As the Nashville Predators’ 15th anniversary season came to an early end, locker room cleanout marked the symbolic end of an era in the franchise’s history, one that began with the hiring of Head Coach Barry Trotz in August of 1997 and the drafting of David Legwand 10 months later. However, while emotions ran high and a chapter was closed, hope seemed to be settling in as the Preds begin to embark on a new journey.
Less than 24 hours after playing the last game of the 2013-14 season, a 7-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild, the Predators released a statement stating their plans not to renew Trotz’s contract for what would have been his 16th season behind the Predators’ bench.
While Trotz is one of the most successful coaches in NHL history, he was unable to lead his team to the playoffs for the second season in a row. Although many factors played into this shortcoming, such as starting goaltender Pekka Rinne missing 51 games, General Manager David Poile saw a time for change.
“We came up a little short of making the playoffs,” Poile said during a press conference. “Because of that, I have had to make the toughest decision in my 30 years as a general manager. I really feel that today is a time for a new voice and a new direction for our franchise.”
After acknowledging the emotionally difficult aspect of the situation, Poile went on to explain that he saw a need for change after the team was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs against Phoenix in 2011-12, and that the trade of Martin Erat for Filip Forsberg in late 2012-13 was only the beginning of a new era for the Predators.
“Our change in direction began over a year ago as we have made several personnel changes, including the trading of long-time veteran players and a change to our coaching staff last offseason,” Poile said, referencing the trades of Erat, Kevin Klein and David Legwand, and the dismissal of long-time associate coach Peter Horachek. “Our goal is to return to the playoffs with the ultimate goal of contending for the Stanley Cup. We know that once we get into the playoffs, anything is possible.”
The changes, which became more frequent throughout the season, saw Legwand, Nashville’s first-ever draft pick, and home-grown defenseman Klein traded away for younger talent with the capability to contribute offensively.
Michael Del Zotto, Calle Jarnkrok, Filip Forsberg and Seth Jones are just a few of Nashville’s up-and-coming stars who will be able to grow into more consistent roles with the team under the guidance of veteran players and a new coach.
Yet, for some players, like Shea Weber and Rinne, who have only played under Trotz in the NHL, the change, while intriguing, is hard to take in.
“It’s exciting to think about something new and head in a new direction, but it’s still tough right now because it’s so fresh,” Weber said. “The only head coach I’ve known here is gone. You don’t really know what to expect, but you trust the organization and the direction they’re ready to go in.”
The difficulty of parting ways with an outstanding coach is undeniable, but the hope for an even brighter future is there. Fans, management and players saw glimmers of what could be the beginning of a new era at the end of the season.
Weber recorded 34 points (14g-20a) in the last 42 games, including three game-winning goals and a +11 rating. He also broke the franchise record for points by a defenseman and set a career high with 56 points (23g-23a).
Two other players also broke the 50-point mark, as forwards Patric Hornqvist (53) and Craig Smith (52) each set career-high point totals. In addition to Hornqvist and Smith, Jarnkrok, who played in just 12 NHL games, showed his offensive prowess by recording nine points (2g-7a) and a +7 rating during his time in Nashville.
Even Rinne, who was injured for a majority of the season, set a franchise record for goaltender wins in a career with his 162nd in a shutout victory over Phoenix on April 10.
So, as we bid goodbye to a beloved coach who put his heart and soul into Nashville both on and off the ice, and with a significant chapter in the Nashville Predators’ history coming to a close, the future still remains bright. #PredsPride.