The Nashville Predators actually did it. They fired Peter Laviolette, and then hired John Hynes in a dizzying span.
The dream is that Hynes can sculpt this lump of underachieving clay back into contending shape. How well do such imaginings line up with reality, though? Let’s consider the way things might or might not change for the Predators.
Good Cop/Bad Cop?
In sports, teams sometimes opt to rotate approaches. First, you hire a “yeller” to scream out the procrastinators. Then you soothe various wounds with a “player-friendly” coach … or vice versa.
The Predators might be aiming for such a dynamic.
While plenty (including Babcock-blasting Mike Commodore) showed fondness for Laviolette over the years, the word “intense” comes up over and over in describing the coach. The Tennessean’s Joe Rexrode summed up some of that intensity in a May 2017 column:
This is a man whose default setting is “cold glare” when he enters a room. A seemingly humorless man, a professional sourpuss, a coach who can detect bad intentions in the most harmless of questions.
When Hynes was fired, it was striking to see just how many people went out of their ways to support him. The praise ranged from players including Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier to former front office members.
On John Hynes – the coach and more importantly, the person: pic.twitter.com/3lR2iQoazO
— Rachel Doerrie (@racheldoerrie) December 3, 2019
Affixing Hynes with a white hat and Laviolette with a twirly villain’s mustache would, again, be a bit extreme. Laviolette showed a sense of humor in being the butt of a joke, after all, while some wonder if Hynes favored veterans over younger players in New Jersey.
Still, in a broad, “macro” sense, you could argue that the Predators shifted from a stern to a gentler touch.
Hynes upgrading offense after it wilted under Laviolette?
After hiring Laviolette, Predators GM David Poile (understandably) hyped Laviolette’s “aggressive offensive philosophy.”
Laviolette justified such claims — for a time. After all, a franchise that once spent first-round picks to land Paul Gaustad was now emphasizing offensive acquisitions from Filip Forsberg to Ryan Johansen to Matt Duchene.
Whatever happened along the way — maybe the message faded, perhaps the league passed Laviolette by — the Predators’ offense plummeted. This thread from Micah Blake McCurdy argues that Hynes may improve Nashville’s system, even just by default.
John Hynes is a good choice (at least, among those with nhl experience) to replace Laviolette, he should improve the 5v5 defence without harming the 5v5 offence like Laviolette did. pic.twitter.com/LUFBKCcqAm
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) January 7, 2020
Hynes provides a clean slate for those who fell in Laviolette’s doghouse
Following Sunday’s uglier-than-it-seemed shootout loss to the Ducks (which may have been the final straw for Lavy, depending upon whom you ask), Preds winger Craig Smith implied that Nashville’s system became bogged down by details.
“Sometimes maybe we overthink our system and play a little (lax) and sit back on our heels,” Smith said, via The Tennessean’s Paul Skrbina. “In the third (period Sunday) I think we just said eff it; let’s get after it a little bit. Read and react. Just play hockey, making hockey plays. That’s what we did.”
Could Hynes help them just play hockey? Maybe, maybe not.
In a fascinating discussion of Hynes’ Devils days, CJ Turtoro told On the Forecheck that Hynes’ system could also get too complicated.
Turtoro: One weakness for this particular team seemed to be complexity. As I mentioned, his system aims to create space, but that can create chaos that makes it difficult for players to support one another if they’re not on the same page, or not where they’re supposed to be …
The dream would be for Hynes to boost the Predators’ offense without taking away too much defense. Basically, the fantasy would parallel Craig Berube finding the right mix for the Blues after Mike Yeo leaned too defense-heavy. File that under easier said than done, of course.
Either way, the Predators may simply get a boost from Kyle Turris and others getting a clean slate.
Personally, I get the impression that Turris has paid for past sins. He struggled last season, injuries or not, but there’s compelling evidence that he shouldn’t have been a healthy scratch. Certainly not a frequent one.
Don’t underestimate the power of getting out of the doghouse.
Plenty of work to do
It’s kind of cruel that Hynes is going from one of the worst goalie duos to one of the league’s other terrible tandems.
If nothing else, it’s far more surprising to see Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros struggle that it was to see the Devils’ motley crue produce dismal results. So maybe Hynes can help them achieve more, particularly behind a far, far superior defense than the one he deployed in New Jersey?
Hynes and the Predators don’t have much of a margin for error, so this should be interesting to watch.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.