As of today, John Hynes has been at the helm of the Nashville Predators for 41 games. It took over a year to get to there, but we’ve finally reached the half-season mark of Hynes’ first campaign with Nashville.
It’s been an unusual first 41 games for Hynes. Taking over last January and coaching 28 games before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, then losing in a qualifying round to Arizona three games to one. Now he’s coached the first nine games of a newly condensed, 56-game season with Nashville and the team looks fairly outmatched against good teams.
Here’s what all that looks like in wins and losses for John Hynes in Nashville:
- 2020 Record (including Qualifying Round loss to Arizona): 17-14-1
- 2021 Record: 4-5-0
- Combined record through 41 games: 21-19-1
That’s a .512 win percentage for John Hynes so far. In the NHL, that might as well be a losing win percentage.
Transpose that win rate over the course of a full 82 game schedule and the Preds would finish with roughly 83 points. That would be the worst Preds’ finish since the 2002-03 season, which is commonly seen as the worst Preds season in franchise history.
Tonight was John Hynes’ 41st game as Nashville Predators head coach.
They move to 21-19-1 in those 41 games. #Preds
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) February 2, 2021
Considering that the Preds have only 47 games left to correct their course this season, it’s even worse than that. Remember, it’s not only a condensed schedule, but the Preds face the same seven teams all season. That means 12 more games against Tampa and Dallas (0-4 against them so far), seven more games against Carolina (0-1 so far), and 28 games against the rest of the division.
Which brings us to the larger point.
The John Hynes era, to say the least, has not started off well. While the team seems to be saying the right things and the locker room seems to have a positive atmosphere, the results on the ice are worse than they’ve ever been.
How bad has it been?
Let’s dive into what we know about the Hynes era so far.
How has John Hynes improved the Preds?
We will start with what John Hynes has seemingly improved with this Preds team, which is admittedly not much.
Hynes has been able to improve the team’s even strength defense at least marginally. While this may not be obvious with the eye test (the team still makes mistakes in the defensive zone nightly), the numbers bear it out:
The key here is the 3rd column, the “expected goals” number, which is the lowest it has been in five years. The team is allowing close to a half-goal less at 5v5 than it did the last three years. That’s a significant improvement.
Hynes has finally been able to implement a defensive structure that makes sense for the Preds. Mostly the structure means less venturing for Preds’ defensemen (with Roman Josi being the exception) and it means much quicker recovery in the defensive zone by the forwards. The team is doing a lot less “hanging their goalie out to dry” at even strength.
The other “improvement” if you can call it that is the “mental focus” that Hynes has preached from day one. This is obviously impossible to measure and a purely subjective assessment, but the Preds do seem to be more mentally focused on the games themselves. There are exceptions at times, but players like Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen seem more interested in the game than they did under Peter Laviolette. It might also help that the team removed several players from the locker room that may have fractured its emotional stability.
Bearing in mind that something like “playing the game the right way” is in the eye of the beholder, but to my eyes, every player on the roster is working extremely hard to make things happen at both ends. There does not seem to be any angst or dead weight pulling the team down (like we saw last year). Hynes hasn’t “lost the room” in other words.
Where does Hynes struggle with Preds?
Now the painful bit.
The Preds’ offensive effectiveness has plummeted since John Hynes took over. His philosophy is built on generating quality over quantity. This means relying on your skilled forwards to create offensive space that will generate high quality scoring chances, as opposed to flooding the zone with as many shots as possible (mostly from the point) like we saw with Peter Laviolette.
The problem is the Preds’ skilled forwards have not been very effective at this so far, which has led to a five year low in both expected goals and actual goals:
Offensively, the Preds seem to be lost. They have no real puck possession game, at least not one that leads to high danger chances. Their transition game more often leads to pucks out of play or an offside than it does to shots on net.
Here’s another view of the team’s offense, though this is just for 2021.
Red areas of the ice are where most of the shots by the Preds are coming from. Also note the percentage drop (-16%) in expected goals: that’s telling you the Preds are dramatically worse than the league average in generated scoring. The blue areas indicate where the Preds lack shot attempts, in this case, right in front of the net.
Diving down further, players with career strengths in goal scoring are struggling to do so under Hynes. These are the guys most often deemed as “snakebit”, which these days seems more like a euphemism for shirking responsibility than being unlucky.
Here’s a look at the Preds’ top goal scoring forwards, comparing their production rates under Laviolette with Hynes:
This is in addition to the team seeing an overall drop in offensive proficiency and expected goals. Not only is the offense not generating as many chances, the offense’s greatest weapons are not scoring.
Have four of the Preds’ five best forwards simply lost their scoring touch under Hynes? Is Hynes’ “quality over quantity” approach stifling their production? Or is it the emphasis on defensive responsibility? Are they working too hard in the defensive end and losing minutes on offense that could help them find goal chances? Or were those four (Forsberg, Arvidsson, Johansen, and Duchene) just never that good at scoring goals to begin with?
I don’t think anyone can say for sure. The players would tell you they really like the chances they are getting and that they feel “snakebit” at times. But after 41 games, it’s tough to buy that argument. The puck needs to go in the net eventually.
Special teams reach a new low
If you thought the even strength offense was bad, you haven’t seen anything yet. The special teams under Hynes and company have been absolutely terrible.
True, the power play was already pretty bad under Peter Laviolette, but somehow Hynes has made it worse:
- Power play goals per sixty minutes under Laviolette: 6.21 (25th)
- Power play goals per sixty minutes under Hynes: 5.49 (26th)
And the penalty kill has taken a nose dive. The one respectable part of the Preds under Laviolette has become a laughing stock:
- Penalty kill goals allowed per sixty minutes under Laviolette: 7.16 (17th)
- Penalty kill goals allowed per sixty minutes under Hynes: 9.21 (27th)
There’s been a lot said about the power play and how to fix it, but the bottom line is that it isn’t scoring enough. As for the penalty kill, they’ve changed up almost the entire personnel on that unit and it’s suffered almost immediately. Nick Bonino was a big part of that unit’s success and he’s now in Minnesota.
Special teams, on the whole, need a complete overhaul. But at this point, it may be more about personnel than about structure or philosophy or even coaching.
The players say they practice special teams every day. The coaches say they are working on ways to fix it. But this is the same thing we’ve heard since the Laviolette days. No one can explain it.
The buck stops at the coaching staff, so that’s where we will place blame for now.
What have we yet to see?
There’s still some aspects of coaching we have yet to see from John Hynes. For example, we haven’t seen his ability at youth development. Will he be able to turn young players like Eeli Tolvanen and Philip Tomasino into stars? Or will they struggle to find playing time and then end up being trade pieces for proven veterans? His track record at New Jersey, much like his wins and losses there, was suspect.
We also haven’t seen Hynes’ ability to coach in the playoffs. The qualifying round against Arizona wasn’t technically a playoff series. His only playoff appearance in New Jersey wasn’t stellar, losing in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Maybe his “mental focus” approach to the game will inspire the Preds to play loose and comfortable in the playoffs? Hard to say.
It would be fair to give John Hynes more time to make this work with the Nashville Predators. It’s been an unprecedented year and there’s been a lot of turnover on the team. Giving him the 2nd half of this first season, another 41 games, would be prudent.
But after that, if there’s no improvement, it’s hard to see a long term future for Hynes in Nashville.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —