“It’s not about tearing it apart when you lose some games. It’s about bringing it together. When things aren’t going well, it’s easy to jump off the ship. The harder thing is to hold on to the ship in difficult waters – and keeping it on course.”
One of the challenges over the years in Nashville was the need to constantly change personnel to keep the team on budget. There have been ownership issues – for a time, it looked as though they were headed to southern Ontario in one of Jim Balsillie’s multiple attempts to crack the NHL ownership code. Sometimes a player would be lost simply because the Preds couldn’t meet his salary demands. Other times, changes were made deliberately to filter out players that didn’t fit the Predators’ culture.
Now, finally, the Predators fall into the ranks of genuine contender. The combination of the moves they’ve made to add Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn, Paul Gaustad and Alexander Radulov; the maturing of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter; and the exceptional goaltending they get from Pekka Rinne makes them an interesting wild card – and in the unlikely position of being slight favourites in their opening-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, which stood 1-0 in Nashville’s favour going into Friday night’s second game of their Western Conference quarter-final series.
Gill – the former Montreal Canadiens’ player – has already formed a positive first impression of Trotz.
“In the time I’ve known him, he’s kind, he’s fair, he’s open, but he demands a lot,” Gill said. “He has systems that he wants you to be a part of – and he demands that from his players. He’s a guy you can go and talk to – not just about hockey, but about anything. He’s open. It’s been enjoyable so far.”
Weber, the team captain, says one of Trotz’s strengths in that he handles the preparation and then permits the leadership group to be “responsible for the work ethic and the chemistry.
“He’s a players’ coach too. He’s got an open door. You can go in there and talk to him; and he’ll come out and talk to you.”
Trotz says the strategy to empower the players is deliberate: “We give the players ownership. We don’t micromanage them. We ask them for their input and listen to their input and make it work. That’s part of the culture.
“Coaching is not about equality, it’s about inequality, but the one thing that should be equal is respect. Coaching, at this level, is not about X’s and O’s. The people at this level all know the X’s and O’s of the game.
“It’s about getting people to buy in to what you’re doing as a group. I have one simple rule. ‘I want you to get better because that makes us better. I want you to have a good career. I want you to have an understanding of what your potential is.’”
Ultimately, Poile knows the only way to get the Predators on the map is to make a longer run through the playoffs than they have in the past.
“We’ve been the underdog a long time,” he said. “We talk about that all the time in our organization – how to take our franchise to another level. We’ve had 20 sellouts this year. We’re doing well on the business side. On the hockey side, we’re making progress. It’s all tracking real well, but to use a poker expression, we’re all in right now. We were as aggressive as any team at the trading deadline. We’re as deep as we’ve ever been.
“We’re hoping this could be the year.”