Barry Trotz

Can Hynes succeed with Predators where Laviolette failed?

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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.

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.

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Big injury losses: Sabres’ Olofsson, Islanders’ Pelech

Pelech Olofsson injury
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The Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders began 2020 with some tough injuries. The Sabres expect Victor Olofsson to miss five-to-six weeks, while the Islanders lost Adam Pelech to a season-ending injury.

Let’s ponder these losses for each team, and the larger outlook for the Sabres and Isles.

Olofsson injury continues turbulent times for Sabres

Don’t blame Sabres fans if they feel like their heads are spinning right now.

Jack Eichel touched on what Olofsson’s absence might mean, as reported by The Athletic’s John Vogl:

Olofsson tops all NHL rookies in goals (16) and points (35), leading both categories by four. Olofsson’s Hockey Viz heat maps back up Eichel’s comments about the rookie’s all-around play:

The thinning of the Sabres isn’t ideal considering their competition.

The Bruins remain perched atop the Atlantic Division, while the Maple Leafs and Lightning look like they’re back to being scary opponents. The Panthers also have more standings points (47 to Buffalo’s 43) despite Florida playing two fewer games (40 versus the Sabres’ 42 games played). The Metro could produce four or even five playoff teams, so Buffalo faces a perilous path without Olofsson.

Islanders lose Pelech for regular season

The Athletic’s Arthur Staple reports that Pelech’s injury timeline is four months, opening up some possibility of a playoff return. The Islanders currently rank second in the Metro with 53 points, so Pelech’s recovery window could indeed become relevant.

The Islanders stumbled a bit to end 2019 (3-1-4 in their last eight). With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how they handle the loss of a workhorse who ranked second in both time on ice per game (21:08) and penalty kill reps (2:47 per game).

Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello said that “you don’t replace an Adam Pelech at the trade deadline,” according to Staple, so Barry Trotz faces a challenge in dealing with this loss. Pelech is the type of player Trotz adores, especially going by these quotes from Kris Knoblauch, Pelech’s former OHL coach.

“He’s very undervalued and underappreciated,” Knoblauch said back in October, via Staple (sub required). “We relied on him a ton — he was our power-play defenseman, our shutdown guy. There’s a lot of calm to his game now and there was back then, too.”

Can the Islanders continue to insulate their goalies without Pelech? We’ll find out. Either way, the Sabres and Islanders both received some rough injury news on Friday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL on NBCSN: Islanders have another great goaltending duo

Islanders
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Since the start of the 2018-19 season the New York Islanders have been the NHL’s toughest team to score against.

Barry Trotz brought defensive structure and discipline to the lineup, while their goaltending has consistently been top-shelf.

It was great last year with Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss.

It has been outstanding again this year with Greiss and Semyon Varlamov. While both have played great hockey this season, it seems that Varlamov is really starting to gain the trust of Trotz as he appears to be on track to make his third consecutive start (and fourth consecutive appearance) on Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils (6 p.m. ET; NBCSN). 

There is no official word from the Islanders as to whether or not it will be Varlamov, but given how early he left the ice during the morning skate it would be shock if he did not play. If he does, it will be the first time this season the Islanders will have used the same starting goalie for three consecutive games as they continue to maintain the goalie rotation/platoon split that they used so effectively a year ago.

As a duo, they have the fifth-best all situations save percentage in the NHL this season and the third-best even-strength save percentage.

[COVERAGE OF ISLANDERS-DEVILS BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Greiss’ play shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore. Since joining the Islanders he has been one of the most underrated goalies in the league and outside of a disastrous 2017-18 season (when the entire team stopped playing defense in front of the goalies) he has been a rock in net when his number has been called. Even during his most recent stretch where he has been on the losing end of decisions he hasn’t performed poorly (he has lost five of his past six decisions, but has had a save percentage of .915 or better in four of those games).

Varlamov’s play is more of a pleasant surprise.

Other than whether or not they had enough offense to to take the next step as Stanley Cup contenders, probably the biggest question for the Islanders entering this season was whether or not Varlamov would be an adequate replacement in net for Lehner following his free agent departure to the Chicago Blackhawks. Lehner was one of the biggest stories in the league last season and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy thanks to his stellar play in the Islanders’ net. It was kind of a shock the way the Islanders allowed him to leave as easily as they did.

But Varlamov has stepped right into that role left behind and played some of his best hockey in years.

The Islanders have earned at least one point in 17 of his 20 starts, while it has been more than a month since they failed to earn at least one point in one of his starts.

The Islanders may not score a ton of goals and they may give up their share of shots, but as long as they have two goaltenders playing at a level like this they are going to have a chance every night.

Brendan Burke will handle play-by-play duties alongside AJ Mleczko and Pierre McGuire at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins vs. Islanders in clash of East powers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Bruins and Islanders head into Thursday in some of the league’s most comfortable playoff positions. Even so, don’t be surprised if recent events leave them both a little unsettled.

