Revisiting the Predators’ Trotz Era

It was six years ago when Nashville Predators general manager David Poile and then-head coach Barry Trotz sat in front of a camera to make a historical announcement: the only head coach the franchise had ever known would be relieved of his duties. Trotz wasn’t fired, for the record. Rather, his contract was expiring and the front-office staff, growing weary of struggling to find meaningful success, decided it was best to move forward without Trotz, opting not to offer an extension.

As Trotz gazed into the camera as a member of the Predators organization for the last time, he welled up. With tears slowing building in his eyes, he reminisced about the good times, the struggles, memories, team firsts, and friendships he had accrued while helping build a franchise.

Trotz’s New York Islanders team was recently eliminated from the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that has retained top talent long enough they should arguably be riding a current dynasty.

On their way to the Eastern Conference Final, the Islanders defeated Trotz’s old squad, the Washington Capitals, in five games, and then bounced the Philadelphia Flyers in a series that went the distance, winning the pressure-filled Game 7, something the Predators have struggled with in the past.

Trotz transformed the Islanders into a defensive juggernaut. The season before he arrived, the Isles finished the year with a 3.57 team goals-against average (GAA), the highest in the NHL. After the 2018-19 season – Trotz’s first in New York – the Islanders finished with a 2.33 GAA, the lowest in the league. The 2019-20 season was not much different. They concluded the year with a 2.79 GAA, which was the ninth-best mark in the NHL.

Barry Trotz
New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz behind the bench. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

In turn, the point swing for the Islanders has been extremely impressive. They finished the 2017-18 season with 80 points and a below .500 record. After Trotz’s first season, the Islanders improved by 23 points and 13 wins. Of course, 2019-20 was shortened, so the win total will not be as impressive. But, the Islanders were still able to equal the win total and points total of 2017-18, despite abandoning the last 14 games of the regular season.

Trotz has shown that he can lead a team to success and fix glaring issues that once plagued them. So, given how the Predators have struggled to live up to expectations the last three seasons, how should Predators’ fans feel about letting Trotz go now?

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After making the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, the Predators’ postseason appearances have been nothing short of disappointing. In 2018, the season everyone thought they were going to make the leap, the Preds were eliminated in the second round by the Winnipeg Jets, after a 5-1 blowout loss in Game 7.

Then came the disaster of 2019. The Predators were severely outplayed by the Dallas Stars, failing to score a single power-play goal during the whole six-game series. Ultimately Nashville – again in a season where most thought they could elevate to the next level – was eliminated in the first round, this time by a wild-card team.

There were a bevy of issues with the 2020 squad, so it’s difficult to place sole blame on the leadership they had during the qualifying-round series against the Arizona Coyotes, which they lost in four games. But given John Hynes’ resume in the postseason, and in the NHL in general, it’s tough for fans to get excited that the playoff catastrophes will immediately come to an end.

The Trotz Effect

Not only has Trotz gone on to develop a reputation of transforming teams into ones that win when it matters most, but he has also done so with limited talent. The Islanders have sat in the bottom-10 league-wide for payroll the past two seasons. New York finished with the fifth-lowest final cap hit in 2018-19 and the ninth-lowest in 2019-20. Yet, Trotz has made the postseason both years, winning at least one series each time.

Barry Trotz
New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz behind the bench in Game 4. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

The 58-year-old head coach has truly made the most out of his rosters. But it shouldn’t be all that surprising, as he arguably did the same for Nashville.

Trotz made the playoffs in 7 of his final 10 seasons in Nashville, which is more impressive considering it was during an era where the Predators were a tough sell to free agents and even had trouble convincing players to stay, case-and-point, Ryan Suter and Dan Hamhuis.

The native of Dauphin, Manitoba won 40-plus games seven straight seasons from 2005-06 to 2011-12. During that streak, he set a then franchise record with 51 wins in 2006-07 with a team that had zero 30-goal scorers and with only five players finishing in the league’s top-100 for points. It’s not like they even had a top-10 player to lean on, as the Predators’ top performer – Paul Kariya – finished 36th in league scoring, notching 76 points.

Imagining what Trotz could do with the Predators’ current roster may be enough to make fans sick. If he could take the Islanders to the Eastern Conference Final and push the Lightning – perhaps the league’s most talented team from top to bottom – imagine what he could do with a Predators team that is far more talented than any of the rosters he ever had during his 15 years of coaching in Nashville?

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Trotz has gone on to win two Jack Adams Awards. Would that type of guidance have helped the Predators lift their first Cup? Obviously, we’ll never know. But since he left, there’s only been one season where a coach for the Predators has been in the Jack Adams’ conversation. Peter Laviolette was named a finalist in 2014-15, ultimately finishing third.

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Granted, Nashville has only had two coaches post-Trotz, and Hynes has just half a season under his belt while in the Music City. But if you replicate what he was able to do in the second half of the 2019-20 season and assume he did that for the full year, he wouldn’t have even finished inside the top-10 of voting.

John Hynes Nashville Predators
John Hynes, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Now some may argue that Trotz has had his fair share of failures. After all, he’s had five first-round exits, six second-round exits and one third-round exit. The retort to that though – aside from the championship ring he sports – is the fact that lately, he constantly seems to be knocking on the door of the next deep playoff run, setting himself up for a shot at capturing a second Stanley Cup.

In any given postseason in which the Predators and a Trotz-led team both qualify, who do you have more confidence in making a significant run? Anyone whose answer is not Trotz may be fooling themselves. There’s been no evidence to suggest that the Predators, in their current state, are capable of making it to the Western Conference Final, let alone the Stanley Cup Final, anytime soon.

So, Trotz is the Coach the Predators Need, Right?

Well, not so fast. Here comes the possibly confusing conclusion: the Predators were right to move on from Trotz. They were getting nowhere with him and he was getting nowhere with the Predators. It was like a relationship that had become stale but ran deep. Neither party knew how to pull the trigger and say enough was enough, possibly blinded by the history between them.

Arguably, the split should have happened after the 2009-10 season. Trotz had been in charge for 11 years, and the Predators had gone no further than the first round. All five of those first-round exits on Trotz’s résumé previously mentioned came while he was in charge of the Predators.

After leading Nashville to 49 wins in 2005-06, Trotz and the Predators were eliminated in the first round by the San Jose Sharks, 4-1. The season after, his 51-win team suffered the same fate, in the same round, by the same team, and guess what? By the same 4-1 series score. Those rosters are the best and second-best regular-season finishes by a Trotz-led Predators team, and neither one could muster more than one playoff win. Most of the time, Trotz could lead the Predators to regular-season success. But when the playoffs rolled around, it’s like they transformed into a completely different team.

Barry Trotz
Barry Trotz (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

However, since leaving, Trotz has achieved success seemingly everywhere he’s been. He’s made the playoffs every year and has made it past the first round each time. They say the sign of a good coach is how long they’re unemployed for, and Trotz hasn’t exactly been kicking around his home with lots of spare time on his hands during his career.

It’s natural to have thoughts of “what if Trotz still patrolled the Predators’ bench?” And in reality, those questions will most likely linger until the Predators have a Stanley Cup of their own.

But rest assured, had Trotz still been the head coach of the Predators, the results wouldn’t be quite as great as some may dream or think. For now though, while the Predators strive to reach the pinnacle of NHL success, it’s okay to cheer for Trotz’s success, knowing that the breakup six years ago was the right decision.