When the 2013-14 campaign ends, David Poile will celebrate 30 hockey-playing seasons of being a GM in the NHL. In those 30 campaigns, he has employed a total of four coaches. Clearly, this firing thing does not come easily to him.
Three of those coaches were in his employ in 15 seasons with the Washington Capitals. It took him seven years to fire his first coach in Washington and when he did turf Bryan Murray, he replaced him with Murray’s little brother, Terry. It should be noted that for all the stability Poile has provided for his coaches, his teams have won only 12 playoff series and advanced beyond the second round once.
Which brings us to this season’s Nashville Predators, a club that, barring a second-half push, will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season. So for one of the few times during his 16-year, 15-season tenure with the Preds, coach Barry Trotz is finding himself having to answer questions about his future. And for the first time since he started coaching in the NHL, that future might not include the Predators. There is nothing to suggest Poile would make a coaching move mid-season, but should Nashville fail to make the playoffs, you’d have to think Poile will have to swallow hard and make a change behind the bench.
And that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, for either Trotz or Nashville. Because if the Predators need anything more than someone who can put the puck in the net on a consistent basis, it’s a shake-up. Think about it. Trotz will have coached the Predators for 15 seasons after this one. Only two men in history – Jack Adams with the Detroit Red Wings and Lindy Ruff with the Buffalo Sabres – have had longer tenures.
Poile, along with Trotz, assistant GM Paul Fenton and goalie coach Mitch Korn, are all Day 1 staffers with the Preds, getting the keys to the front office for the expansion franchise in 1998. That’s a combined 60 seasons of working for the same team and more job security than anyone in this game could expect. Now, if the Preds had been flush with success, you’d be able to see why they should all stay. But here’s the thing: the Predators are not a cute and cuddly expansion team anymore. It’s about time more was expected. And more importantly, it’s about time more was delivered.
But Trotz is not a bad coach. Quite the contrary. Year after year, Trotz has done more with less than perhaps any coach in the NHL. The Predators may not be world-beaters or playoff contenders on a yearly basis, but they’re kind of like Finland in international hockey. They play the plucky underdog better than almost anyone and gain much of their identity by working their tails off. And they are rarely an easy out.
Actually, a change of scenery would probably be as beneficial for Trotz as it would be for the Predators. Perhaps Trotz would like to go to a team where budgetary concerns are not always at the forefront, not always the underlying reason why his teams are being held back. The NHL’s board of governors, flush with revenue, were told in early December the salary cap will be going up to about $71 million next season and there’s no sign that number will be decreasing in subsequent years.
Maybe it’s time for Trotz to get on that gravy train and see what kind of job he could do with a team that can spend more freely. Who knows? He might be the kind of guy who thrives on getting the most out of a decidedly less talented roster and might be a disaster with a team loaded with star power. It could happen, but we’ll likely never find out as long as he’s coaching Nashville.
That’s not to say the Predators don’t spend. Actually, even though they’re 23rd in spending this season, their payroll is at a shade under $61 million. And they actually went on something of a spending spree this past summer – well, it was certainly a spending spree by Nashville standards – doling out contracts to Matt Cullen, Viktor Stalberg, Eric Nystrom and Matt Hendricks – that added $10.9 million in payroll. But the fact is the Predators are so close to the cap because it’s artificially low this season and they’ll be nowhere near the upper limit when it goes up in 2013-14 and beyond.
So this is not an indictment of Trotz. Poile himself misread the whole Shea Weber-Ryan Suter situation and it resulted in an albatross of a contract for Weber – one that many are convinced the Predators will ultimately be forced to trade – and the departure of Suter. But there’s a pretty good chance Poile isn’t going anywhere.
So that leaves Trotz and perhaps Fenton, who craves the opportunity to run a team himself. And if the Predators don’t have success this season, Trotz might be the one to go. Not because he’s a bad coach, but because it’s time.