It's not often the Nashville Predators look outside their organization when making assistant coaching hires. Lane Lambert joined the staff in 2011 and that was after four years with the team's affiliate in the American Hockey League.
He replaced Brent Peterson, who was on the team's original staff in 1998 and could no longer coach because of Parkinson's Disease. The other assistant coach, Peter Horachek, had been on the staff for almost 10 years before the Predators released him on Tuesday.
However, after finishing fourth from the bottom of the League standings in 2012-13, the Predators felt that a more significant change was in order. On Wednesday, they introduced former long-time NHL defenseman Phil Housley, who ranks fourth all-time in points at his position, as their newest assistant coach.
General manager David Poile mentioned that the Predators not only had never had a defenseman on their staff, but they had never an offensive-minded one like Housley.
"Our offense has been somewhat critiqued here over the years," said Poile of his team, which finished tied for last in the League in goals per game in 2012-13 (2.27). "I think you would agree that we've been a little bit better defensively. I'm just using the word balanced. We need to be more balanced to our coaching staff. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel."
Most recently, Housley guided the United States to a gold medal at the World Junior Championship and worked as an assistant on the U.S. team at the World Championship, which Poile ran.
Housley played 21 seasons in the NHL and his task will be to work with the Predators' young defensemen and to revive their power play, which ranked first in 2011-12 but fell to 17th last season. Predators coach Barry Trotz said he thought Housley would bring new ideas to the unit.
The Predators finished the season with second-year defenseman Roman Josi, named MVP of the World Championship, playing on their top pair; rookie Victor Bartley on their second pair, and Jon Blum, 24, on their third pair. Ryan Ellis, 22, the former Ontario Hockey League player of the year and a first-round pick, and Mattias Ekholm, who will be 23 in a matter of days, are players in their system the Predators are counting on to make an impact.
Housley called Josi "an incredible talent" in an interview on the Predators website.
Housley, whose children range in age from 16 to 26, said after his playing career ended he wanted to spend time with his family. He slowly got back into coaching, starting at the high school level in Minnesota, and said he fell in love with the profession over time, beginning with a small role with the United States Olympic Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 2007. He moved on to roles with USA Hockey, with the Under-20 national team then the national team for the World Championship.
Housley said he could relate to the Predators' young players because they are the same age as his sons.
"I understand what they're going through," he said. "I've experienced that wear-and-tear and the ups and downs of the season and hopefully I can bring some experience to those guys."
Housley said he found the Predators' organization enticing, the fact there was loyalty with Poile and Trotz running the show and a track record of success. The team has qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in seven of the past nine seasons and advanced beyond the first round in 2011 and 2012.
"That's what I was looking forward to: the excitement of getting in the playoffs," Housley said.
He said Trotz wants the Predators' defense to be active and to make smart decisions.
"It took me a long time to learn that," Housley said.
If he can help in that regard, the Predators will be ahead of the game.
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