Originally Posted on www.PredNation.com
Michael Peca signs with Columbus. Detroit signs Brian Rafalski to replace Mathieu Schneider. St. Louis signs Paul Kariya and re-signs (of a sort) Keith Tkachuk. Chicago obtains/signs Sergei Samsonov, Robert Lang, Patrick Kane, Kevyn Adams, and Yanic Perreault. Those are just a few of the moves made by our division foes this past offseason, one that has seen Nashville lose Tomas Vokoun, Paul Kariya, Kimmo Timonen, and Scott Hartnell. They’ve replaced those players with Radek Bonk, Martin Gelinas, Jed Ortmeyer and Greg de Vries. The members over at the HF Boards forum have conducted several polls (http://hfboards.com/showthread.php?t=408590
) in order to project the final Western Conference Standings. The final prognostication for Nashville: 9th (narrowly ahead of the Kings) and out of the playoffs. Are they right? That’s what we are here to answer. For the next several articles, we are going to focus on hockey and put aside the business aspect of the offseason. We’re going to do that for our own sanity as well as an attempt to readjust our focus back to what it should be as fans: the coaches and players on the ice.
In this article, Part I, we will explore our coaching and personnel philosophy as well as team identity. To do so, we’ll go back roughly a year in time to examine this team, and our expectations, going into last season. We were coming off our first 100+ point season, Kariya’s first as a Predator, and we had signed Jason Arnott. Part II will examine our personnel from last season as well as our personnel going into this season. We will attempt to identify those players that will have to be the leaders for this team to continue its success on the ice. We will focus on our specials teams, depth situation, and line construction. Finally, in Part III, we will look at our prospects for the upcoming season. We’ll look at our division brethren as well as the other teams in the Western Conference. By the end of Part III, we’ll establish several keys to the Predators’ success on the ice and attempt to estimate their finish based upon which keys are achieved.
Now that I’ve set the stage, let’s move right into our examination of the team at this time last season from the fans’ perspective. To do this, I will extract some quotes from some posts I made on the Predators’ Message Boards (in the Observations from box 3 thread).
On July 17th, last year, I made the following post (http://boards.nashvillepr...indpost&p=124629
) (quoting the most relevant parts):
In prior seasons, we've always tried to form two scoring lines, one checking line, and one energy line. Given Buffalo and Carolina's success, does Trotz attempt three scoring lines? Do we have the personnel for that (with or without Radulov)?
Does the coaching staff have the creative ability to somewhat alter the style that has been the Nashville Predators from day one?
Does Trotz continue to show favoritism towards veterans while publicly lashing the younger players? If so, how does that affect Leggy and Harts particularly?
Can the team create a PP that is consistently good?
Can we cut back on Kimmo's minutes to provide some assurance of better play late in the year?
To answer my own questions, I would like to see the Predators move to three scoring lines and start giving responsibility to some of the young players without throwing them to the media wolves at the first error. I would also like to see some line consistency as well. For my taste, Trotz mixes his line combinations too much. I believe the team would be a lot better if the lines were as stable as injuries would allow- especially for the young guys.
To roll three scoring lines, I would match the forwards like this:
Kariya- Arnott- Erat
Sullivan- Legwand- Hartnell
TooToo- Upshall- Walker
Each of the three scoring lines would have at least two speedsters and at least one player of size (or grit). The fourth line would also have two fast skating players and grit across the board.
Radulov could fill in on any of the three lines, but I would probably pair him with Kariya and Arnott and re-juggle the lines.
Fiddler is the reserve forward and Hall is expendable.
Defensively, I'd try to put at least some size on every pairing.
In PP situations, I'd like to see us scrap the umbrella that resulted in being near the top in the league in SHG allowed.
Sullivan (down low), Arnott (net), Kariya (halfboard), Zidlicky (QB), Weber (Point)
Erat (down low), Hartnell (net), Legwand (halfboard), Timonen (QB), [Low, hard, accurate shot with responsibility] (Point)
By separating Z and Kimmo, we give each unit a solid PP QB and hopefully cut down on Kimmo's overall icetime.
For a PK, I'd probably go with Sullivan, Walker, Kimmo, Hamhuis for the first unit and Smithson, Nichol, Klein, Weber (or Suter) for the second unit.
Now, soon after that posting our roster changed (in: Vasicek, Dumont; out: Walker), but the concept of three scoring lines was carried into, and throughout, the season. David Poile was quoted several times that he wanted to build a team more like the reigning Cup champion Hurricanes. There were two significant problems with that concept: the philosophy of rolling three scoring lines is against the nature of our coaching staff and we really did not have the personnel to do that successfully all season until Forsberg was acquired. By that point, injuries, including to Forsberg himself, conspired against forming three scoring lines. The only time that we could have really rolled three “real” scoring lines would have been after acquiring Forsberg, providing all other forwards were healthy. That never happened. However, that didn’t stop us from attempting to roll three lines that had a mixture of scorers and grinders. My suggestion back then to roll three scoring lines given our personnel was wrong.
