By Jim Diamond
Tuesday night’s shootout loss in Dallas officially eliminated any slim hopes that a late season rally could vault the Nashville Predators into the playoffs after a largely disappointing season.
For the second consecutive year, no postseason hockey will be played at Bridgestone Arena, and that is not setting well with anyone connected to the team. Coming off of seven playoff appearances in eight seasons, that is unacceptable and steps will be taken to end that slide.
The offensively challenged team failed to score enough goals, and when Pekka Rinne was sidelined in late October due to an E. coli infection, the season was pretty much lost.
Earlier this season, the Predators’ ownership group asked general manager David Poile for a three-year plan per an ownership source. It’s not a tremendous leap to conclude there is major concern when a typically hands-off ownership group steps in to ask how the ship plans to be righted.
An owner, or ownership group in this case, does not all of a sudden ask the man in charge of their hockey operations for such a plan if things are going well and they have no concern about the direction of the hockey club.
This plan is a de facto message to Poile that they do not like the fact that the team has failed to reach the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Asking for a plan was ownership’s way of letting him know that things need to change.
Head coach Barry Trotz’s contract expires June 30th.
Doing a little math with this information, it is pretty reasonable to come to the conclusion that Trotz’s tenure behind the Nashville bench will come to an end following Sunday’s season finale in St. Paul against the Wild.
Trotz is no dummy, and being a “lame duck” head coach all season has spoken loudly enough to him that the writing was on the wall that his ouster was coming. Things haven’t been great between Poile and Trotz since last offseason, when Poile fired associate coach Peter Horachek against Trotz’s wishes.
The failure to reach the playoffs these last two seasons has a significant trickle down economic effect throughout the organization. A ‘meh’ on-ice product has led to a noticeable level of apathy among the people who write checks to the Predators – those highly cherished season ticketholders.
Renewals are down despite the organization offering ticketholders what one marketing insider described as “everything but a ride to the rink” if they renewed.
If they still have that Grand Avenue sponsorship, maybe they should try and work something out with them to do just that. Renew season tickets, go grand, just relax, enjoy life, and expect luxury. Everyone wins, right?
By parting ways with Trotz, Poile buys himself some time. Let’s face it, when ownership is looking for change, if you are not the one who makes it, you are likely the one who will be changed. The non-hockey side of operations has the ear of ownership just as much as Poile and his crew do, and they are doing more than whispering their ideas on how things should be changed to the owners.
Home playoff games are cash windfalls to teams, and having a combined total of zero of them over the course of two years hurts. That pain will become even more of a reality when the time will come this summer to scratch out another $13 million check to team captain Shea Weber when the latest installment of his signing bonus comes due.
With Trotz’s contract expiring, Poile is not putting the owners in the position of having to pay two coaches at once; the jettisoned head coach as well as a new one, so the timing on this works well in that respect.
A new head coach will give those in charge of selling tickets an opportunity to tell potential buyers that this will be a new generation for the team and that they should get on board with the new exciting brand of hockey that they will say said new coach will bring with him.
The main problem for those ticket sellers is that the players who will pull on those Predators gold jerseys 41 times at Bridgestone Arena in 2014-15 will largely be quite similar to those who did so this season. They are locked into some bad contracts, up front especially, that will be difficult to get out of before the puck drops in October. And going to ownership asking for permission to buy out another contract, as they did with Hal Gill last summer, will not look great on Poile, who is already walking on thinner ice than he ever has in his time as general manager with the Predators.
Now this group of Predators could be good; hell they have looked like world-beaters the last few weeks, but betting on consumers to open up their wallets for a roster that looks eerily similar to the current one is a pretty big gamble.
It’s a gamble they are going to make. That gamble means someone other than Trotz will be the team’s head coach for the first time since the franchise entered the league.
A fresh start may be attractive to Trotz too. He is highly regarded around the league, and there will likely be several coaching vacancies that he will immediately become the top candidate for when pink slips begin to be issued this weekend.