Hockey

Needing to fire Peter Laviolette isn’t a huge surprise. Hopefully, it’s a feeling we’ll get here one day, as that will mean the Hawks hired him in the first place. He’s a good coach, maybe even a very good one, but his style tends to grate on players pretty quickly. He burned himself out in Philadelphia, but the Flyers haven’t really been the same since, and it’s kind of amazing he lasted as long as he did in Nashville. It’s no surprise they had their greatest success under him as well.

But eventually the time comes when the players are sick of his act, and the Preds clearly were. This is not a team that should be floating outside the playoff spots, or even anything close. It was built to compete for the Western crown, not slap-fighting with the Coyotes over the leavings. And yet here we are.

But hiring John Hynes smacks of GM David Poile only having half of a plan. He knew he needed to fire Lavvy but didn’t have any idea who should replace him. And then he was forced to hire what was out there, which was Hynes.

Hynes’s claim to fame is that he happened to be standing behind the bench when Taylor Hall went on a “Fuck Edmonton” world tour after being traded to Newark, earned a Hart Trophy, and dragged a thoroughly unimpressive Devils team to the playoffs where they were promptly thwacked by the Lightning. The Devils never came close to the playoffs since, and in fact that was the only year that the Devils even finished above .500.

Sure, Hynes was never given a real roster to work with, and maybe that’s the best he could do. He certainly helped transition the Devils from a war crime to a fast-moving team, but that was a few years ago. The Preds already were that. So why is he here?

Poile will tell you it’s to improve their defensive game, as they’d become lax under Lavvy. Ok, how’s that going? Under Lavvy, the Preds were still one of the better possession teams around, ranking 8th in the league in Corsi-percentage at 52.8. Under Hynes, they’re 22nd at 48.2. And they’re giving up five more attempts per game than they were before the firing. But hey, they’re also generating four less attempts too!

When it comes to xG%, the Preds under Laviolette were again top-1o, ranking 8th at 52.5. Hynes has managed to fuck that up too, ranking 20th since he was hired (behind the Hawks!) at 49.6. Oh, and their xGA/60 went from 2.08 to 2.37 since the change. This is going well! We’ll give Hynes this, at least the attack has stayed steady at 2.3 xGF/60 per game. He hasn’t blown everything up yet.

Hynes has even gotten better goaltending than Lavvy did, with Juese Saros has at least shown some competence of late whereas before Hynes was hired neither Saros or Rinne could find their ass with either hand. And yet the Preds have still gone just 10-8 under him, which isn’t exactly the bump Poile would have been hoping for.

This isn’t a team built to play defensively, and if it isn’t skating with its hair on fire it can be awfully open. But that’s how they were designed, with their go-go defense. Hynes hasn’t been helped by Ryan Ellis being out for his entire stay so far, but there’s more than enough here to do better with. It’s also not Hynes’s fault that Johansen and Duchene spend most of their time having money-fights in the dressing room, but he was probably brought in with the idea that he could get them to snap to attention. Still waiting on that one. This is still a team where a d-man leads them in scoring by 17 points!

There probably can’t be a more clear exhibit of how in the NHL if you get one job, you get 17. Hynes never did much in New Jersey and yet somehow ended up with a better team in Nashville. And when this goes balls-up, which is looking soon, you can bet he’ll get another job because someone will think if the Predators hired him he must be good. And so it goes.

Hockey

One of the things people marvel about the Nashville Predators is their stability. John Hynes, hired this week, is only their third coach in the 20 years of their history. They’ve only had one GM, and that’s David Poile. Something about southern loyalty or whatever. One might have to ask though…why?

Because when you total it up, the Preds record of success doesn’t really justify keeping things the same this long. There are two division titles, both in the past two years, and one Final appearance. The latter was their only journey even beyond the second round. It’s always spurious to judge a team merely on playoff success, because the sport itself and the playoff structure can be so random. But we’re talking about 20 years here.

On regular season parameters, the division titles could be a touch misleading. There have been regular 100+ point seasons, including three of the last five. If you’re gobbling up over 100 points, where you finish in the division is again, sort of random, basically however many overtime or shootout points you or the teams you’re competing with have gathered.

Still, this isn’t like the Lightning who kept losing to the eventual champion. The Preds lost to those same Hawks in ’15 that the Lightning did, and outplayed those Hawks for at least three of those six games and saw Pekka Rinne undo all that work. But last year they lost to the ultra-boring Stars and the year before that it was the Jets, and each of those then bit it in the next round.

