Trotz says pursuit of Stanley Cup starts in earnest with second round of playoffs

Barry Trotz took the Nashville Predators to the playoffs seven times in 15 seasons.

The way he looks at it, though, he and his team only actually pursued the Stanley Cup twice, in 2011 and 2012 when they made it to the second round of the playoffs.

He discussed the free-for-all nature of the first round and the uncertainty that exists during those two weeks in his remarks at his farewell press conference Monday. The playoffs opened Wednesday night and illustrated some of what he discussed.

“I’ll tell you what – the first round for anybody, the first round scares the death out of any team that plays,” Trotz said. “It’s hardest round physically, emotionally. And you only have to be good in four of seven games – better than the other team. And that’s what scares everybody.

“Once you get through that first round you’re going after something.”

The opening night of the postseason included three games, all of which included some real drama that was unexpected based on seeding and geography.

Consider:

• Pittsburgh, which won the Metropolitan Division and had the Eastern Conference’s second-highest point, trailed Columbus by two goals (3-1) less than a minute into the second period. The Penguins got even fewer than two minutes later and finally got the game-winner midway through the third.

• Tampa Bay earned home-ice advantage when it edged Montreal by one point for second place in the Metropolitan. The Lightning promptly squandered that edge when they were outshot 44-25 overall, 35-16 in regulation of a 5-4 overtime loss to Montreal. Tampa did lead twice (1-0 and 2-1) but gave up the equalizer in 3:15 or less both times.

• Anaheim, which had the Western Conference’s best record, was up 4-0 on the Dallas Stars, the last wild card team, at halftime. For the last 6:07 of the contest the Ducks had to hold a one-goal lead. The Stars scored twice in the final four minutes of the second period and got another in the third.

Four more games are on tap for Thursday.

“It’s going to be great watching the teams this year,” Trotz said.

Apr 17, 2014 11:30 AM

CJ thinks he'll 'fit in pretty well' to crowded Jets' backfield

In stark contrast to the running style that has defined his career, Chris Johnson took his time.

The former Tennessee Titans running back visited with New York Jets coaches and management on Tuesday. He received a contract offer the same day but decided to sleep on it.

“And when I woke up [Wednesday] morning, I knew it was going to be the Jets,” he said, according to that team’s website.

His deal with the Jets, signed nearly two weeks after the Titans released him, is for a reported two years, $8 million. There is the potential for him to earn another $1 million through incentives.

He joins a team that was sixth in the NFL in rushing offense last season and ran it 493 times, which was second to Buffalo in the AFC and nearly four per game above the league average.

“I think I'm going to fit in pretty well,” he Johnson said. "Just talking to [offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg] and to [coach] Rex Ryan, who's a guy that likes to run the ball, I think I'm going to fit in very well. We talked about all those things – catching out of the backfield, getting the ball to me in space.”

The Jets’ leading rusher in 2013 was Chris Ivory (182 carries, 833 yards, three touchdowns). Bilal Powell added 697 yards on 176 attempts. Both are still with the team.

That means Johnson is going to have to earn his carries after years in which Titans’ coaches tried to create offenses that featured him and his big-play ability. He has averaged 4.6 yards per carry for his career but managed just 1,077 yards and 3.9 yards per attempt last season.

"Those guys, I've seen them play,” Johnson said. “They're some tough backs. I'm just hoping to come in and create a situation that helps the team win.

“… I see this as a team on the rise. This is a winning team. They didn't make the playoffs last year but I think they were a game out of the playoffs with a rookie quarterback. So I feel like this is a team that can do some good things.”

Apr 17, 2014 5:10 AM

Mason confident Commodores will make most of opportunities to rush passer

Derek Mason is not concerned with Vanderbilt’s ability to get to the quarterback.

Following last Saturday’s Black and Gold scrimmage the first-year football coach’s primary concern is his defense’s ability to get to situations that will allow it to go after the quarterback.

“I think the premise of this defense is always going to be to stop the run so you can rush the passer,” Mason said. “So we want to get to those opportunities and I think those opportunities are easy.

“When it’s time to pin your ears back, go pin your ears back. But you have to earn that. We just didn’t earn it enough [Saturday], in my opinion, but I did see the opportunities to get after the passer and we did.”

