If this is Barry Trotz’s last season as Nashville Predators head coach he will consider it a job well done.
“I would say this is — and I’ve been here a long time — one of the best [coaching jobs we’ve done],” Trotz said Friday. “This staff did a really good job. I’m talking as a staff — we put a lot of work into stuff. We were on the ball. … This staff pulled together. I’m really proud of this staff, actually.”
The Predators will miss the playoffs for the second straight year, which has put Trotz on just about everybody’s list of NHL coaches possibly or even likely to be fired following the regular season, which ends Sunday.
Even Trotz could not say with any certainty whether he would be back for a 16th season. The only coach in franchise history is 555-479-60-100 and led the team to seven playoff appearances in eight seasons beginning in 2003-04. The team is assured of a better than .500 record for the ninth time in 10 seasons.
“I don’t know,” Trotz said. “I haven’t really focused on that until … [next] Monday. Let’s get to Monday and ask me that question on Monday, probably.”
It did not help that Pekka Rinne missed 51 games with an infection in his hip along the way, particularly given that the majority of the defensemen never had played a full 82-game NHL schedule. There were times when Nashville was the league’s lowest-scoring team, and four losses in the first five games after the Olympic break (all at home) forced everyone into a desperate situation for the final quarter of the season.
“When Pekka went down, we really had to reinvent ourselves,” Trotz said. “We changed everything from the forecheck to the neutral zone system … we had to change everything, almost … and [we were] doing it under fire.”
Other issues surfaced off the ice as well. There were games assistant coach Lane Lambert missed to be with his wife as she battled a health issue. General Manager David Poile was hospitalized for a time after a puck hit him in the face, an incident that cost him the vision in his right eye.
Provided the decision has not already been made, though, the team’s performance of late might be enough to earn him a reprieve.
With two games remaining — Saturday at home against Chicago and Sunday at Minnesota — Nashville still has the opportunity to finish as high as ninth in the Western Conference or even one point out of the final playoff spot. It has gone 7-1-2 in the last 10 games. Only Colorado has been better over the same stretch.
“I’m proud of what we did this year because we could have quit real early with no question that there should be change or anything,” Trotz said. “So this staff pulled together. The players really pulled together and that’s a credit to the whole group because they could have said, ‘Hey, it ain’t going to happen.’
“And we almost pulled it off.”