The Nashville Predators recently announced that Phil Housley was hired to position of assistant coach. “Phil brings a unique skill set to our coaching staff,” GM David Poile said. “He was one of the most talented offensive defensemen to play in the NHL, and he has worked extensively with young players during his coaching career. He will continue to focus his efforts on our young defensemen and assisting on the power play.”
What’s not to like about this move? The Predators land one of the rising stars from the coaching ranks; having just steered the U.S. Juniors to a World Championship in Ufa, Russia. A former player who is among the most dynamic offensive players to have played the game. But dig a little deeper into Poile’s comments and you really start to warm up to this transaction.
“Assisting on the power play.” In 2011-12, the Predators possessed what was arguably the most lethal power play in the NHL. This aspect of their special teams was a prominent factor in the most successful season in the franchise’s history.
Fast forward to 2012-13, the Predators PP languished in the bottom third of the League throughout a compressed schedule. A lackluster power play is not the sole explanation behind the club’s 27th place finish; however, it was, at a minimum, a contributing reason.
Phil Housley knows this part of the game. You could argue it was the part of the game he knew best. I played against Housley my entire career; he was as close as you come to a quarterback on skates. He was a unique blend of high-end skill that saw the ice exceptionally well and anticipated the play even better. Scoring 30 goals in this League as a defenseman supports that.
But here’s my point. He could play and he’s proven that he can teach and motivate others to do the same. He appears to be that rare combination of exceptional natural ability on ice in addition to showing he’s a difference-maker behind the bench. Going forward, the capable guiding hand necessary for a more productive power play appears to be in place.
“Our young defenseman.” Josi, Bartley, Ellis, Blum …. gosh, Weber and Klein haven’t hit 30 yet. With the exception of veteran rear-guard. Hal Gill, the Predators possess a very young backend.
And what the Predators are learning is that you don’t just plug an unproven blueliner into your line-up and simply tell him you need him to become an everyday NHLer. A prospect – especially one that plays defense – must be developed over time.
Phil Housley, enter and sign in please. He’s demonstrated that he can get a group of skilled young athletes pulling in the same direction. His gold medal junior team held the opposition to just nine goals in the seven games they played in what tends to be a rather high-scoring tournament. The one challenge for Housley becomes fine-tuning his approach to ensure that these elements transfer to the NHL level.
Are better days ahead for the Preds? Assuming an assistant coach has anything to say about it, probably so.
See you around the rink.