Q: “Will John Hynes be the coach in Nashville next season?”
A (Barry Trotz): “He has a contract… we are still evaluating and working the process. You have to respect the process.”
If anyone was curious whether or not Barry Trotz had picked up the skill of GM speak ahead of officially taking over at the helm of the Nashville Predators for David Poile, this particular question from Monday’s season ending press conference would remove all doubt. It was a direct question handled with careful wording but the fact remains that current Predators head coach John Hynes has an uncertain future in Nashville. Prior to the ‘22-23 season his contract was extended to include the ‘23-24 season but the team missed the playoffs for the first time after eight straight trips to the postseason (though that Covid bubble year is a bit of a technicality). After a significant sell-off at the trade deadline the roster is in transition and with one year left on his contract it is fair to assume that the future behind the Predators’ bench may not be his.
John Hynes certainly had a challenging road at the beginning of his Predators tenure taking over from Peter Laviolette mid-season, being shut down due to Covid, and a shortened season with almost no training camp. But those days are past and results are expected. Prior to this season, in each of the prior two seasons Hynes’ Predators teams had found another gear down the stretch to go from playoff outsider to wild card though in both occasions the Predators found themselves overmatched by a superior opponent. This year the Predators had probably their highest expectations after adding Ryan McDonagh and Nino Niederreiter to a largely veteran roster that had seen multiple top skaters put up career seasons. However the only consistent outcome was inconsistency as the Predators couldn’t ever get over the hump into a playoff spot. In fact, on most occasions where the Predators could move into a playoff spot with a win they ended up getting blown out and losing all the momentum they had created. As a result, a roster already facing multiple significant injuries at the trade deadline was stripped even further. Then more injuries hit and John Hynes was left with cobbling together a roster of newly added veterans like Tyson Barrie and Rasmus Asplund with a variety of AHL call-ups. The Predators stayed in the playoff race all the way until the final week but in the most impactful games, they continued to come up short.
So how do we evaluate the job John Hynes did this season?
On the positive side, credit should be given for identifying Cole Smith as a useful player who positively impacted the bottom 6 and penalty kill. While he was reluctant to give young players consistent opportunities with big minutes, when his hand was forced at the end of the season he did put the young players like Tommy Novak and Luke Evangelista together in big roles and gave them the chance to make plays in crucial moments. But on the negative side both the offensive and defensive metrics declined and even a healthy roster had little consistency in lineup construction and player roles. Some of the coaching decisions, particularly around player usage simply cannot be ignored:
- Philip Tomasino – I wasn’t surprised he started the year in Milwaukee as he really wasn’t very good in camp but he clearly showed his capability to score early in the season. An offense that needed a jump should have brought him in earlier in the season when other players were struggling to produce.
- Eeli Tolvanen – Yes, he didn’t produce much in the opportunities he had but having the linemates and usage of Cole Smith doesn’t lend to offensive production. It is inexcusable that John Hynes couldn’t find a way to get more out of Tolvanen. We all know what happened, the Predators got in a cap pinch and they waived Tolvanen to try and sneak him through. He ended up in Seattle playing a significant role on a playoff team.
- Cody Glass – For much of the first half of the year, Cody Glass was Nashville’s best possession forward. He wasn’t putting a lot of points up at that time but a bad possession team like the Predators needed to have someone like Cody Glass helping drive offense in big minutes. It wasn’t until almost mid-season before Glass started seeing top 6 minutes as the other forwards continued to struggle.
- Mikael Granlund – On the opposite end of Cody Glass was Mikael Granlund. Simply put, Granlund was bad in ‘22-23. He routinely passed up open shots to attempt passes with little to no chance of success and just seemed to be fighting the puck all season. And yet his ice time almost never decreased because he had earned Hynes’ trust in prior seasons. Admittedly there is a lot of scar tissue among Predators fans from coaches having over-reliance on low risk but low ceiling veterans but the unwillingness to move Mikael Granlund out of the top 6 is particularly short sighted.
So it’s time for Hynes to go then, right?
While I generally lay underperformance at the feet of the players before the coaches, the systemic issues around offensive generation and defensive coverage are hard to ignore. Combine that with ongoing questionable decision making in terms of lineup construction then it would seem to land that John Hynes’ time in Nashville should be at an end. However, I agree with a few others that I have heard, most recently Adam Vingan on The Gold Standard podcast, that the Predators shouldn’t fire Hynes just to fire him. Moving on and making the wrong hire to replace him will only set the team back farther. So why not just promote Karl Taylor? He absolutely could be the guy, but Trotz doesn’t really know him yet so I would not be surprised if he isn’t given the immediate opportunity. If you don’t have an obvious replacement there is value in being patient.
So as I see it, ‘23-24 will be a year of transition for the Nashville Predators and much of that transition falls on the shoulders of Barry Trotz. Do I think John Hynes should be the coach of the future? Not really, no. Will I be floored if he is still around to start the season? Also no, not really. Could a younger and faster roster serve Hynes well and some adjustments create success? Sure, it’s possible. So more than likely he makes it into the final year of his contract but whether he makes it to the end of the season remains to be seen. Regardless of when it would make sense to believe the final year of John Hynes’ contract will be the end of his time in Nashville.