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Nashville Predators Hire John Hynes as Franchise’s Third Head Coach to Replace Peter Laviolette

Update: The Nashville Predators PR team confirmed the hire of John Hynes, who replaces ousted head coach Peter Laviolette, Tuesday morning.

The organization released an article with quotes from Predators General Manager David Poile as well as Hynes himself after multiple sources reported the news.

“John Hynes is a bright young coach and great leader who has a track record of both effectively developing young players and successfully motivating veterans,” Poile said in the article on the Predators’ website. “We love his coaching resume and are confident that he has learned from every stop during his career, and has the best skill set to get the maximum potential out of our team.”

Hynes also released a statement shared in the same article.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to join an organization with a history of success, a team with immense talent and a phenomenal fanbase,” Hynes told the Predators PR team. “This organization has a strong foundation, from its ownership and executives to the entire front-office staff, and I’m excited to come in and try to maximize this team’s abilities.”

The Predators have announced their satisfaction with the hire and Hynes’ abilities, citing his success in player development and coaching the 2017-2018 New Jersey Devils to their first playoff appearance since 2011-2012.

Hynes, the former coach of the struggling New Jersey Devils, was relieved of his coaching duties in the Garden State earlier this season, after a bizarre interlude that had management staff sent to the bench to supervise him at work. The decline of Cory Schneider, the lack of a viable replacement goalie, and underwhelming performances by the team’s best players after a splashy offseason combined to dig the Devils into a hole that Hynes couldn’t dig out of.

On paper, this is a frightening choice of a new head coach.

After all, the Predators are currently watching Pekka Rinne struggle, Juuse Saros fail to shoulder the burden, and their own top players underperform after, well, a splashy offseason. There are a lot of similarities here. It’s worth pointing out, though, that the Devils are still in a rebuild, and that several of their most promising players, like Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, are very young.

The Predators, meanwhile, were supposed to have been contenders even before they transformed what was once their greatest positional weakness (center) into their greatest strength with the addition of Matt Duchene—on paper, going into the season, that was center depth that could stack up to any team in the league, with Kyle Turris freed to wreak havoc on the third line and Nick Bonino or Colton Sissons available as an excellent pivot for the fourth.

A deeper look into the numbers yields small bits of hope, however.  Micah Blake McCurdy, who runs HockeyViz.com, has developed MAGNUS 2, an endearing name for his statistical model to isolate impact in hockey—down to the impact of each player, arena, score state, as well as coaching.

These shotmaps, or isolates, show areas where shot volume is either higher than league average (red) or lower than league average (blue).  The top row represents the impact Peter Laviolette had on his offenses over his career—his last four years with the Nashville Predators saw them have an overall offensive threat that was 13% less than league average.  On a team with this many offensive weapons, that absolutely should not be the case.

For defense, negative is better—it is the offensive impact of the opponent—and, as expected, Laviolette’s coaching impact has suppressed shots to around 3% less than league average.

Nashville’s defense excels despite allowing a relatively high volume of shot attempts because their defense is able to keep opponents at a distance in the defensive zone, forcing them to take a lot of low-quality shots. The issue, though, is that Laviolette had apparently decided that strategy was good enough for his offense as well.

So that brings us to John Hynes:

This tweet from just over a month ago shows Hynes had an even stronger defensive impact than Laviolette (-9.7%!), and it was a bit hasty to say he “could never claw above league average on offense”.  After further review, there aren’t very many coaches in the NHL with an offensive impact much higher than league average over a consistent period of time.  And while -1.2% offensive impact may sound bad, it’s over 12% better than Peter Laviolette’s.

In all, while this may not have been the preferred hire by most (including several of us on staff), most of us asked for change, and yesterday, it was given to us.  (Note: Shaun Smith made it abundantly clear yesterday that he was in strong support of the hire and that New Jersey’s team would be bad prior to the season starting.  He wanted us to make sure that was noted.)  The reaction of Hynes’s players, as opposed to those surrounding fired coaches Mike Babcock of Toronto and Bill Peters of Calgary, was overwhelmingly positive, and many publicly thanked Hynes for his time in New Jersey.

The connection of Nashville GM David Poile and New Jersey GM Ray Shero has been well-known for some time, and one can only speculate that this decision—so quickly on the heels of both Poile’s earlier declaration that he was not “contemplating a coaching change at this time” and his stunning dismissal yesterday—was made after some contact with Hynes’s former boss.

Stay tuned to On The Forecheck all day and this week for continuing coverage. This is a developing story and we’ll have further information as soon as it becomes available.

Talking Points