What Went Wrong: Nashville Predators

Nashville made their deepest run in the playoffs in franchise history this year making it to the second round. They won their first overtime playoff game in team history and while it’s sad to get bounced out of the playoffs, the Predators ability to take the slow and steady pace towards overall franchise improvement continues to grind along. Much like how the team plays on the ice the Predators rise into making their presence known and felt in the NHL it’s been a rugged but rewarding affair.

Still, in spite of what they achieved this season they bowed out in six games to Vancouver and there were some obvious problems along the way.

1. Malfunctioned power play
The Predators made a living off of the man advantage against Anaheim in the first round. The Ducks would make mistakes and the Predators appropriately made them pay for it. This time around against Vancouver, facing up to a tough defense proved to be a real challenge. Vancouver’s penalty kill had a feast on the Predators holding them to going 1-21 through the six games.

Scoring on 4.7% of your power plays isn’t going to win you many games, nevermind a series. While Shea Weber and Ryan Suter were able to bomb away from the point, Vancouver’s ability to defend guys crashing the net and blocking shots (90 in the series) made life harder on them. The Canucks gave them their chances to break through and make a difference

2. Roles reversed
The Predators came into this series hoping to get big games out of Mike Fisher and Sergei Kostitsyn offensively while guys like David Legwand and Joel Ward defended against the Sedins to keep them off the board. Instead, Fisher and Kostitsyn were terrible. Each of them had just one assist in the series while Fisher was a -3 on his plus/minus and Kostitsyn was a -1 and hide-your-eyes bad when caught out in a must-defend situation.

Meanwhile, Ward and Legwand were the Predators top scorers while still shutting down the Sedins. Ward was a revelation scoring four goals and adding four assists. Legwand had four goals and an assist in the series. No other goal scorers for Nashville had more than one. If the Preds were getting that production out of Ward and Legwand in addition to their better offensive players showing up, who knows how this series turns out. Instead, they were essentially all they had. This leads us into our third point.

3. No game breaker to be found
The Predators just flat out didn’t have a dominating offensive presence. They didn’t have one all season long and relied on team play and grinding games out to survive on as few goals as possible. When you’re in the bottom third in goals scored that’s just how life has to be. In the playoffs, the lack of offensive force crushed them against Vancouver. Guys like Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa helped raise hell against the Canucks in the first round but without a real name threat for Nashville, Vancouver could stick to their system and close up shop around Roberto Luongo.

Fisher and Kostitsyn weren’t threats, Jordin Tootoo lost his ability to generate action and no one else aside from Ward and Legwand found the net regularly. It wouldn’t kill the Predators to find a way to get a power forward force that could net 30-40 goals a year, but good luck finding one. The Predators will have to hope there’s someone in their talented system that can evolve into that game breaking force.

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On the upside for Nashville, this playoff run has given the team and city a reason to get really excited about the team. Barry Trotz has the team well versed in his system and they play the brand of game that gives them success in the playoffs. Pekka Rinne proved himself to be a great goalie while defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber run the show along the blue line. A team filled with grinding forwards, while a pain to play against, doesn’t offer them the ability to break a game open in a big way offensively though.
The Predators have smart coaching and smart management and they’ll make the right tweaks to improve the team. They’ve been doing it all along now and there’s no reason to think they won’t keep it going now.

Barry Trotz steps down as Capitals head coach

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Some massive news from the Stanley Cup champions on Monday as the Washington Capitals announced that Barry Trotz is stepping down as head coach of the team.

“After careful consideration and consultation with my family, I am officially announcing my resignation as Head Coach of the Washington Capitals,” said Trotz in a statement.

“When I came to Washington four years ago we had one goal in mind and that was to bring the Stanley Cup to the nation’s capital. We had an incredible run this season culminating with our players and staff achieving our goal and sharing the excitement with our fans. I would like to thank Mr. Leonsis, Dick Patrick and Brian MacLellan for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this great organization. I would also like to thank our players and staff who worked tirelessly every day to achieve our success.”

