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Trotz out as Predators coach after 15 years

by John Manasso

NASHVILLE -- In what can only be described as a heart-felt love letter to the Nashville Predators and the city he called home for 17 years, Barry Trotz said an emotional goodbye on Monday to the organization that he coached from its inception, a span of 1,196 regular-season games.

"I'm from Dauphin, Manitoba, and I didn't know much about Nashville," Trotz said. "I was in Portland, Maine, working for their minor-league team. I never thought I could find a better place, better people. Come to Nashville, I found out. It's incredible."

Always among the most accommodating and thoughtful coaches in the NHL with the media, Trotz proved no different on a day when general manager David Poile announced that the Predators would seek a new coach after 15 seasons, 557 wins and seven appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs under Trotz.

Trotz, who was offered a different job within the organization, said he had "zero ill will" towards the franchise, but that he wants to coach next season and would accept a position if offered one. Poile said he would grant another NHL team permission to talk to Trotz if the Predators are asked.

"I love you all," said Trotz, wearing a shirt with no logo while sitting at the same table where he had presided after postgame press conferences. "I love Nashville, but now I'm going to have to beat you."

Poile said he wants the Predators' next coach to have "strong leadership and communication" skills. He said assistant coaches Phil Housley and Lane Lambert remain under contract. Goalie coach Mitch Korn is not and, citing Korn's closeness with Trotz, Poile said he would talk to Korn about returning, but seemed to imply that Korn might not want to.

Poile said that hiring a new coach is such a new experience for him that he wants to take some time with the process. He expressed great frustration that Nashville did not qualify for the postseason. The Predators missed by three points and will sit out for a second straight season.

Poile cited a five-game homestand that began after 2014 Sochi Olympics concluded when the Predators went 1-4 as a major factor why Nashville did not make the playoffs. When the League resumed play, Nashville was four points out of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. In the four losses, the Predators scored three goals.

Poile said the entire organization shares responsibility for the decision. He said he has not managed well enough, scouts have not scouted well enough and players have not played well enough.

But he also expressed frustration with the Predators' performance in shootouts. Nashville won twice in 11 tries, ranking among the three worst teams in the NHL. Four more shootout wins and the Predators would have made the playoffs, Poile said on multiple occasions. A third factor was the hip infection that kept No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne out for 51 games.

Trotz and Poile said that the latter made up his mind long ago that the Predators needed a change (officially, Poile said he informed Trotz on Friday). However, Poile said if Nashville had made the playoffs, it could have changed Trotz's fate.

"Give me a healthy Pekka, give me Pekka where he was two years ago [when he led the NHL in wins]," Poile said somewhat regretfully, "we wouldn't be here today."

As a longer-term factor, Poile said the Predators' loss in five games to the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals was hard to get over. Nashville finished with the NHL's fifth-best record that season, but lost to Phoenix after dispatching their long-time nemesis, the Detroit Red Wings, in five games. That series with the Coyotes was marred when the Predators suspended two players, Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, for breaking curfew. Poile referred to how the Predators "goofed up" in the series.

Poile said the Predators had gone into a rebuild "on the fly" after that series. The Predators lost defenseman Ryan Suter, a Norris Trophy finalist last season with the Minnesota Wild, to free agency in July 2012. Then, veteran right wing Martin Erat asked for a trade last season and the Predators accommodated him. This season, the Predators traded veteran defenseman Kevin Klein and center David Legwand, who had played with the organization in every season of its existence.

Poile said he thinks the Predators are not far from returning to the playoffs. He made it clear in no uncertain terms that Shea Weber, who led NHL defensemen in goals this season with 23 and who has 12 years and $82 million left on his contract, would return.

Poile also said that his own health is not a factor going forward. He suffered serious injuries on Feb. 7 when he was hit by an errant puck in the head during a morning skate and has yet to recover vision in his right eye.

"I'm up for the challenge, if that's what the direction was," he said of the question.

In moments of personal touches, Poile said hiring Trotz was the best decision he ever made, at one point holding up his arms triumphantly in praising Trotz, and also one of the things of which he is most proud of in his time as an NHL general manager.

"Let's be clear," he said, "Barry is a top, top coach in the NHL."

Poile said that Monday was a day about celebrating what Trotz had accomplished and the foundation he had laid.

Trotz, emotional at times, also joked. He said early on, he was helping Poile pick out carpet for the locker room when Poile cracked to him that he would not be around longer than the carpet.

"I've been through about five carpets," Trotz said. "The running joke is who's going to last longer, me or David Legwand? I think he's going to have buy me dinner now. It's been absolutely wonderful."

And under the category of things you would never expect a fired coach to say, Trotz added, "It is really not a sad day, but a joyous day. It's sad because I won't be around some of my friends as much."

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