NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — General manager David Poile hopes he sent the strongest message possible by making the first coaching change in Nashville’s history: missing the playoffs is not acceptable for the Predators.
Poile announced Monday that Barry Trotz, the NHL’s longest tenured head coach with one team, would not be back for a 16th season after the Predators missed the postseason for a second straight year. A few hours later, Poile said at a news conference a few hours later that won’t get it done.
“This is a wakeup call for everybody in our organization,” Poile said. “It’s a wakeup call for me. `Get out of your comfort zone.’ It’s going to be different here. There’s going to be a new coach in charge. … It’s going to be a difference voice and it’s going to be a different direction. And hopefully … the foundation Barry’s presented here for the next coach will take us to a higher level.”
Trotz’s contract expires June 30, and the Predators offered him a job in their hockey operations department. The two-time Jack Adams finalist made it clear in a very emotional news conference before Poile spoke that he appreciated the offer but wants to keep coaching.
“I love Nashville, but now I’m going to have to beat you,” Trotz said with a smile.
Poile refused to put a timetable on hiring a new coach or what type coach he wants. This will be his first search since hiring Trotz in August 1997 when the Predators were gearing up for the expansion franchise’s debut season in 1998-99.
Trotz said he had not been contacted by any other teams when he spoke to reporters, but Poile said he will let the coach out of his contract instantly for another coaching job. Predators’ captain Shea Weber said the only NHL coach he’s ever played for won’t be out of a job long.
“His resume speaks for itself,” Weber said.
Still, missing the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001-02 and 2002-03 was too much for a franchise that needs to reach the postseason to sell tickets and generate crucial revenue.
“We didn’t win this year, we didn’t win last year,” Trotz said. “There’s no excuse. I expect us to be in the playoffs, the Nashville Predators expect us to be in the playoffs. We didn’t make it this year, so I’m good with it.”
Trotz said losing goaltender Pekka Rinne, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist, for 51 games to an E. coli infection in his surgically repaired left hip “blew a hole” through the Predators this season. Poile said having a healthy Rinne or even two more shootout wins after going 2-9 would have gotten Nashville into the playoffs.
Poile said that would have at least delayed this coaching change. But the general manager noted that he’s been thinking about needed changes since the Predators missed what both he and Trotz thought was their best chance at a Stanley Cup in 2011-12. That team lost 4-1 to Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals.
Trotz coached 1,196 games with Nashville, second only to Greg Popovich of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs for longest active coaching tenure in the four major sports. He is the only NHL coach to take his team to the playoffs in seven of eight seasons between 2003-04 and 2011-12, which included two conference semifinals. He was 19-31 in the postseason.
But the Predators have been in transition since losing defenseman Ryan Suter to Minnesota as a free agent in July 2012 and matching a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet to keep Weber. Poile said he’s been rebuilding the Predators “on the fly” over the past year. He said upcoming changes will not include Weber, who will remain with the Predators.
With the lockout shortening the season, the Predators posted their first losing record (16-23-9) since 2002-03.
Nashville spent more than $36 million on five free agents last July. Goalie Carter Hutton did post 20 wins in Rinne’s absence, but the rest of the spending spree didn’t produce the offense they wanted. With Rinne’s hip keeping him sidelined, they finished 10th in the West going 38-32-12 with 88 points.
“In the end, it’s our fault he got fired,” said forward Patric Hornqvist, “and obviously that’s a huge responsibility for us and we have to be better next year.”
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