In their 13-year competition history, the Predators have been guided by just one coach, Barry Trotz, and assembled by just one General Manager, David Poile, resulting in an impressive run of winning seasons and trips to the playoffs—seven appearances in the last eight years to be exact.
Another key to the Predators solid foundation is the strength of the organization’s base, namely its developmental AHL affiliate. Milwaukee’s recent run of success is unmatched by any other franchise, as last year’s league record ninth straight season of 40 or more wins attests to.
While Poile put together the winning puzzle pieces in Nashville, his right hand man, assistant general manager Paul Fenton, has been Milwaukee’s top front office executive for seven years now, providing a steady hand behind the scenes for the Admirals.
Yet, behind the Bradley Center bench Milwaukee diverts from the organization’s core. During the summer Dean Evason became the Admirals fourth head coach in a two-year span.
“Looking at the history and the winning tradition that’s here in Milwaukee, as well as how the organization develops players to be ready to play at the next level, makes this position an exciting (opportunity) for me,” said Evason, who amassed a record of 294-206-74 as an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals prior to joining the Admirals.
Evason followed Ian Herbers, who had been the team for three seasons. First Herbers was as an assistant coach under Lane Lambert and later he took over the head position after Milwaukee’s choice to start the 2011-2012 season, Kirk Muller, moved on midseason to become the new head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Milwaukee’s lack of stability in its coaching ranks is due to promotions rather than resignations. Three of the team’s recent coaches, Muller, Claude Noel and Todd Richards currently serve as the bench bosses for NHL teams—Noel with Winnipeg, Richards with Minnesota and now Columbus. Meanwhile, Lambert is working on his final apprenticeship serving as assistant with Nashville before possibly becoming a future NHL coach.
Evason knows that Milwaukee is a place that can provide an invaluable career boost for a hungry coach eager for an opportunity.
“Certainly, I want to get back to the NHL, but I’m in no rush to get back there as a head coach,” said Evason, who racked up 139 goals and 372 points in an 803-game NHL playing career. “I know there are a lot of things that I have to learn and want to develop in my coaching style.”
Evason joins the long list of character coaches Fenton and Poile installed in Milwaukee. The easy part for Nashville’s brass has been watching them flourish both in terms of producing victories, but also in preparing players for a seamless transition to the join Predators.
Therefore, the team’s hire for the 2012-2013 needed to follow the same mold. Fenton found exactly that in Evason, the longtime assistant coach with the Washington Capitals.
“First of all, (Dean’s) a great hockey person,” Fenton said. “He’s been involved in professional hockey and in coaching for (a long time), so that experience in itself kept him there. He’s a great person and an excellent teacher.”
Evason’s resume in the nation’s capital city, was impressive to say the least. Working under three head coaches in Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau and last season Dale Hunter, Evason was the stable influence, guiding the Capitals to an impressive run of improvement and five straight playoff appearances.
“(Dean) brings to Milwaukee the knowledge, insight and expertise of 20 years of NHL playing and coaching experience to our organization,” Poile said. “We are excited to have him guiding our young players as our development coach, and given his success we feel our prospects are in great hands.”
Much like Fenton’s last preseason head coaching choice (Muller), Evason came to Milwaukee looking add the final piece to his resume. Though he’s endured some growing pains to start the season, the Admirals have turned a corner as of late, gaining points in six of their past eight games.
Meanwhile, Washington, Evason former organization, remains stranded along with the rest of the NHL in the mires of a lockout. In order to provide their new head coach valuable experience, the Capitals placed Adam Oates down at Hershey alongside the Bears’ Mark French in a co-coaching situation.
In Milwaukee no such relationship exists. Though Trotz, Poile and Lambert have kept a keen eye on the Admirals with all of their extra time, Milwaukee’s players know who is in charge—Evason and assistant coach Stan Drulia.
“Coach Evason and Stan Drulia are running the show in the players’ eyes,” Admirals defenseman Ryan Ellis said.
Much like his predecessors, Evason is doing his best to run the Admirals in similar fashion to the Predators in terms of style of play. But that doesn’t mean Evason’s hands are tied as far as how he guides Milwaukee.
“Before the season when Stan and I met with coach Trotz we went over their systems, but he said if there is something we wanted to do we had free reign to do it,” Evason said. “Fortunately the system we want to play here pretty much mirrors Nashville.”
Still Evason is leaning on his counterparts with the Predators for all the advice he can get.
“I’m in daily contact with our general manager Paul Fenton, and I talk to Barry Trotz after basically every game to give him a report on our players,” Evason said. “I continue to pick his brain about things we should be doing, so it’s a nice relationship that we have with Nashville.”
Admirals forward Chris Mueller says the players took to Evason right from the start of training camp.
“Dean’s an awesome coach and he’s definitely a player’s coach,” Mueller said. “He’s hard enough on the team when he needs to be especially when we aren’t playing well, but he’s also lets us be hockey players.”
Milwaukee defenseman Jonathon Blum believes Evason’s vast knowledge has paid off when it comes to teaching the Admirals.
“We’re a young group that’s still learning the basics every day at practice (from Dean),” Blum said. “We’re (still) trying to find an identity for this team.”
But Mueller believes the quality relationship that exists between Admirals players and their coach will pay off in success on the ice.
“He’s a guy that understands what it’s like to be a player,” Mueller said. “He’s definitely an intense coach, really commands the room and well respected by our team. We’re looking forward to playing well under him all year.”