Is John Hynes’s seat heating up?

And if it’s not, why not?

The Nashville Predators are not having a good... Take your pick: week, month, season, longer. The previous head coach, Peter Laviolette, was relieved of his duties after a humiliating loss to a divisional rival in the Winter Classic; it’s possible that a similar poor performance in the Global Series this year might have been the end of John Hynes’s tenure.

It’s also possible that it might not have.

The conventional wisdom is that a NHL GM gets one change of head coach before ownership starts looking at the GM as the potential problem instead. This isn’t always the case—there are GMs who have made it through multiple coaches—but there are also plenty of situations that gave rise to that conventional wisdom in the first place.

It also makes intuitive sense. Relieving one head coach of their duties says, I picked the wrong person for the job. Cycling through head coaches says, I keep picking the wrong person for the job.

And that might well apply here. While it’s impossible to imagine the Predators without David Poile, who’s been with the team since its inception and who clearly has a very long leash from ownership, it’s also true that...he’s been with the team since its inception.

Before managing the Predators, he was the general manager of the Washington Capitals for fifteen years. His two-team tenure has spanned forty years—it’s impossible to argue a GM hasn’t had enough time to shape a team in fifteen, let alone twenty-five, years—and, despite building teams that have amassed a record-setting number of NHL victories, he has never won a Stanley Cup. In fact, the Preds’ 2017 run, on the back of otherworldly goaltending from Pekka Rinne, was also the first time a Poile-managed team had won a game in the conference finals. (The 1990 Capitals made it to their conference finals, but were swept.)

The Predators certainly have problems.

The defense has been incredibly porous, with years of excellent goaltending making up for some highly questionable play in front of the goalies. They have struggled with discipline, taking lots of penalties—from stick fouls to totally unnecessary too-many-men penalties—and losing the benefit of the doubt from referees in the process. The penalty kill, which has seen a lot of time on the ice as a result, has been bad both defensively and offensively. The power play, also, hasn’t really had a cohesive strategy since Shea Weber got traded, and it shows.

Young players have often not been given a chance, despite the fact that when Hynes was hired the team said that was part of why they’d chosen him. It’s true that Jusso Pärssinen has gotten some good ice time this season, but he’s the only recent counterexample I can think of. Cody Glass and Philip Tomasino have gotten few to no opportunities. Eeli Tolvanen is an even more complex situation.

We know from Sean Shapiro’s reporting that the Predators management expected Tolvanen to clear waivers; what we don’t know is whether Poile shopped Tolvanen around extensively for a trade, but quietly enough that no rumors leaked, or whether management just assumed that there would be no interest. Either way, a case could be made that better usage might have led to the Preds getting a return. Given more opportunities to add to his statline for the season and fewer healthy scratches, Tolvanen would have been more attractive as a trade prospect. Alternatively, if his own head coach had clearly valued Tolvanen—even if not as the sniper we were all hoping for—Poile might have looked elsewhere for cap relief, or else guessed that other teams might also see value in the player.

At the same time, the problems don’t stop with Hynes.

The Predators have still never had a truly impressive homegrown forward, with players from Paul Kariya to Filip Forsberg all arriving in trade or free agency after being scouted, drafted, and developed in other systems. Meanwhile, high-ceiling forwards like Kevin Fiala have struggled in Nashville before going on to dazzle for other teams, and much-anticipated draft picks simply haven’t panned out.

Barry Trotz spent well over a decade coaching the Predators, and went on to finally get the Capitals over the hump and to the Cup. Maybe he was the right guy with the wrong roster here; maybe he was just unlucky in Nashville and lucky in Washington. The Predators were a few awful refereeing calls away from—maybe—a very different outcome in the Final in 2017; they had massive flaws under Laviolette, but it’s true that this conversation would look very different if they’d won it all then.

There are problems with this team that the head coach should fix. Teaching offensive and defensive systems, both at even strength and on special teams, is arguably one of the biggest parts of the job description. Teaching discipline, and incentivizing players to not take sloppy penalties, also seems a reasonable ask. Giving young players a chance to learn, grow, and make mistakes is a key part of developing them into experienced and confident NHLers who are able to use the skills they have.

At the same time, would replacing John Hynes really solve the Preds’ problems? For over two decades this has been a team that struggles to generate offense, especially from its forwards, relying on fantastic goalies and dynamic defenders to get wins. They’ve played workmanlike hockey, without consistent top-tier offensive stars. Hynes was hired in 2020.

Replacing him would be an admission from Poile that—again—he picked the wrong person for the job. It’s worth asking how many times Poile is willing to admit that.