At this point you might be thinking to yourself, “wasn’t Trotz a free agent after this season with an expiring contract? What exactly is he stepping down from?” 

Well, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that was going to be true had the Capitals not won the Stanley Cup. But Trotz’s contract had a clause in it that kicked in an automatic two-year extension if the Capitals won the Cup, which they obviously did earlier this month when they defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in five games. According to Friedman the extension was for below the market value given the exploding market for coaching contracts in the NHL.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that it was a $300,000 raise that would have brought his contract value to $1.8 million per year.

The two sides attempted to negotiate a new extension but could not come to terms.

Now that Trotz has resigned, the Capitals will grant permission to any team that wishes to hire Trotz, essentially making him a free agent.

Other than the Capitals, the only other team in the NHL without a head coach at the moment is the New York Islanders and it would be absolutely shocking if they did not have some serious interest in hiring him.

The last two coaches to leave a Stanley Cup champion the year after winning were Scotty Bowman when he retired following the Detroit Red Wings’ win in 2002 and Mike Keenan following the New York Rangers’ win in 1994.

During Trotz’s four years with the team the Capitals won the Stanley Cup, two Presidents’ Trophies, and compiled a 205-89-34 record. No other team in the NHL won more than 192 games during that stretch.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ryane Clowe to join ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers as head coach: Report

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The Newfoundland Growlers will be the ECHL’s newest team for the 2018-19 season. They have a pretty sweet logo and now have their first head coach.

According to The Telegram, the Growlers are set to name former NHLer Ryane Clowe as head coach this week. Clowe has spent the last two seasons as one of John Hynes’ assistants with the New Jersey Devils.

Last week, the Growlers announced an affiliation agreement with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 35-year-old Clowe, who saw his career end due to concussions, last played in the 2014-15 season, but got his first taste of coaching during the 2012 NHL lockout. After joining up with the ECHL’s now-defunct San Francisco Bulls to skate with the team, he found himself helping out behind the bench during games. That’s when the door opened to a post-playing career.

“It kind of opened my eyes to something maybe after (I finished playing) that I was thinking about possibly doing,” Clowe told Kevin Kurz of The Athletic earlier this season. “I was like, you know what, this is something I really enjoyed when I was behind (the bench). It’s not playing, but it’s kind of second-best. 

“I would have liked to go on longer (as a player), but to get in on an NHL staff right away and now be behind the bench is fortunate.”

During his two years on Hynes’ staff, Clowe was actually still under contract with the Devils as the five-year deal he signed with the team in 2013 finally expires on July 1. He did some scouting for the team in 2015-16, but coaching was the area he found he really wanted to dive into.

“Once I got into coaching, I knew that was where I wanted to be,” Clowe told The Telegram last summer. “And I know that if I get out, not only is it hard getting back in, but I’d likely have to start at the bottom.”

Now Clowe gets to be part of an organization starting from scratch and use the experience he gained from the past two years in New Jersey to get the Growlers off to a good start in their inaugural season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Dave Tippett joins Seattle NHL group as senior advisor

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At this point it simply seems to be a matter of when, and not if, the NHL officially moves forward to expand to Seattle in the coming years. In the meantime, the potential ownership group led by Tod Leiweke continues to take the steps necessary to ensure it becomes a reality.

One of their more recent moves was the addition of former Arizona Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett as a senior advisor for the group.

According to the Seattle Times “nobody is ruling out” the possibilty that Tippett could one day become the first head coach of the yet-to-be-named team, but for now he will help oversee development of the organization.

Here is Tippett talking about his new role, via the Times’ Geoff Baker.

“The challenge of trying to build a team from the foundation up is something not a lot of people get the chance to do,’’ Tippett, 56, told me last week in lower Queen Anne, near his new office at the NHL group’s headquarters. “That’s what makes it very intriguing to me.’’