Still, after 20 years, you’d think more than one Western Conference championship would be required to keep David Poile in the GM chair. And he may be out over it now.

Poile fired Peter Laviolette, because the Preds have been amongst the favorites for a few years  and are currently out of the playoff picture. The pressure is clearly being felt, and expectations are clearly not being met. This isn’t just a good time for home and visiting fans alike anymore. The feeling that the Preds might miss their window is starting to get palpable in Tennessee.

How much responsibility does Poile take for this season? Or last? Well, last year is a mixed record. The pickup of Mikael Granlund made all the sense in the world on paper. Is it Poile’s fault that Granlund completely flattened out upon arrival? You could make the argument either way. The acquisitions of Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds only made the Preds slower and dumber, and harkened back to the 1st round pick given away for Paul Gaustad. It’s something that Poile has had a weakness for during his entire tenure. They certainly didn’t provide enough dash to get through the blockade the Stars were putting up in the first round.

This year? Again, Granlund not adapting to a team and style that should have hit him between the eyes isn’t totally on Poile. He sacrificed PK Subban because they had depth on the blue line, which they always seem to have, so they could sign Matt Duchene. And yet even with Duchene, no forward is scoring at a top-tier, first-line forward rate. Forsberg leads with 30 points in 36 games. Duchene has 29 in 39, which is kind of what he’s always been. This has been a bugaboo of the Preds for a while, no true game-breaker up front other than maybe Forsberg, and you still have to do some back-bends to call him that.

But then, most GMs’ and coaches’ fortunes simply hinge on PDO, and mostly on their goalies. The Preds do everything mostly right. They’re top-ten in Corsi and expected goals percentages. They have the puck most of the time. What they can’t get is a save, and especially on the penalty kill. The Preds have a .798 SV% on the kill, which has sunk both Rinne’s and Juuse Saros’s overall SV% below .900. Is that on Poile? Because if you go by the chances their PK is giving up, the Preds actually have a good kill. But it doesn’t matter if the goalies let every chance in. Certainly no one was advocating for the Preds to make changes in the crease in the offseason, if Rinne is turning into dust now.

But it’s never that simple in these calculations. If the Preds miss out, you have to feel there will be a house-cleaning. One wonders what Poile thinks he’s going to get out of John Hynes, who only had a good season in New Jersey when Taylor Hall said so. It reeked of a desperate move without a plan. Was Hynes really in the wings all the time to replace Laviolette? If so, why? Lavvy certainly has a shelf-life, but is it his fault that Rinne nor Saros couldn’t stop a sloth on the penalty kill? Did Poile only pull the trigger when Hynes became available?

Maybe Hynes knows how to get Ryan Johansen away from the postgame spread and playing like a top line center again. Maybe he can juice Viktor Arvidsson. But what’s clear is that the Predators aren’t content to be everyone’s cute little getaway anymore, and perhaps for the first time since they actually played games, they might be on the lookout for a new GM.

 

Hockey

vs

Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN, NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
David Poile Is A Scumbag: On The Forecheck

If the Hawks record and stagnant roster weren’t a self evident indication of how rudderless and sclerotic this Organ-I-Zation has been since its most recent playoff ouster at the hands of tonight’s vistors, the Nashville Predators, then the fact that the Preds fired Peter Laviolette earlier this week while remaining ahead of the Hawks in the standings should drive the point home. But it remains unchanged that the Hawks are still outwardly holding the product on-ice to a playoff standard, and tonight poses yet another opportunity to gain points on a team they are currently (on paper) battling for a playoff spot, an opportunity which will surely end up being pissed away in creative fashion as so many others have the past two seasons.

Everything Else

@HellBlazerVice is yet another creature we pulled out of the bin marked, “Unmentionables.” We took him home and fed him and now we can’t get rid of him. 