Six different players combined for seven sacks in the intra-squad scrimmage, which pitted the offense against the defense rather than used a split-squad approach. The sacks came from the defensive line (four), linebackers (two) and secondary (one).

The only player with more than one sack was redshirtfreshman defensive lineman Jay Woods, who had two.

“I feel like the defensive line was getting a great amount of pressure on the offensive line,” linebacker Darreon Herring said. “All of them are just playmakers, especially … those guys who converted from defensive end to outside linebacker [in the new 3-4 scheme], they’re just doing a great job outside, getting to the ball and learning to make plays.”

Vanderbilt was fifth in the SEC in rush defense and – perhaps, not coincidentally – fifth in the number of third-down plays it faced (185). The Commodores tied for fourth with 28 sacks.

Mason was the defensive coordinator at Stanford where his defense led the Pac-12 with 44 sacks and in third-down defense.

Apr 17, 2014 5:00 AM

Fourth signee completes Vanderbilt basketball's 2014 recruiting class

Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings and his staff completed their 2014 recruiting class Wednesday with the addition of 6-foot-7 forward Jeff Roberson.

Roberson brings to four the number of incoming freshmen who have signed to play with the Commodores next season.

"Jeff Roberson is a high level prospect from an outstanding academic high school," Stallings said in a release to announce the signing. "He is also a high character kid from a great family. His versatility is a big asset because he does so many things well on the basketball court.  We are very excited to have him."

From the release:

Roberson, who attended the Kinkaid School in Houston, is a 6'7 forward who averaged 20.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.5 steals as a senior and was a finalist for the Guy V. Lewis Award, which is given to the top high school player in the city of Houston.  As a senior, Roberson shot 66.8% from the floor, 48% from three-point range, and 78% from the free throw line.

A four-time All-Southwest Preparatory Conference selection and a member of the All-Greater Houston Team, Roberson leaves Kinkaid as the school's all-time leading scorer with 1,743 points.

Roberson chose the Commodores over Georgia Tech, Saint Louis, and Harvard.

Vanderbilt previously signed Wade Baldwin, a 6-foot-3 guard from New Jersey who averaged 15 points, 7.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.6 steals last season, wing Matthew Fisher-Davis from Charlotte, who made 49.1 percent of this 3-pointers and 96 percent of his free throws this season, and point guard Riley LaChance from Wisconsin, who averaged 23 points and 2.6 assists.

Also this week, Nolan Cressler, a sophomore guard, announced he would transfer to Vanderbilt from Cornell. He must sit out the 2014-15 season under NCAA transfer rules.

Apr 16, 2014 2:51 PM

Last opponent to see CJ go the distance looks for more, signs him to two-year deal

Chris Johnson has a new team.

The former Tennessee Titans running back agreed to a two-year contract with the New York Jets on Wednesday, according to an ESPN.com report.

The Jets were the last to see Johnson’s big-play capabilities first-hand. His 94-yard touchdown run on Dec. 17, 2012 was his third of 80 yards or more that season and the sixth of his career. No other player ever had more than three of that length in a career, let alone a season.

In 18 games since then, Johnson has produced one run of 25 yards or more. That was a 30-yard touchdown run last November against Indianapolis. He did have touchdown receptions of 49 and 66 yards last season.

The Titans waived him nearly two weeks ago despite the fact that he had three years remaining on a contract he signed in 2011.

He is the third-leading rusher in franchise history and one of only seven players in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season.

The Jets and Titans will play at LP Field this season. The exact date will be revealed when the NFL releases its regular season schedule.

Apr 16, 2014 2:34 PM

Nystrom's positive influence might have cost Predators a playoff spot

Eric Nystrom wanted to help the Nashville Predators get back to the playoffs.

He joked on Monday that he might actually be the reason they missed out on the postseason for a second straight year.

The Predators finished three points behind Dallas, which earned the last Western Conference wild card spot and snapped a streak of five straight seasons without a playoff berth, the longest among this year’s 16 playoff teams.

Nystrom spent the previous two seasons with the Stars.

“I say I took all the young guys under my wing and taught them a few things and helped them win,” Nystrom said. “It’s great to see them. They’re some of my good friends. I’m happy for them but at the same time, I won’t be watching.”

