The Nashville Predators (12-16-1) are experiencing their most disappointing season since the lockout-shortened year in 2012-13. Based on points percentage, they are seventh in the weakest division in the league and are 4-10-1 against the teams currently occupying a playoff spot in the Central. Worse still, the Predators are in complete disarray on the ice. David Poile’s off-season moves haven’t made the team any better, John Hynes’ system is failing and the glut of injuries means that an uptick in future results is fanciful at best.
Frankly, it is only a matter of time before Nashville waves a white flag on the year and initiates a full-blown rebuild. But will the changes extend beyond player personnel?
Recently, the swell of disapproval among fans has been targetting John Hynes, in particular. Audible “Fire Hynes” chants are now a feature at a limited capacity Bridgestone arena. #FireHynes litters Predator-focussed timelines and Smashville social media, in general, is baying for blood. Although, unfortunately, there is some bad news for those on the campaign trail.
No matter how bad it gets, the fact is, John Hynes will not be fired.
John Hynes Won’t Be Fired
Needless to say, it is easy to build rhetoric around Hynes as a coaching failure in the NHL. New Jersey didn’t improve in over three seasons with him at the helm and now Nashville is struggling too.
But despite his fairly meagre 28-27-2 record and a clear sign that the team is going in the wrong direction, Hynes is safe because of his ties to the Predators’ general manager.
Back in January 2020, David Poile gave his seal of approval on the John Hynes hire just one day after he fired Peter Laviolette. At the time, it may have seemed peculiar to many why the Preds would hire Hynes, a recently fired coach of a failing Devils team.
However, when looking into his background, it was a predictable case of NHL tribalism: Hynes had direct connections to Poile.
John Hynes: A Nepotism Pick
Hynes spent six seasons as head coach of USA Hockey’s National Development Program, during which time, Poile was an executive of its operations. In New Jersey, Hynes worked under general manager Ray Shero, who was once Poile’s assistant general manager for Team USA. Finally, there is also the fact that current Predators AGM, Jeff Kealty played hockey with Hynes at Boston University.
“Hey, everyone in our front office likes this guy! A match made in heaven, right?”
Now, despite the sarcastic put-down, it is of course, perfectly reasonable to hire someone you like and have had a previous working relationship with. But to employ someone in a vacuum, without at least enquiring elsewhere, seems dreadfully misguided.
Was there somebody better qualified for the role? Wouldn’t you like to have heard several opinions on the future of your franchise through an interview process? Even if it turned out that there wasn’t anyone better out there, shouldn’t some sort of due-diligence have been conducted?
The Predators wouldn’t know. They honed in on their target and set fire to the fuse.
In this case, David Poile’s hiring process bordered on parody: a microcosm of the unashamed nepotism within the NHL. Like when Michael Scott hires his nephew as a summer intern at Dunder Mifflin. Although it does make me feel uneasy imagining the Predators’ 71-year-old GM bending a fully-suited Hynes over in his office to lash him after he makes him look foolish.
It is yet another example of 200 hockey men recycling each other across the league. At this point, the old boy’s club is the NHL’s brand of Occam’s Razor.
(If you don’t get the US Office reference, there is a video below 2:50 – 3:45, specifically.)
You Find Excuses for Your Guy
John Hynes won’t be fired. He was hand-picked by Poile, almost immediately after he had decided to relieve Laviolette of his duties. Historically, when Nashville’s GM has that much faith in someone, he will continue to back them up.
Look at how Poile pursued Matt Duchene; he spent two years trying to acquire him. Consider also the way in which the Predators franchise is managed in general. It is obvious that Poile doubles down on his employees. There have only been three head coaches in over 20 years of hockey in Tennessee. Simply put, regular turnover is not how Nashville operates.
What’s more, Poile and his front office have recently acquired a convenient excuse to help defend Hynes’ poor results; the Predators’ boat-load of recent injuries has given the team next to no chance to recover from their slow start.
Captain Roman Josi, first-pair defenceman Ryan Ellis and playmaker Matt Duchene are all expected to miss a number of weeks. As a result, on Saturday, Nashville had to shoehorn prospects, Jeremy Davies, Alexandre Carrier and Frederic Allard into the gaping holes on the defensive side of the roster.
This slew of casualties has provided the perfect excuse to sell to ownership for the disappointing season. Moreover, welcoming prospects onto the roster to replace the injured players acts as a segue into getting a headstart on the rebuild.
If ownership buys the ‘injury’ excuse and still believes in Poile, then Hynes is safe in his position while he is still under contract. Yes, Nashville has been terrible, irrespective of the aforementioned injuries. But the recency bias will likely afford the coach and GM some breathing space.
