John Hynes was set up to fail, but his excuses are running out
The Predators haven’t done their new head coach any favors, but that doesn’t exempt him from blame.
The John Hynes era has been a short one rife with disappointment, but I personally look at the situation unfolding in Nashville right now and see a mess that’s largely out of the hands of a head coach. The roster construction is poor, players are failing to execute at their talent level, and there seems to be a lack of “buying in” that’s visible on the ice.
That said, Hynes has still absolutely failed at the fundamental level as a head coach on a number of fronts. It seems like lately there’s been an increasing divide amongst the media and fans invested in this team as to who’s at fault for what; some blame Hynes for everything, while others feel that the issues largely rest on the players and their efforts. Today I want to break down my perspective on where the responsibility for this lackluster season lies in a more nuanced way. It’s a multifaceted failure with multiple parties involved, and there’s a better way to distribute and direct the angst that we as a collective hockey community are feeling than just blasting a singular party. Here’s the breakdown.
Failures by the Players
The personnel on this roster are at fault for a number of things, chief among them execution. There’s been a lot of flailing accusations by outsiders of a lack of effort, but I tend to disagree with this sentiment; aside from the recent loss to Detroit at home, this team has clearly looked like they’re trying.
The greater issue is the aforementioned failure to take a new system and carry it out effectively. The Predators are employing a new forecheck, a new approach to entries and exits, and a new penalty kill system. All of the following, aside from the transition strategies, have been absolute disasters the entire year, mostly because the on-ice decision making and anticipation by the players has been abysmal.
Looking at this play, there’s nothing going on here that Hynes should be responsible for: Dante Fabbro made an atrocious read and directly caused a goal against by leaving the backdoor pass uncovered. Occurrences like these have been all too common this year, and with Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm slumping the defensive coverage on an individual level doesn’t look like it’s improving anytime soon.
The comedy of errors going on in this sequence is an ironclad example of how the forwards have failed to do anything to supplement the struggling blue line. The accuracy of passes, communication on the ice, and general ability to think a step ahead all look lackluster and lead to a pair of failed exits and a goal against. These are just the clips that stand out in my mind and ended up in the back of the net, but there are numerous others that I could point to. If it only takes two minutes for me to go through game highlights and find egregious errors like this, that’s not ideal.
The power play is yet another area where I’m seeing guys struggle to adapt to the new systems and look comfortable, especially when it comes to the “order of operations” when deploying the 1-3-1.
Rather than looking to produce rapid, cross-crease puck movement to create deadly one-timers (the main draw to this system for teams like the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning), the Predators eschew seam passes for point shots. When they do manage a dangerous pass, half the time the resulting shot attempts have gone wide or been whiffed on; somehow, Viktor Arvidsson can’t seem to hit a one-timed shot to save his life.
These deficiencies have changed how teams defend a Nashville power play, with coaches clearly noticing on tape that the main option being employed is the slapshot from the blue line. The proclivity towards passing out high instead of looking for an opening and attempting a skilled play limits the avenues of attack for the extra skater and ultimately renders the whole unit ineffective.
I don’t think that a lot of the decision making going on here is totally reflective of the offense or defense Hynes is striving to achieve. He’s clearly made efforts in practice to emphasize offensive creativity, smart decisions in transition and going after the high-danger chance instead of the safer low-danger attempt. The roster still has the shadow of the rigid Peter Laviolette system hanging over it, and it’s fair to question whether the players will be able to shake off the stifling nature of its lingering effects before it’s too late. That brings me to the second party at fault here:
Failures by David Poile
The roster construction of this team is more than adequate to make the postseason as a bubble team, and I will stand by that assertion even if the Predators pick first overall this offseason. The talent level assembled in the locker room is greater than that of at least three teams in the division, and I’d argue that when all the players are clicking this group has the ability to be the third-best team in the division. Despite all of this, they are struggling, and I think it has a lot to do with the fit of John Hynes as the coach of this team, especially given what they needed post-Laviolette.
Hynes brought a number of things reputation-wise to Nashville from his tenure in New Jersey, but watching tape of his old teams a few things stood out to me.
On offense, I saw very little structure; in peak years, this resulted in Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier creating game-changing plays and attacking the slot with gusto, but at its worst it yielded a Devils team that looked completely disorganized on the attack. I see much of the same with the Nashville Predators this year, which is cause for concern.
On defense, it looked like players were always fairly hesitant to break away from structure, and when they did it was poorly communicated and often mistimed. Again, this is a problem that’s largely congruent with the Predators under Hynes. The biggest positives surrounding Hynes were his lauded motivational ability as a player’s coach, and his approach to bringing along young players; many Devils fans disagreed heavily with the latter given the handling of Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt, Damon Severson and others. This all sounds like a discredit to Hynes as a coach, so how does this fall on Poile?
The Predators were in need of a coach who could transition them gradually from an inflexible offense to a modern system that emphasized crisp passing and dangerous shots. What they did not need was a complete vacuum of structure that would lead players struggling to reclaim their past creativity to inevitably devolve back into old habits. Peter Laviolette was a player’s coach whose offensive system directly contrasts the Hynes approach, and the roster has been unable to adjust to the abrupt change.
The lack of foresight inherent in the coaching hire falls squarely on the shoulders of the GM, hence why I blame him. As for the coach...
Failures by John Hynes
To say that this roster is performing as best they can and Hynes is doing an optimal job is a falsehood at best. There are innumerable tweaks that could be made to improve the team’s standing that are either being ignored or remaining unchanged.
The primary shift that’s staring the coaches in the face is the power play system. The Predators simply lack the personnel and mentality to effectively deploy the 1-3-1, and the stubborn refusal to change an already stale system continues to baffle me. Even with the current system, lineup decisions have been frustrating at best, with Viktor Arvidsson continuing to see a role as a rover and the primary one-timer option on the second power play unit.
Speaking of lineup frustrations, Hynes has a well-deserved reputation as an incessant line-shuffler. The Predators rarely see multiple games in a row with the same players alongside one another, destroying any chance that the forwards might have at developing chemistry. This only exacerbates the confusion and hesitation running rampant in the adjustment period that anyone watching has noticed.
The final, critical distinction I’d like to make is as follows: while it is not within the realm of human capabilities to force people to perform, it is the job of a head coach (especially one touted as a player’s coach) to spark players, motivate them in low moments and get them to buy in. This roster absolutely needs to be better, but simultaneously it is the obligation of John Hynes—in the interest of keeping his position—to help them be better players and grow as a team. Instead, we’ve seen largely the opposite in the Hynes tenure, with players regressing across the board and execution failures running rampant.
The Bottom Line
Excuses for the collective failures of Hynes, Poile and this current core are running out. If the team doesn’t turn things around now, fans will be staring down the franchise’s first true rebuild in 23 years of history.
Nashville has only selected within the top five of the draft twice (David Legwand and Seth Jones), so this kind of ineptitude will probably see some level of change, even if that means a nepotist succession of Bryan Poile as the franchise’s next GM. The conclusion I’ve reached is that John Hynes is by no means an awful coach, but he likely isn’t the right man to lead this current team or the future of this organization, be that a rebuilding roster or a struggling bubble team looking to futilely add that elusive “one more piece.”