THE WAIT IS OVER
Eleven of this season’s 16 NHL playoff teams also made it in 2013. A look at how long it has been for the other five since they competed for the Stanley Cup:

5 seasons – Dallas
4 seasons – Columbus
3 seasons – Colorado
2 seasons – Tampa Bay
1 season – Philadelphia

The Predators earned five points in their five meetings with the Stars this season. When they needed them most, though, the points did not come.

Nashville played Dallas twice (both on the road) in the final eight games and managed just one point. The first meeting was a 7-3 loss on March 28 and the second was 3-2 shootout loss on April 8 that officially eliminated the Predators from playoff contention.

“We had two games against Dallas, which we figured was the team that would make the playoffs – which it was,” general manager David Poile said. “We said these are two games, you take those as wins and go from there. We played them, lost 7-3 the first time and then they beat us in a shootout in a game that was really good. You have to win those games.

“Those are the last two most important games and we didn’t win them.”

Blame it on Nystrom.

Apr 16, 2014 2:02 PM

USGA picks Hillwood Country Club to host one of its 2015 championships

Hillwood Country Club will host the 2015 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship, the United States Golf Association announced Wednesday.

It will be the first USGA championship played at Hillwood, which has hosted sectional qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open as well as numerous state events, and the second in Tennessee. The Honors Course in Chattanooga hosted the Senior Women’s Amateur in 2011.

The event will take place Sept. 26-Oct. 1, 2015.

“It is an honor and privilege for Hillwood Country Club to host the 2015 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship,” Jerry Coleman, president of Hillwood Country Club said in a release from the USGA. “Our obligation as a top-flight club in Tennessee is to give back to the game of golf and our partnership with the USGA for this championship will allow us to host the greatest amateur senior women’s golfers our country has to offer. Our members and staff are excited about this opportunity and are committed to providing a wonderful experience for the participants, officials and spectators.”

The Dick Wilson-designed course opened in 1957 and was renovated in 2003 and again in 2011.

“The USGA is proud to bring the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship to Hillwood Country Club,” Daniel B. Burton, USGA vice president and chairman of the Championship Committee said. “In welcoming Hillwood to the fold of USGA host sites, we are confident that it will provide the stern and complete test of the players’ games found at all of our national championships.”

Apr 16, 2014 10:12 AM

Five simple steps to get a coach fired

There was not one moment that led Nashville Predators general manager David Poile to fire coach Barry Trotz – a move that was unprecedented for the franchise. It was a series of developments over the last two years.

Even so, Poile conceded that the cumulative effect might not have been enough to prompt a change had the Predators managed to get back to the playoffs this season.

That did not happen and the NHL coach who had been in his current position longer than any other suddenly was in search of another job. This is how it got to that point.

1. Fall flat in the postseason. Not only did the Predators make it to the second round of the playoffs for the second straight year, they whipped the Detroit Red Wings to get there. Nashville’s five-game victory in the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals held great symbolism for a franchise that viewed Detroit as the standard from the moment it entered the league. Then came the much less intimidating Phoenix Coyotes, who eliminated the Predators in five games.

Poile: I really feel I recognized this [change was needed] after the Phoenix series a couple years ago where we had our last, best team. … I think that was a real chance to make it.

2. Players look for an exit. Poile believed that defenseman Ryan Suter would sign a long-term deal that would keep him in Nashville for the remainder of his career – right up until the moment that Suter accepted Minnesota’s free agent offer in July 2012. Less than a year later Martin Erat made a trade request, which was granted. Two significant players found a way out and another, Shea Weber, made an attempt to bolt too when he signed an offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers.

Poile: A lot of players left. Erat wanted to be traded. There’s different situations and signs. I just felt it coming.

3. Lose your goalie for 51 games. Much of the franchise’s competitive plan for 2013-14 centered on goalie Pekka Rinne. Management went with a young defense corps and a backup, Carter Hutton, who had one game of NHL experience. Then Rinne developed an infection in his hip before the season was a month old and did not return until after the Olympic break. It was three months before the team won more than five times in any 10-game stretch.

Trotz: The Pekka Rinne thing was a big thing. We had a young defense and you can say what you want to – it blew a hole through us.

4. Players stop scoring. Nashville’s 43 goals in the final 10 games, including 14 in the final two, were not nearly enough to overcome some lengthy individual droughts along the way. Colin Wilson had a stretch of 33 straight in which he didn’t score. Matt Cullen went 29 straight games without a goal prior to the Olympic break and Gabriel Bourque had a run of 29 goal-less at about the same time. Those were the longest, but they weren’t the only ones.