Just a bump in the road for the Islanders?

Brushing off a recent stumble should be easier for the Islanders.

Yes, it had to be jarring for Barry Trotz to see his old team, the Nashville Predators, absolutely bash his Islanders 8-3 on Tuesday. Depicting it as an anomaly isn’t very difficult, however, since that loss ended a three game-winning streak, and merely pushed the Isles to an impressive 22-8-2 record.

“You just put it in perspective,” Trotz said on Wednesday, via the Islanders’ website. “We’re not pleased that we lost 8-3, that’s for sure, but you’ve got to put it into the right context. I’ve tried to put every win and loss [in the right context]. I’ve probably been more mad after a couple of wins than an 8-3 loss last night because some games we stunk and we stole the game. Last night it just wasn’t our night.”

Dismissing the challenge isn’t totally appropriate for the Islanders, mind you. The Athletic’s Arthur Staple points out (sub required) that the Islanders allowed two power-play goals in three of their last five games, and could struggle similarly against Boston’s dangerous man advantage.

But the Islanders have less to be concerned about than their opponents.

[COVERAGE OF ISLANDERS – BRUINS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Bumbling Bruins

Forgive the B’s if they feel like November’s eight-game winning streak is a distant memory.

The Bruins started 2019-20 at a feverishly hot pace, with some of their numbers looking unsustainable. Consider their latest stretch the hockey equivalent of a bill coming due.

Following that eight-game winning streak, the Bruins lost five games in a row from Dec. 5-12. They also began their current four-game homestand with a 4-3 OT loss to lowly Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Panicking altogether would be silly considering Boston’s 21-7-7 record (representing a 10-point edge for the Atlantic Division title), but this team is shooting for more meaningful banners. The Bruins play their next three games at home before the holiday break, and six of their next eight at home overall, so this is a good time to wake up.

Patrice Bergeron indicated to The Athletic’s Joe McDonald (sub required) that the Bruins are aware of the opportunity, and challenge.

“You break it down in small portions and right now it’s four big games before having a couple of days of rest, so leave everything on the line,” Bergeron said. “We know what’s at stake. It’s big points on the table and we’re ready for them.”

Interesting test for Islanders and Bruins

The Bruins and Islanders meet for the first of their three 2019-20 regular season matchups on Thursday. While some might peg the Bruins as a bit more explosive, Islanders defenseman Devon Toews notes enough similarities that this could come down to attention to detail.

“It sounds a lot like us when you look at it,” Toews said about the Bruins’ style and strengths. “We give teams a fit in our own end and they do the same. We’re going to be challenged to create our own opportunities as well as shut their opportunities down. They’ve got great goaltending and we’ve got great goaltending. It’s going to be a battle of little details.”

Kathryn Tappen will anchor Thursday night’s studio coverage with Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick. Brendan Burke, AJ Mleczko, and Pierre McGuire will call the action from TD Garden in Boston, Mass.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Intriguing updates for Dustin Byfuglien, Justin Williams

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• As Dustin Byfuglien mends his ankle, it’s possible the Jets might also mend their relationship with the defenseman. A possible arbitration hearing complicates things, although if the healing goes especially well, maybe it will become a moot point? (Winnipeg Free Press)

• Speaking of a veteran player who may or may not retire, Justin Williams continues to “ramp up” his skating. Also like Byfuglien, it’s not certain that Williams would return to his most recent team (in his case, the Hurricanes). Although, in Williams’ case, a cap crunch might force a different path, rather than the hard feelings that might be swirling around Byfuglien and the Jets.  (TSN)

Viktor Arvidsson could return soon for the Predators, which would be huge for a hit-or-miss Nashville team. (The Tennessean)

• Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray delivered tough injury news for Troy Terry, and Derek Grant. The outlook is sunnier for Jacob Larsson, at least. (Ducks website)

• Was the Los Angeles Kings – Ilya Kovalchuk relationship doomed from the start? (Jewels from the Crown)

• The Blues are surviving without Vladimir Tarasenko, and it’s not only due to defense and goaltending. (Sportsnet)

• In a vacuum, the Coyotes won the Taylor Hall trade, particularly because of it not being very costly. When you add the context of the teams (include the Blues) who missed out on Hall, it becomes an even bigger win for Arizona. (Yahoo)

• You’d think a backup goalie would get more support than a starter. Yet, in the case of the Flames, they haven’t scored many goals when Cam Talbot has been in net. (Flames Nation)

• Sometimes, jersey retirements soothe fans who need to bask in nostalgia rather than focus on the future. In this case, though, maybe the Islanders’ hot play under Barry Trotz is a great time to revisit the golden years? Either way, the Islanders are retiring John Tonelli’s 27 and Butch Goring’s 91 in February. (Islanders website)

• Breaking down Team USA’s promising patch of prospects heading into the WJC. (McKeen’s Hockey/Rotoworld)

• Elliotte Friedman rattled off the latest edition of “31 Thoughts” on Wednesday. (Sportsnet)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.