Rank #46 – 17 Points
Nashville Predators, 1998-Present
Playoff W-L: 14-26
Playoff Appearances: 2004, 2006-2008, 2010-2011
As of December 22 the Nashville Predators have played 1018 regular season and 40 playoff games in the NHL and Barry Trotz has been there for all of them. The sole head coach in Predators franchise history and the second longest tenured head coach in the NHL (after Lindy Ruff) Trotz has led the Predators through its growing pains and is now guiding a team that is strong, competitive, and well-grounded in the hockey fundamentals.
Trotz never played in the NHL. He was a defenseman who played briefly in the minors before taking up coaching at the Canadian collegiate level. Later he would coach in Canadian junior hockey while doing scouting work for the Washington Capitals. Later the Caps asked Trotz to coach in their farm system—where he excelled, leading the Portland Pirates to two Calder Cup appearances and a 1994 Calder Cup win. When the expansion Nashville Predators needed to hire their first head coach it was Trotz who got the nod.
He nursed the team through five lean years of losing seasons and no playoff appearances but it was during those years that Trotz established the style which he uses to win today: goaltending, defense, penalty-killing, and rigorous on-ice discipline. Even during the lean years the Predators twice finished in the NHL top ten in defense and penalty-killing.
During the past six seasons the Predators have finished in the top five in penalty-killing four times and were among the top ten in defense twice (during the 2010/11 season the Predators had the second best defense in the NHL.)
But their greatest strength is their on-ice discipline. The Predators have had the fewest penalty-minutes of any NHL team during the past two seasons: averaging only 8.488 penalty minutes per game. (Trotz’s closest competitors are the Detroit Red Wings with 8.872).
The Predators are a team that does not beat itself: a key recipe for potential Stanley Cup success.
Trotz prefers to coach the Predators within themselves: emphasizing patience and allowing his players to develop at the proper time. In many ways Barry Trotz is being allowed to do what Ron Wilson was not allowed to when he coached the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim: coach, train, and develop the players while being allowed to stay to watch his efforts come to fruition.
His roughest stretch was from 2001 to 2003 where the Predators dropped from 80 team points in 2001 to 69 in 2002 and 74 in 2003. Luckily for Trotz those were the final losing seasons of his coaching career. Since 2003 Trotz has led the Predators to seven consecutive winning seasons and six playoff appearances.
Still the Predators have been slow to advance in playoff competition.
The main reason is that the Predators are a team which refuses to engage in the expensive quick-fix free-agent signing game; preferring instead to develop a team based on solid draft picks and low-cost key acquisitions from other teams.
There are no superstars on the Predators. Indeed no Predator player has yet to win a major individual trophy but during the 2010/11 Season two Predators distinguished themselves.
Goalie Pekka Rinne and rookie defenseman Shea Weber became the first Predators ever to earn All-Star honors.
Rinne established himself as one of the NHL’s top goalies: finishing second in save percentage; third in goals allowed average; and sixth in shutouts and was a candidate for the Vezina Trophy.
Shea Weber was the best defenseman on the Predators and was a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate as well.
The Predators are already operating a high level of success (they have had three 100-point seasons in the past six years). The main challenge the Predators face today is playoff success. Before 2011 the Predators were never able to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs.
During the 2011 playoffs the Predators made franchise history when they defeated Randy Carlyle’s Anaheim Ducks in six games in the first round. The Predators played tough, grinding hockey against the Ducks; never losing discipline or focus.
In the second round against Alain Vigneault’s Vancouver Canucks the Predators showed grit, character, tenacity, and courage in the series. Although they fell in six games, three of their losses were by one-goal margins.
Having overcome the first round playoff barrier the Predators must now set their sights on the next level of team success.
The Predators (and Barry Trotz) have never won a divisional title. In 2010/11 they finished five points behind the Red Wings. That’s one goal they can attain. Another is to maintain and further their playoff ambitions by reaching the third round of the playoffs…and beyond.
It took the Predators (and Barry Trotz) six years to reach this level of NHL competition. It takes time to get acclimatized to the high, thin air of the Stanley Cup playoffs but once they do: the Predators have the talent, the character, the youthful vigor…and the coach to make it to the Stanley Cup finals.
The 2011/12 NHL Season has not been as fruitful for the Predators as the previous season has. The Predators are coping with an anemic offense and a diminution in their penalty-killing. (They were 5th in the NHL last season and are now presently 18th in the league). The resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues has left the Predators in fourth place in the Central Division and the ninth seed in the Western Conference.
It’s highly unlikely the Predators will win the Central and it’s obvious that their main battle will be to salvage a playoff slot come spring time. The Predators still have a lot of growing up to do as a team.