Nashville Predators and New Hope for Change
The Nashville Predators have been sold and have the opportunity to make some changes and be bold hiring fresh faces.
The Road So Far
The Nashville Predators are at the end of another disappointing season and the time has come to ask what happened? After struggling all season to keep a wild card spot the Preds managed to make the playoffs. As with years past the Preds failed to put up much fight. They Proceeded to get swept by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche. The Preds have only themselves to blame for their first-round opponent. The Preds lost the last regular season game to the (25-50-7) Arizona Coyotes 5-4. After having a 4-1 first period lead the Preds collapsed and lost, pushing them to the second wild card spot. This may seem like a small difference, but made them play Colorado instead of the Calgary Flames. While no one can know if things would have been different, it is clear Nashville didn’t have the team to compete with Colorado.
This is becoming a startling pattern with the Preds, a mediocre season followed by a brutal early round exit. The team continues to use the same formula and get the wrong answer. The time has come to find and address the problem. One thing has been a constant with this team, the General Manager. The GM since the inception of the franchise has been David Poile. Not only has Poile been the Predator’s only GM but he is also the longest tenured GM in the NHL. Poile was hired July 9, 1997, one full year prior to the team playing its first NHL game in 1998.
How We Got Here
He was hired after serving as the Washington Capitals GM for 15 years from 1982-1997. During his time with the Capitals the team made their first playoff appearance in 1982, winning just one division championship (1988-89) season and making it to only one conference final in (1990). Poile has been at the helm in Nashville since Day One and has yet to make the moves necessary for the Team to break through and become an elite Championship Team. The Team’s unofficial motto might as well be ‘just good enough,’ as from the outside it appears the organization is content with that approach. In his position he has hired three coaches- Barry Trotz, Peter Laviolette, and John Hynes taking over in 2020.
The Predators have made 14 playoff appearances in 24 seasons and have only made it past the second round once. In 2017 the Preds made it all the way to the Cup Finals and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins. They then followed up that performance with a second round exit the next year.
Slow and Steady
Every time the Preds have gotten close or had a chance to swing for the fences, Poile appears to proceed with caution. Poile is known for being a true and absolute gentleman. Is he also overly cautious when it comes to improving his team? In his 40-year career as an NHL GM none of his Capitals or Predators teams have ever won a Stanley Cup, with only his 2017 Nashville team advancing to the Cup Final. In a ‘what have you done for me lately league’ where Coach of the year finalists get fired at the end of the season, Poile’s longevity as a GM is quite unique. Might the reluctance to make a change at the top of hockey operations be attributed to the Preds having a 16-person ownership group?
The team was just recently sold to former Tennessee governor Bill Haslam. Bill is the brother of Browns owner Jimmy. While the team has been sold, and a change like that often brings changes in management, it may take a while for change to happen. Haslam comes in as a minority owner the first year and is slated to be majority owner by July 2025. Due to this gradual ascension to majority ownership the winds of change may take longer.
While it is not clear whether the Ownership group will continue to consist of 16-individuals once Haslam gains majority control it does beg the question of how quickly such a large group can effectuate change. What are the dynamics at work inside the Board Room if or when a faction of the Ownership group determines change is needed? Or, is “just be good enough” good enough for Ownership?
An ongoing issue, at least from a public perception, are the player personnel choices made by management. With $21 million in cap space for this offseason there appears to be room to re-sign the team’s stars. With Filip Forsberg set to be an unrestricted free agent fans have been waiting on movement on his hopeful re-signing. Coupled with the team’s acquisitions so far. Cody Glass is expected to play in the minors and Jeremy Lauzon is expected to be a 7th defenseman. Questions continue to rise as the Draft approaches on July 7th. The Predators have a chance here to get off the never-ending carousel they have been on since their inception. The Preds have been trying every year to essentially do the same thing and expect different results.
The combination of trading and keeping some but letting other key guys walk has not worked out for them. This team has never once gone all in. Trading away Kevin Fiala in 2018 for Mikael Granlund led to another first round exit. In 2012 the Philadelphia Flyers gave captain Shea Weber an offer sheet of 14 years’ worth $110 million which Nashville matched.
Just four years later Weber was shipped off to the Montreal Canadiens for P.K. Subban. Subban only managed to last three seasons with the team before being dealt to the New Jersey Devils for a 2019 and 2020 second round pick and defensemen Steven Santini and Jeremy Davies. The Preds picked Egor Afanasyev with the 2019 second and traded away the 2020 second to the Minnesota Wild. In 2020 they traded two picks and Nick Bonino for Luke Kunin. Kunin has contributed 41 points over the last two seasons and Afanasyev is still in the minors.
Instead, it seems Poile is content with a cautious approach that enables the Predators to be just good enough, but never push through to win the Cup. They now have a chance with new ownership, perhaps, to make a meaningful change that can bring them different results. The organization needs to evolve and consider bringing in a new GM who might make bolder moves. If Ownership decides to install a new GM it must think and act boldly as well. Continuing the carousel of recycled GM’s is not the answer.
The Predators need to think outside of the box and find someone who has the hockey experience and know-how and is a fresh face. One such strong candidate who fits the bill is Kevin Weekes. Weekes played 13 NHL seasons as a goalie and is now an NHL insider and broadcaster for the past 13 years. Weekes began his broadcasting career in 2009 with Hockey Night in Canada, and is now with ESPN.
As an insider, Weekes covers the entire NHL and has good relations with players, coaches and managers. Paired with his NHL career Weekes has been around the NHL and knows what it takes to make teams successful. As a goalie Weekes can bring a unique perspective on players and has the rolodex to build a great staff.
Weekes should be on any team’s list looking for a new GM and will be one in the near future. The Predators have an opportunity to get him now before another team makes a savvy move and signs him to manage their team. In his career Weekes played for 7 NHL teams and has been all over the league. Playing under great coaches like John Tortorella, Paul Maurice, Peter Laviolette and Brent Sutter, all of these coaches would have given Weekes the opportunity to learn what it takes to make a team successful.
Bring a Cup to Nashville
While it seems like there may be too many voices in ownership that need to be heard, the team has an opportunity with new ownership. There is a chance for change to come and make the bold moves that push the team forward to a higher level that recognizes that good enough is no longer acceptable in Nashville. The team has one of the best fan bases and great cities around it. They need to be turned into a real championship contender and bring the cup to Nashville.