NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville’s David Poile did something he has rarely done in nearly 40 years as a general manager: He made a mid-season coaching change after being fed up with the Predators underachieving.
Poile hired former New Jersey Devils coach John Hynes as the third coach in franchise history Tuesday, less than 24 hours after firing Peter Laviolette. The Predators announced the hiring Tuesday before a morning skate in preparation for their home game against Boston, after which Nashville embarks on a three-game road trip.
Poile said the Predators are much better than they have performed this season with some players way playing below their potential or the team’s expectations.
“For me personally, this has been the hardest year that I’ve ever had because we have been totally unable to meet expectations for ourselves on the ice …,” Poile said. “There’s been a lot of criticism of our play. There has been a lot of inconsistencies with our play. So many games that we’ve played this year I felt we were going to win the game, and for whatever happened that win and that point was taken away from us.”
Poile fired Laviolette and associate coach Kevin McCarthy on Monday after the Predators (19-15-7) had dropped four of five games. They are 11th in the Western Conference standings with 45 points.
This marked the sixth NHL coaching change of the season.
Hynes, 44, was 150-149-5 as head coach with the New Jersey Devils, who fired him Dec. 3 despite signing him to a multiyear extension last January. He was let go after a 9-13-4 start that left New Jersey in last place in the Metropolitan Division and with the NHL’s second-worst record.
Poile was not deterred by Hynes’ recent struggles, saying the coach is a great leader.
“He has a great track record of both effectively developing younger players and successfully motivating veteran players,” Poile said. “We’re confident that he’s the guy to cultivate a winning culture in our locker room.”
New Jersey hired Hynes before the 2014-15 season, and he led the Devils to six more points than in their previous season. He guided the Devils to the 2018 playoffs for the first time since 2012 in a season when Taylor Hall won the Hart Trophy for scoring a career-best 93 points in 76 games. Hynes also helped develop Nico Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017.
Hynes has spent time in the AHL as head coach of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for five seasons after being an assistant coach. He also spent nine seasons on the staff of the USA Hockey National Team Development program, including as head coach from 2003-09 working with players like Patrick Kane, Jimmy Howard, Phil Kessel, Jimmy Hayes and Jason Zucker.
“The Nashville job is special,” Hynes said. “I’m very excited to be able to work with this team. It’s very talented, it’s well built. There’s a lot of different dimensions, and it comes from an extremely successful tradition.”
The native of Warwick, Rhode Island, coached the Americans to gold at the 2004 World Junior Championship, their first medal there since 1997.
Poile also announced that long-time NHL defenseman Rob Scuderi will be an interim assistant coach, transitioning from his role in the Predators hockey operations department.
Laviolette went 248-143-60 in 5 1/2 seasons with Nashville, reaching the playoffs each of his first five seasons. The Predators lost to Pittsburgh in six games in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. They won the Presidents’ Trophy and made it to the second round of the playoffs in 2018. They were eliminated in the first round a year ago.
Captain Roman Josi said it’s always sad to see men like Laviolette and McCarthy go what they did to help Nashville reach new heights in the past couple seasons.
“Now it’s a wake-up call for us players,” Josi said.
Poile traded defenseman P.K. Subban, Nashville’s highest-paid player, and signed free-agent forward Matt Duchene to a $56 million, seven-year contract on July 1. But the Predators sputtered through the first half of this season. They hadn’t won more than two straight games since a four-game streak in late October.
“I know we all feel bad in here that we didn’t do what we needed to do to be where we should be at, but no time to have our heads down,” Duchene said. “We’ve got a big game against a really hot team (Tuesday night). We’re not too far out, lots of games in hand, so we’ve got to make it count right now. Half a season left.”