That should not diminish the importance of having grinders on the team, but none of those players should have consistent time on a scoring line. Josef Vasicek, Vernon Fiddler, and Scott Nichol are not scoring line players, but all played extensive minutes on one of the top three lines. Until Peter Forsberg was acquired, one of those players was going to center our third line. If there were injuries, more than one would end up playing a scoring role.
I would like to quote one final thought I posted last year (http://boards.nashvillepr...indpost&p=124985
What I would like to see is Trotz start off with the fourth line as a combination "energy/checking" line. Nichol and Smithson are both defensively sound. Hordi is a weakness defensively but is aggressive and physical and has shown a knack at drawing penalties. After 30-45 seconds, bring in the third line of Tootoo-Upshall-Walker to continue with the aggressive checking, while adding players with the ability to bury scoring chances. Upshall and Walker also bring solid defensive play without losing aggressiveness or physicality.
What I would like this team to do is to establish an identity. The majority of the talent we have favors a fast, puck moving, physical style. Using the approach above allows the team to play to their identity the entire game and not allow the opposing team to dictate the tempo while our "checking" line is on the ice. I fully believe that this team thrives on energy and gets thrown off track when that tempo is thrown off. This two line approach to checking and energy should also allow us to tire the opponent while not fatiguing our guys night after night.
Team identity, to me, is so important. If you're team has an identity, and always plays to that identity, everyone understands their roles and there is much less confusion on the ice. The identity must correspond to the talent for it to work, of course. … Last season, for whatever reason, the team did not seem to have one however.
As the season progressed, our attempts to shoehorn our personnel into creating three scoring lines never allowed that identity to form. We paid lip service to rolling three scoring lines as our identity, but there’s a reason it’s called lip service. We all (management, coaches, players, fans) got caught up in the additional talent being brought in as well as trying to mimic Carolina and Buffalo. We all drifted away from what identified this team up to that point: a physical team that would out-work your team. At this point, our best avenue for success is to obtain the players that fit our coaches’ natural philosophies, establish an identity to coincide with those philosophies, and clearly define every player’s role in that philosophy. External factors aside (like injuries), execution of team philosophy will nearly always trump misdirected talent. That’s why the Rangers of old were unsuccessful so often and Anaheim was. It’s also why we played so well in our first trip to the post season.
So, what is our coaching philosophy? Barry Trotz is a defense-first, lunch-pail-type coach. Even our scouting department is defense-first. If you were to ask Coach Trotz, I suspect he would favor playing a style closer to Anaheim than that of Buffalo if personnel didn’t matter- and not just because Anaheim won the Cup. Last season, Anaheim was the epitome of a team that consisted of a lot of role players that accepted their position and made enormous contributions while executing their role. As a team, they were physical and were built from the goal out. They also had excellent skill players in leadership positions who understood the team philosophy, knew everyone’s role in making it succeed, and knew how to help others perform their role to the best of their ability. Their identity mirrored that of their general manager and coach. Trotz would like to run a shutdown line and an energy line. He also needs his scoring lines to be able to play both ways. That’s just his personality and our attempts to run three scoring lines didn’t mesh with his style.
We also have pretty well established over the years that Trotz favors the veteran players, at least publicly. While I think that’s generally true, I think it probably is more accurate to say that he favors players with a defensive conscience first, hockey-smart players second, lunch-pail-grinders third. In a lot of ways, veterans are more likely to match those attributes- particularly the hockey-smart players. An offensive-minded rookie like Radulov has to really work at earning Trotz’s respect and playing time. Hartnell’s propensity to take dumb penalties firmly established him as a “non-Trotz guy” with no end in sight to that status. Legwand, on the other hand (if you administered truth serum to Trotz), has probably played himself into one of Trotz’s favorite players over the past two seasons after a seemingly endless time in the doghouse. Radulov’s play at the end of the season, influenced I believe by Forsberg’s teachings, has probably earned Trotz’s respect as well (until he shows signs of regressing).
One last item I feel I should discuss: physical play. Last season, many fans criticized the lack of physical play from the team that Nashville iced. In many ways, I feel that criticism is valid from the standpoint of the end result (physical play was noticeably lacking). However, many fans also believe that Barry Trotz does not like physical play and/or directed his players to tone down the on-ice intimidation. My personal feeling is that Coach Trotz probably did want to tone down the on-ice intimidation, but not based upon a dislike of physical play. The rise of the Nashville Predators was based upon the team’s ability to play physical hockey. That style lead to the slogan we fans seem to like above all others: Welcome to Smashville. I believe that stubborn attempts at changing the style of play for the team led to uncertainty in the players and coaches that blunted our ability to play a physical game. If we re-embrace our Smashville identity, I believe the physical play will return.
Can we construct a team with our personnel that can ice a shutdown, checking line that can also contribute garbage goals? Can we ice a couple of very solid scoring lines that can play defense almost as well as offense? Can we ice a line that plays balls-to-the-wall energy to excite the team and the hometown fans? What about our special teams play? Last season, our power play was disappointing. Can we improve the power play with essentially our current personnel? Last season our penalty kill was excellent, will our personnel changes negatively impact that? Will there be a return of Smashville this season? Who are the players that will lead this team next season?
In Part II, I will attempt to address all of those questions.