The Predators should see themselves as the next Penguins, not Blues

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 27: Dominik Kahun #24 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on December 27, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 27: Dominik Kahun #24 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on December 27, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Blues’ magical run to the Stanley Cup last year has no doubt had a ripple effect across the entire NHL, but the Predators should look further back in time for motivation.

When the St. Louis Blues fired head coach Mike Yeo in November 2018, the team still had to reach their lowest point. The Blues wouldn’t hit rock bottom of the league until early January, giving them sole possession of last place in the NHL at the start of the new year.

The 2019-20 Nashville Predators are not the NHL’s worst team this year when they fired former head coach Peter Laviolette on Monday. That honor belongs to the Detroit Red Wings, who are wallowing in last place with only 10 wins in 43 games played.

Instead, the Predators have been below average without a doubt this season. Their goaltending — which has been a strength for this team in years past — is tied for second-worst in the NHL with Los Angeles and San Jose. Nashville’s penalty kill can’t keep goals out of their own net, while their power play has been listless for most of the season. At even strength, the Predators have been solid in terms of driving play, according to Natural Stat Trick, but have been hurting themselves with poor special teams and abysmal goaltending.

A combination of those factors, plus the fact that the Predators sit second to last in the Central Division, are what led to the firing of Laviolette on Monday, with the team hiring former New Jersey Devils head coach John Hynes the next day.

More. Predators hire John Hynes as franchise's new coach. light

With Laviolette’s departure, the NHL has now seen six head coaches leave — voluntarily or by dismissal — this season, including some in high-profile markets like Toronto and San Jose. The mass exodus of head coaches from teams with lofty playoff expectations this year feels oddly similar, like teams are trying to replicate the Blues’ one-in-a-million success story from just a season ago.

In 2019, the Blues redefined what it meant to go from worst to first with their storybook Stanley Cup run. Previously, it had been the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015 when they fired head coach Mike Johnston and replaced him with Mike Sullivan. Before that, it was the Penguins again in 2009 when Michel Therrien was relieved of his duties and Dan Bylsma was tagged as the interim head coach.

In both instances, the Penguins turned their season around after the firing of their head coach and won a Stanley Cup by year’s end. Both times, the Penguins held an above .500 record when their head coach was fired, much like the Predators do now at the precipice of the Hynes era.

It’s easy to say this sequence of events over the last 24 hours parallels last year’s Blues — since the effects of that story are still being felt in 2020 — when really the Predators are more akin to the Penguins of their 2009 and 2016 Stanley Cup years. Talented, yet underperforming. Struggling, yet not the league’s worst team by a wide margin.

The 2008-09 Penguins also held on to Therrien incredibly late into the season, with Bylsma taking over in mid-February when Pittsburgh was out of a playoff spot by five points. Nashville sits in an eerily similar five-point position outside of the wild card, with their head coaching change coming not in February, but one month prior.

The Blues’ comparison isn’t a stretch to make considering its relevancy, but it’s the wrong one. St. Louis’ story was so unique because they were in last place in the NHL in January, before turning on the jets and blowing past everyone to make a playoff run. The Blues put interim head coach Craig Berube in the spotlight — a coach that had just two seasons of NHL head coaching experience at that point — and the team still climbed up the standings at record pace.

With the hiring of Hynes, the Predators add a bit more experience to their hopeful playoff run. Hynes has four full seasons and change with him as he takes over for veteran Laviolette in Nashville, with the Predators even jumping right in and naming him the full time head coach and forgoing an interim all together.

The Predators are not “this year’s Blues” because there will never be a team — or a story — like the one that came out of St. Louis in 2019. There are similarities, to be sure, but the Predators’ path up until this point more closely resembles the mediocre Penguins before their franchise-changing Stanley Cup victories than the last place Blues of a season ago.

If the Predators continue to falter under Hynes’ tenure this season, this storyline will be put to bed quickly and quietly. But in the case that the Predators do master a comeback to push into the playoffs in the months to come, you’ll know where to put your comparisons.

Next. NHL January power rankings: Maple Leafs surging. dark