Tippett, a former winger for 11 NHL seasons with Hartford, Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, will bring a hockey insider’s voice to everything, from where to locate the training facility to how to decorate the dressing rooms at a revamped KeyArena.

“There are a lot of times where you need somebody with some hockey experience, whether it be infrastructure like the dressing rooms, the training facilities, or putting together the groundwork of what a skeleton hockey staff would look like,’’ Tippett said.

A player for more than 11 years in the NHL, Tippett most recently worked in the NHL as the head coach for the Arizona Coyotes, a position he held between the 2009-10 and 2016-17 seasons. During his time in Arizona he led the Coyotes to the playoffs three times, including a stunning run to the Western Conference Final during the 2011-12 season. But after five consecutive non-playoff appearances Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways following the 2016-17 season.

He also coached the Dallas Stars for six years, making the playoffs five times.

Tippett’s addition to the Seattle group seems reminiscent of the role former NHL player Murray Craven took on with the Vegas Golden Knights during their expansion process when he joined Bill Foley’s group as an advisor. After serving in that role for two years he was officially named the senior vice president of the team in August, 2016.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi making late push up draft boards

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Throughout the season, many draft experts mentioned that the top end prospects available in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft were wingers and defensemen. Teams looking for a center were out of luck. But that opinion seems to have shifted in the final few days leading up to the event.

That’s where Jesperi Kotkaniemi comes into play.

The 17-year-old was always going to be a first round draft pick, but his performance in the Finnish first division with Assat Pori (10 goals, 29 points in 57 games) as a teenager is pretty impressive.

Another reason why Kotkaniemi is getting so much positive press late in this process, is because he was one of the standout-players on Finland’s team that won gold at the under-18 World Junior Hockey Championship. He had three goals and six assists in seven tournament games.

“Here’s a guy who has been playing the whole season with men and against men and has played extremely well,” NHL director of European scouting Goran Stubb said, per NHL.com. “He has improved his skating. His skating was always OK, but he’s improved and this is a guy with a guy with a very special understanding of the game. He makes very intelligent decisions on the ice. He can shoot, pass, score and is a very nice young man too.”

The fact that the Montreal Canadiens own the third overall pick in this week’s NHL Entry Draft has also helped connect the dots between Kotkaniemi and a top-three selection. You see, the Canadiens have been lacking a true number one center for decades. They remain thin down the middle to this day.

The Habs took Ryan Poehling in the first round last year, so that added a bit of depth in the pipeline at that position. Adding Kotkaniemi to the mix would arguably turn the center position into a strength when it comes to prospect depth. Every team that wins the Stanley Cup seems to have quality down the middle. Montreal needs to develop a franchise player there if they’re going to be competitive again.

“I think Kotkaniemi is the best center of the draft, I think he’s superb, I think he has a game reminiscent in style to (Los Angeles Kings center) Anze Kopitar,” former NHL GM and TSN’s Craig Button said. “I don’t know where you get (centers) if you don’t draft them. (Montreal Canadiens GM) Marc Bergevin has been looking for a center, he’s trying to take wingers and making them centers or take third line centers and make them first line centers. So now you have a guy sitting right there and maybe you can use the third pick to take him at No. 3.”

If Kotkaniemi ends up being one of the biggest risers on Friday night, it’ll be interesting to see what that means for Halifax winger Filip Zadina, who is still in play for the Canadiens at third overall.

For a while, Zadina was considered as the favorite to be selected third after Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov, but all this chatter about Kotkaniemi has taken some steam out of the Zadina hype train.

Even if the Canadiens opt to pass on Kotkaniemi, he could still end up going to Ottawa at four, Arizona at five or Detroit at six, which would be higher than most expected him to go.

But as we all know, it’s hard to trust anything anyone says about prospects and their stock at this time of year. Teams won’t be honest and the players won’t reveal their true thoughts about where they think they’ll end up, so all most of us have to lean on are Youtube clips and independent scouting services.

Ahhhh you’ve gotta love this time of year.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.