Poile: Patric Hornqvist, who I think is one of our best players, he went 40 games with one five-on-five goal. … I could name five other players in similar situations. We just never got it together. There were always two or three players that weren’t operating on all eight cylinders.

5. Post-Olympic struggles. The Predators began to build momentum – and climb the standings – with 15 points in 12 games prior to the Olympic break. They came back two and half weeks later with five straight home games. After a 3-2 victory over Tampa they scored three times in the next four and lost all four.

Poile: To me there were some defining moments in the season. The first defining moment would be when we came out of the Olympic break. We had really actually played good to get ourselves back in position to be a contender. It was right there on the platter for our team. We scored three goals in five games. If you’re asking me, we lost the playoffs right there.

Apr 16, 2014 5:00 AM

Martin: Time at UT was about 'sharing love, trust and building the community'

The fickle behavior of the University of Tennessee fan base helped Cuonzo Martin educate his players in what turned out to be his final season as the school’s basketball coach.

He said that he never changed his approach to the job through calls for him to be fired, an online petition to bring back Bruce Pearl and then a stirring finish that resulted in an offer of a contract extension with a significant raise.

He did change jobs, though, and was introduced Tuesday as the coach at the University of California.

“One of things when you’re a coach, you can’t be consumed with things outside your periphery and for me, I thought it was a great teaching point for our guys, because we always talked about having character and going through adversity and dealing with situations,” Martin said at his introductory press conference. “What happened in that process was I was developing young men because they saw my approach every day and I came to work with my hard hat on, and nothing changed. If a guy missed class, he runs 10 suicides. That never changed.

“I think what happened, was that young men became men in the process, because as a coach, you continue to lead through adversity and for me at the end, it didn’t bother me and that it was a great teaching point for our players.”

UT athletics director Dave Hart portrayed Martin’s departure after three seasons, including an NCAA tournament Sweet 16 berth last month, as a reaction to the fans’ dissatisfaction for much of last season.

Martin expressed no such sentiment in his first act as Cal’s coach.

“I also want to thank the Tennessee basketball family for giving me the opportunity to spend three years there,” Martin said. “I gave my life to the program and developed tremendous relationships from an administrative standpoint, to the fans and obviously the players. I love all of them. Our program was about sharing love, trust and building the community, so I appreciate everything and that they gave me that opportunity, which I don’t take for granted.”

Apr 15, 2014 9:46 PM

Predators don't beat the odds, will have 11th overall pick in draft

The Nashville Predators did not win the NHL draft lottery, which is nothing new.

As a result, they have the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft, which also is nothing new.

Nashville had the 11th choice once in their previous drafts. That was in 2009 and they took defenseman Ryan Ellis. That same draft yielded three other current Predators, right wing Craig Smith and Mattis Ekholm in the fourth round and left wing Gabriel Bourque in the fifth.

The franchise never has improved its position through the lottery but has dropped back a few times, including the first. Nashville fell from second to third in the order in 1998 and was forced to trade with San Jose to get back to No. 2 and draft center David Legwand.

The current format determines which team gets the first overall pick by the following method:

Fourteen balls, numbered 1 to 14, were placed in a lottery machine. The machine expelled four balls, forming a series of numbers. The four-digit series resulting from the expulsion of the balls was matched against a probability chart that divided the possible combinations among the 14 participating clubs.

Nashville's chance to win this year was 1.1 percent.

The Florida Panthers won with the second best chance (18.8 percent), which moved them to the top spot ahead of Buffalo. The Sabres had a 25 percent chance to win. The rest of the top 13 were set based on regular season records and the New Jersey was assigned the 30th overall pick as part of sanctions from the league.

The order for the first 13 picks in this year’s NHL draft:

1. Florida Panthers
2. Buffalo Sabres
3. Edmonton Oilers
4. Calgary Flames
5. New York Islanders
6. Vancouver Canucks
7. Carolina Hurricanes
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
9. Winnipeg Jets
10. Anaheim Ducks (from Ottawa)
11. Nashville Predators
12. Phoenix Coyotes
13. Washington Capitals

Apr 15, 2014 9:28 PM