Margins Are Tighter in Today’s Market
There are also the financial implications that come with firing a coach in-season. Of course, that is not to say that coaches can’t be fired right now; the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames both executed coaching changes within the last month. However, in a non-traditional hockey market, like Nashville, the margins are thinner and executives have to be pragmatic with their money, especially in the current climate.
The numbers speak to this sentiment. According to Forbes, the Predators had operating incomes of minus-11 million in 2019 and minus-13 million in 2020. In other words, the team has (understandably) been losing money at a decent clip over the last few years. While this is not indicative of the Predators being in financial trouble, the point is that the money factor is a serious consideration for every franchise right now.
If Nashville were to fire Hynes and hire someone in his stead, they would be paying two head coaches’ salaries through the 2021-22 season. (Hynes signed a three-year deal in 2020.) That is millions of dollars that any owner would consider a luxury they can ill-afford in the COVID-affected sports’ business economy.
The only situation where that is not the case is if Hynes gets another job in the NHL. This seems unlikely considering the candidates he would be joining in the deep pool of unemployed ex-coaches. For instance, it is hard to see Hynes being picked up by another franchise with Gerard Gallant, Claude Julien and Bruce Boudreau on the market, to name a few.
Bad Team, Less Money
Additionally, the Predators’ fanbase is on the cusp of experiencing its first proper rebuild since the team’s inception 23 years ago. A foreseeable problem Nashville will encounter is that there are now fewer means to help instigate a rebuild since the entire hockey market is penny-pinching; Commissioner Gary Bettman recently announced that the cap could remain flat over the next four years.
In other words, the Predators are on the verge of being very bad, and because of the market (and the Predators onerous contracts), it could take longer for them to improve. An unfortunate backlash of all of this is that a bad team in a non-traditional market normally results in a considerable loss of revenue.
Compounding these factors, it is hard to see Nashville forking out for two coaches’ salaries, especially while they rebuild and lose a lot of games in the process. The major difference between Nashville’s coaching situation and the stagnant market is the Predators only have financial control over one of those departments.
Firing John Hynes Reflects Badly on Poile
Finally, if Poile were to fire Hynes, he would be launching himself into the hot seat.
Laviolette’s tenure as coach ended with many accepting that he had lost the Predators’ dressing room. But if Hynes were to go just one (or two) year(s) afterwards, then it becomes natural for owners to think that maybe it isn’t the coach that’s the problem, but the man above him.
With Hynes gone, there would be nobody else left to blame if the team continues to struggle. A new coach can’t be punished for the failures of the past and if the team doesn’t improve then it is time to focus on the man who built it. Consecutive mid-season coaching dismissals would surely implicate the GM as part of the problem.
Consequently, if John Hynes goes, David Poile is the next man between the crosshairs, and the attention on him would garner plenty of important questions.
Poile Past It?
Was Poile, in fact, hoodwinked into taking Hynes by his good friend, Ray Shero? Both men would have discussed Hynes in the lead-up to Nashville hiring him and New Jersey’s former GM may have sensed an opportunity to capitalize.
Hynes had just signed a multi-year deal with the New Jersey Devils in the off-season prior to his firing. Therefore convincing Poile to buy into his former employee was taking Hynes’ contractual money off New Jersey’s books and wiping the debt slate clean for Shero. Seems like a no-brainer, from his position, to shower praise over the coach he fired.
There is also Poile’s trade and free agency record, which looks ugly of late. Duchene and Johansen’s bloated contracts amount to $16 million in cap hit for the next five years. Their combined goals this season? Five in 44 games. Yikes.
This is without even touching on the fact that Poile hasn’t won a trade since P.K. Subban for Shea Weber in 2016; Preds fans still despair over Kevin Fiala, who was traded for Mikael Granlund in 2019.
Hynes and Poile: Together in Nashville’s Mess
All in all, Nashville is tied to David Poile, and by extension, John Hynes.
Both men can point to the reason for this seasons’ failings as a knock-on effect of injuries and the need for a rebuild. It is clear that Poile has built enough respect in Nashville to afford him, and John Hynes, some time, assuming he wants to carry on.
What keeps Hynes safe is the fact that it is not within Poile’s modus operandi to give up on a coach after one season. On top of that, it is unlikely the Predators’ ownership group will entertain the avoidable expenditure that comes with firing a coach under contract right now.
Poile and Hynes are in Nashville’s mess together. Tearing it down seems like the only option but those men will be overseeing the changes. Predators fans may get used to the idea of this partnership.
John Hynes is here to stay. At least until 2022.
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