It’s been quite a comedown for the Devils from last year. Is it just the goaltending that’s landed them here?
I’d say it’s mostly the goaltending- they’re virtually the same team as they were last year with regards to their possession and expected goal numbers, but they’re losing a lot because no one can make a stop. Their horrid goaltending combined with John Hynes trying to get the Devils to play a faster style like the Leafs has generally put them in a tough spot because most of the time they’re down 3-0 early and they stop playing aggressively because they’re too worried about putting themselves in a deeper hole. They’ve also had a really tough schedule to start the season- they’ve played a third of their games against legitimate cup contenders or elite teams in Toronto, Tampa, Nashville, Winnipeg, San Jose, Washington and Vegas so that’s not helping either. They’re doing surprisingly better without Hall this year mainly because in at least half of the games where Hall’s been hurt, they’ve gotten strong goaltending from their top goaltending prospect MacKenzie Blackwood, which has given them the confidence to play a bit more aggressive. Outside of Zacha, Butcher, and Wood most of the skaters have met or are exceeding expectations so it’s probably safe to say that the goaltending is the issue.
Is Cory Schneider permanently broken?
 
Shero is just as tight lipped as Lou so it’s hard to tell what Schneider’s status is, but I remember seeing a quote in 31 Thoughts which said that there was some concern about Schneider’s injury being career ending- and I think that might be the case. He just can’t move the way he used to and over the past few years he’s been dealing with a lot of core muscle injuries to go with the hip problems he’s had so that’s going to affect him. He turns 33 in March so the chances of him returning to form are minimal. They can’t give him game time to work out his issues because they’ve got to try and win games in order to have a better chance at keeping Taylor Hall around. His days as a Devil are numbered and he’s probably going to get an amnesty buyout after the inevitable lockout in 2020.
What are the Devils going to do with Taylor Hall? He has one year left on his contract…
The good news is that unlike the Sens or Isles with Karlsson and Tavares, the Devils don’t exactly have the same issues those teams have. Unlike Mean Gene Melnyk, Josh Harris isn’t a cheapskate and the Devils lack of spending has more to do with Shero showing a ton of restraint and not overpaying for mid-tier free agents. Not only do they have the cap space, but they’re probably more than willing to give Hall the money to stay in New Jersey. Unlike the Isles, the Devils have a good GM and aren’t going to replace him with a ghoul like Lou and so far there isn’t a can’t-miss free agent destination like the Leafs- Nashville would fit that bill but playing with Nico and Kyle Palmieri is probably more enticing than playing with Kyle Turris and Colton Sissons on a contender. Re-signing John Hynes should help their chances as he seems to like playing for Hynes. They’re also in a good spot to retool the current roster given that Shero’s trade record is excellent, they might be able to get one of the really good free agents in this year’s class (or alternatively, his good buddy Jordan Eberle) with the $30+ million in cap space they have going into next season and they’ve obviously got a lottery pick with a lottery ball specialist so maybe they end up with one of Hughes, Kakko or Cozens. My guess is that they’ll offer him a blank cheque on July 1st and either he takes the money or waits to see if a contender emerges while having the Devils massive offer in his back pocket as a contingency plan.
At least there appears to be a step forward from Nico Hischier?
The thing about Nico is that you have to watch him closely to appreciate what he brings like someone like Patrice Bergeron or Patrik Elias. He’s not going to be lighting the scoresheet up with four-point games or hat tricks but the Devils have been winning the possession battle when he’s been on the ice. Considering he doesn’t get power play time and Rick Kowalsky has no idea how to run a power play his numbers there aren’t great, but he’s scoring at a better rate than he did this year and that’s probably going to go up once Hall returns from injury and Kowalsky gets his head out of his ass.
The Devils were a rebuilding team last year that spasmed a playoff spot. Is it possible for them to be much worse in the standings but actually moving forward as a team?
If you ask me, moving forward means moving away from the chickenshit conservative style they had towards the end of Lou’s tenure and moving towards the kind of style that teams like Toronto and Tampa play. While they’re trying to do that and it’s not necessarily working, it’s better they do this than go back to playing the chickenshit style they played under DeBoer where the games would be much closer but they couldn’t win because they lacked the skill to win. The thing is with the way they’re playing, it’s going to be much easier to insert difference makers than it would be while playing a conservative style that relies on bad, risk averse players. This is important because they’ve done a better job drafting and most of the guys they’ve drafted are smaller, high skill guys. Someone like 2018 1st rounder Ty Smith- a 5’10”, 175-lb defenseman with great puck skills, is now much easier to play in a system where his puck skills matter rather than one where his puck skills have to be toned down to fit into the safer style. As long as they’re not going back to the ineffective conservative tactics that have failed them in recent years I’m fine with them losing while trying to play a more effective style.

 

Game #48 Preview Suite

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