The Nashville Predators announced the hiring of new head coach John Hynes on Tuesday, marking the end of the Peter Laviolette era, and signalling to Preds fans everywhere that David Poile was not happy with the status quo.
While the timing of the move is somewhat curious, the ultimate decision was probably a good one. Laviolette’s message was wearing thin and his tactics were no longer leading to consistent, winning hockey.
But what will the team look like under John Hynes? What can Preds fans expect on a nightly basis from here on out?
Hynes: Preds will “fight for middle ice”
At his press conference on Tuesday, Hynes was clear about where he expects the strength of his team to come from.
“We want to fight for middle ice,” he said to media with David Poile present as well. “We want to have strong middle lane drive, we want to have a shot mentality, a strong net front presence, five guys involved in the offense.”
Having a strong presence in the middle of the ice makes perfect sense for a team that carries two top notch centers in Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen. It also helps to have such solid defensemen like Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm (and Ryan Ellis, whenever he returns) to help support the middle of the ice from the back end.
This approach is a solid one, even if it’s not original or new. Of course, every team attempts to own the middle of the ice and to generate shots from the dangerous areas as opposed to just shooting from the outside. It’s something that is easier said than done.
To that point, owning the middle of the ice is something that Peter Laviolette was not able to get the Nashville Predators to do consistently over the last couple seasons. Take a look at the “impact” that Laviolette had on the Preds this year (a measurement which isolates the coach’s influence on the team’s ability to generate unblocked shots) from Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) here:
Keep in mind that “blue” areas of the ice are where the team is generating a below league average rate of shots. Under Laviolette, the Preds just weren’t able to get shots off from the dangerous area and that was hurting their offense.
Now compare that with John Hynes’ influence from his last three seasons with the Devils:
It’s not overwhelmingly better, but it is better. You can see a lot less “blue” in the danger area and the overall “impact” value is much higher (-0.6% last year compared with -13.5%). This suggests that under Hynes’ system, the Preds should be noticeably better on offense, especially at creating high danger chances.
The other thing Preds fans will notice is a much more aggressive approach when the other team wins the puck.
“We’re gonna try to promote a lot of what you would call a ‘half-ice’ game, where you have a lot of offensive pressure, you manage the puck, you get it into the inside of the ice, and if the other team chips it out, there’s a quick re-attack and we can be right back at that end of the ice.”
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) January 7, 2020
Again, nothing entirely new about this, but a commitment to an aggressive forecheck should help guys like Viktor Arvidsson and Craig Smith succeed. Arvidsson in particular is having a down year for him, so it would be nice for the new coach to find a way to get him involved heavily.
Structure and commitment on defense
“Defensively, it’s about a five-man commitment,” Hynes said on Tuesday. “Defensively, there has to be strong structure, there have to be good habits, there has to be five men working as a unit. Offensively, a lot of times there’s a bit more creativity and things you can do, but when you don’t have the puck, it has to be structure and commitment to five guys doing their job.”
This commitment to defensive structure has been a strong point for Hynes throughout his coaching career. Here’s a look at his impact on the Devils’ defensive threat over the last three seasons, keeping in mind that “blue” areas of the ice in this case are good for the defensive team (in other words, it means not a lot of unblocked shots are coming from those areas).
That’s a pretty impressive result considering the roster that New Jersey had for those three seasons. You have to think that with Nashville Predators’ blueline, Hynes can help bring solid structure to the defense and begin restoring order in the Nashville end of the ice.
First Hynes practice goes well
Though some people were inexplicably pre-judging the team’s first practice under John Hynes based on a candid photo of the team looking at a whiteboard, by all accounts it sounds like things went well.
Austin Watson called Hynes’ system “simple and easy to grasp” while Matt Duchene mentioned Hynes was “crystal clear in what he wants.” Duchene also mentioned that the details Hynes discussed with the team seem like they are really going to make a difference, saying that “the details he is showing us are not little ones… they’re big ones that make sense, and they can really add a lot to your game.”
As for the defense, it sounds like they have already begun re-establishing the importance of structure. One of the most important parts of defense is consistent passing and discipline in the neutral zone, which is something Hynes hit home in his first practice on Wednesday.
Coach Hynes with an efficient practice thus far, lots of teaching being done. One of the drills included D-to-D passing in the neutral zone, and if the pass was missed, they started over again. All in the details. #Preds
— Brooks Bratten (@brooksbratten) January 8, 2020
While the Hynes era certainly got off to a rocky start with Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to Boston, it’s safe to assume that Hynes had very little influence on that game. He just arrived in Nashville that morning and had only met with the team once or twice before having to take on one of the best teams in the league. The team and players had been through a lot in 24 hours, so it was understandable they played a little bit distracted.
But based on what we’ve heard from John Hynes and from players like Matt Duchene, I think we can expect the Nashville Predators to be an improved team with this new system. For Preds fans, that should be exciting to hear.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —