the season went for both John Hynes this season, and Peter Laviolette in 2019-20, the season in which he was fired as head coach.
First Nine Game Coaching Comparison (2019-20 and 2022-23)
|Season||Head Coach||Record||Goals For||Goals Allowed||PPG||PP OPP||PP%||PPGA||Opp PPs||PK%|
Oddly enough, one of Laviolette’s biggest criticisms by fans in Nashville was the inefficiency on the power play – but nine games into the 2019-20 season, the team went 20% on the power play, scoring 7 goals on 35 opportunities. John Hynes’ team this season, however, has been abysmal with the man advantage. The team had one more opportunity than Laviolette’s squad, yet have only managed 3 power play goals for a percentage of 8.3%, good for 30th in the NHL as of this writing. The power play has been scrutinized already this season; the lack of movement up front allows penalty killers to allow easy perimeter passing by the Predators but nothing in the middle, which has led to the low goal total. When asked about the power play’s struggles after Saturday’s loss, Hynes said that they are constantly evaluating the power play. Hopefully we’ll see some changes tomorrow night in Edmonton, where they will need every opportunity they can get against the Oilers, who have dominated Nashville as of late with all kinds of offensive fireworks.
On the other side of special teams, however, John Hynes’s team this season has been pretty effective, ranking 6th in the NHL for penalty killing with an 84.8% PK%. Laviolette’s squad, on the other hand, was significantly worse. The 69% PK% would be 31st this season, and was one of the major issues that brought Laviolette’s tenure as head coach to an end.
Missing: Predators Offense
Coach Laviolette’s 2019-20 team had amassed 38 goals for in the first nine games of the season, which helped guide the team to a 5-3-1 record over that time. Laviolette had a bit of a reputation for not being able to develop forwards that could score, but that didn’t seem to be the case early that season. John Hynes, on the other hand, has seen a baffling disappearing act by the Nashville offense this season. Despite guiding multiple players last season to career-high goal totals (including Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg, who jumped to first and second in franchise history respectively for goals in a season), the Nashville offense has simply been MIA (missing in action) outside of a 6-1 victory against St. Louis last week. That game accounted for over a quarter of Nashville’s goals to start the season, a low total of just 22 goals for.
Unlike Laviolette, Hynes has the firepower this season that should be able to surpass what the team did in 2019-20, but that firepower simply hasn’t shown up yet. Whether it is the non-production from the power play unit, or the fact that superstars like Roman Josi have been limited thus far, it’s unclear as to why this team hasn’t been able to perform as of yet. There’s been a number of issues that have arisen so far this season… the penalties and untimely turnovers have led to several blown leads, and the team hasn’t looked in sync in transition or in the passing game since they came home from the Global Series in Prague.
Should John Hynes be on the hot seat?
Not yet, but the seat is definitely heating up. When Laviolette was fired following a shootout loss to Anaheim on January 5th, 2020, the team was sitting at a 19-15-7 record, but had lost 4 of their last 5 after the loss to the Ducks. The power play was at a 17% – still better than the current team – but over exactly half of a season, the performance wasn’t good enough for General Manager David Poile and the ownership group of the Predators.
Nine games, however, isn’t enough to make a decision on the future of John Hynes, and I don’t expect Nashville to make a move from Hynes this early in the season (barring a disaster). Hynes has proven that he is a favorite in the locker room among the players, and we saw last season that his brand of forecheck-heavy, hard-hitting offense can produce at a high level.
I don’t expect this team to struggle the same way over the next 32 games, but he must be aware of where the bar was set by his predecessor prior to his termination. The power play is the most obvious pain point with this team, but Nashville’s disappearing offense is also a major concern going forward. Still, Laviolette must have felt good leaving Nashville this weekend with a victory, a feeling that Hynes must try and replicate — and soon — before he follows the same fate as Laviolette as the head coach of this Nashville Predators team.