Apr 4, 2014
In the final decade of the 20th century, nine teams were added to the NHL: (in chronological order) the San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets), Columbus Blue Jackets, and Minnesota Wild. Of those nine teams, all have been to the playoffs at least once. Six of the nine teams have been to their respective Conference Finals. Two have won the Stanley Cup. All have gone through turmoil at one point or another in their franchise history. Yet, all but one of these teams share a common bond: sweeping organizational changes. The exception? The Nashville Predators.
For nearly sixteen years, the franchise has stayed the course. Employing one general manager and one head coach in that span, the team has drafted and built up their squad through a “defense-first” mentality that’s led to some of the NHL’s best defenseman and, over their more recent history, goaltenders to flow through their pipeline. While offense has, for the majority of their existence, come via a committee-type approach, the Predators have seen true offensive talent come and go in short spans. A few of the upper echelon of offensive powerhouses have graced the ice at the multiple incarnations of the arena at 501 Broadway (which currently is named Bridgestone Arena), including Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg, and Alexander Radulov. Some might not include Radulov on that list, but there’s no denying that no one will ever truly know how great of a player he could have been at the NHL level, mostly due to his time with the Predators themselves.
In that same span of time, Nashville’s message hasn’t changed. Their coaching style hasn’t changed. Their drafting hasn’t changed. Nothing has changed, but nothing has really had any reason to change. Yet, with the team on the cusp of missing the postseason for the second straight year, their first set of back-to-back seasons without reaching the playoffs since before their first trip to the playoffs in 2004, the question is growing in volume and is becoming quite clear: is it finally time for change?
The question may lie in who to put at fault for Nashville’s current state of affairs. Dirk Hoag over at On The Forecheck has proposed this question multiple times and has laid out plenty of facts. Blame can be placed on David Poile for his player selection over the years and inability to acquire offensive talent. Blame can be placed on Barry Trotz for his inability to develop Nashville’s youth and their offensive talent plus, for all intents and purposes, his inability to truly adapt as the league changed around him.
Trotz and his style of coaching seemingly peaked two seasons ago in the 2012 Western Conference playoffs. Nashville was stacked with talent in every facet of their layout, yet they found themselves on the tail-end of a five-game ousting in the second round from a Phoenix Coyotes team that most thought wouldn’t stand a chance against the Predators. It was a mirror image of their five-game jettison in the 2006-2007 season to the San Jose Sharks: a loaded Predators lineup stopped by a team led by a coach who was able to out-maneuver his counterpart. There is a strong contingent that believe Trotz would have been shown the door after that playoff series, but the ensuing ownership shakeup and near relocation placed that exact topic on the back-burner.
However, it’s not just coaches and management who may see their time in Nashville come to an end, but players as well.
Colin Wilson has come far since his first game as a Nashville Predator in 2009, but he’s seemingly plateaued and potentially regressing in his development. Being only 24 years old, a change could do well for his career in the NHL.
Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm may never see much time in Nashville’s top two defensive pairings in the coming years. Shea Weber, Roman Josi, and Seth Jones should be the Predators top three for the foreseeable future. It would be silly for Nashville to not lock up restricted free agent Michael Del Zotto this offseason, which would round out their top four defensemen. While Ellis and Ekholm are both restricted free agents as well, the Predators may find themselves able to cash in on their current trade value instead of locking them to new contracts.
With the development of 2013 third round draft pick Jonathan-Ismael Diaby, who is already with the Milwaukee Admirals, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him make next year’s roster out of training camp. That would leave the Predators with one remaining spot on defense. Does Nashville keep Victor Bartley and pair him with Diaby or do they ship Bartley off as well and sign a sturdy veteran presence to round out the blue line?
What about Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg? The 37 year old Cullen has had a very average season in his first year with the Predators, posting nine goals and 23 assists in his 71 games. Viktor Stalberg, on the other hand, has been a disappointment. Brought in to ignite Nashville’s offense, Stalberg has posted only eight goals and ten assists in his 64 games, finding himself a healthy scratch on more than one occasion. There are rumblings that Nashville may have already tried to find a buyers for both Cullen and Stalberg prior to the trade deadline, yet no takers.
Nashville could easily send a host of current players to new teams prior to free agency and this year’s NHL Entry Draft, but how do they make a permanent and lasting change on the organization? Some would want to take a “wait and tank” approach to attempt winning the Connor McDavid lottery in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, yet this franchise can not survive something of that nature. The franchise in and of itself would not be able to survive lasting mediocrity. The fanbase has shown their willingness to pack Bridgestone Arena when the on-ice product was of the NHL’s best.
Has David Poile been catering to the defensive whims of Barry Trotz? Has it been the other way around? Regardless, sweeping changes to this franchise are needed to ensure it’s livelihood for the next sixteen years. Clear the locker room, change the coach, part ways with the GM, bring in a couple true “Top Six” forwards, no matter what it is something has to be done.
For ownership and management to sit on their hands this offseason and do nothing would cripple this franchise more than most would believe. Could Nashville survive it in the short-term? Perhaps. In the grand scheme of things, though, the franchise’s ultimate goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to Nashville will not come to fruition without change. Since the NHL began expanding in 1967, no expansion team has won the Stanley Cup with it’s inaugural general manager and head coach. That’s one likely statistic that will not change anytime in the near future.