Being an NHL coach is a funny thing. Season after season, fans see the coaching carousel that takes place, and it is a known fact that coaches in the National Hockey League are hired to be fired. They are the first person to go when the team is in a bad way, but are not always immediately recognized when the team is successful.
There are some great choices to win the Jack Adams Award this season, but it is difficult to not include John Hynes in the conversation. He has been the head coach of the Predators since Jan. 7, 2020, after taking over for Peter Laviolette. Last year, his team made the qualifying round before being eliminated by the Arizona Coyotes. This season looked bleak at times, but they clinched the fourth spot in the Central Division and are battling the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. After seeing an impressive turnaround by the Predators over the past couple of months, it’s hard to not credit Hynes, especially when you see everything he and his team had to overcome to make the postseason—the first and most obvious being the number of players that missed time this season.
A Team Plagued With Injuries
The team’s list of injured players this season included Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Eeli Tolvanen. Honestly, it’s a much longer list, but you get the idea. The Predators were consistently dealing with multiple key players out over the past few months. Every time a player made their way back to the lineup, someone else was taken out.
Hynes was constantly forced to tweak his lines and revamp the special teams units. It’s never easy for a coach to deal with injuries, but having multiple veterans out at once is a daunting task. A player like Roman Josi can’t be replaced, but Hynes did a good job of bringing the young defensemen into the lineup.
Rotating Door of Rookies
The list of rookies playing for the Predators this season is comprised of Frederic Allard, Alexandre Carrier, Jeremy Davies, Mathieu Olivier, Rem Pitlick, Eeli Tolvanen and Yakov Trenin. Hynes took this forever-changing young roster and found an opportunity.
“It’s really fortunate for these kids to be able to come in,” Hynes said. “Our philosophy is if they’re power-play players, play them in roles they can have success and play them in roles that are going to give them the opportunity at some point to be a full-time NHL player.” (From “Predators playing seven rookies on road trip but it’s not like veterans were winning either”, The Tennessean, 03/14/2021)
Trenin secured his spot on the fourth line along with Colton Sissons and Tanner Jeannot. This line has been nicknamed the Herd Line and they were crucial to Nashville’s run to the postseason. As my colleague Jeff Middleton wrote, Trenin is first among all Predators forwards in forechecking/cycle offense, also known as positional offense, at 14.82.
Tolvanen is key for the Predators’ power play and leads the team with six power-play goals. Nashville’s power play got better as the season went on and Tolvanen was a large reason why. This was apparent when he missed approximately two weeks with a lower-body injury, and during that time his presence was missed when the Predators had the man advantage.
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“He’s done a good job on the power play, he’s got good instincts on it and he really understands it,” Hynes said of Tolvanen. “He’s been a very good power-play player at every level he’s played, and we like the way that unit has looked. You saw his ability to get the shot off so quick in a seam pass, with no stickhandle, and it’s on and off his tape and into the net. He’s a young guy getting more and more comfortable, but he certainly has earned and has shown the promise on the power play to be able to play on that unit.”
An Impressive Turnaround
There are many factors that can contribute to a team’s success, but it all starts with the coach’s system. Hynes’ coaching style has been questioned over the past couple of seasons, but something eventually clicked for his team. He wants his team to have a strong forecheck, and it appears that system has finally connected with his players. In March, the Predators went 8-1-0 to finish the month, and during that time they averaged an extra scoring chance off the forecheck per game. At the time it was second-best in the league behind the St. Louis Blues.
“It was always about teaching,” Johansen said. “Showing us little things in our structure. Preaching that stuff. And it was one of those things where, once we all bought in and committed to it as a team, we realized he was right. And it turned into winning hockey.” (From “How the Predators changed directions, saved their season: ‘It was damn near a breaking point’” The Athletic, 05/02/21)
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.