When the 2020-2021 NHL season began, things were not looking good for the Nashville Predators. In particular, things really were not looking good for John Hynes.
The team was in a state of free fall, and they had no identity, as they were looking ready to go into a full-blown rebuild. The (technically) second-year head coach at the time seemingly had no control over his team’s play, as there were lapses aplenty on both sides of the ice, and the structure of the team was virtually nonexistent.
Fast forward to now, and you would actually think that there is a new head coach behind the bench. The Predators are still not back to what they used to be during the stretch from 2017-2019, but they are night and day from what they were before mid-March 2021, which is when they really started to catch fire.
Many of the changes on the Predators that we have seen from last year to this year are due to their bench boss. For example, maybe the biggest criticism of Hynes was his inability to set consistent forward lines, which was part of the team’s struggle to find any sort of identity.
Not only has he found the herd line, which has been a hallmark of the Predators, but he looks to have finally found a real top line. Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene together have ignited the team’s offence, and with that, the Predators have a 40-goal scorer — and even two of them — for the first time in their franchise history.
Whether they have been centred by Mikael Granlund or Ryan Johansen, they have not skipped a beat, and even after Hynes separated them for a few recent games, they were put back together and picked up right where they left off. Unless Forsberg leaves this offseason, which is very much still possible, Hynes may have found his top line for several more years to come.
The second line has been pretty bad this year and nowhere near figured out, but at least they can say that they are waiting on several coveted youngsters to finally make an impact and contribute to the top six. For the time being, we should cut Hynes some slack as far as that is concerned.
This is not news nearly as much, but one area where Hynes has helped this team is actually giving them an identity. Predators fans and the team love to talk a lot about the herd line and the physicality they play with, but they practice what they preach, as they forecheck hard and work for the goals they get.
He has also instilled resiliency and fortitude in the Predators, and a perfect example of this is after the team’s final meeting against the Seattle Kraken, where Hynes let them have it. According to Duchene, his message was well received by the team, and it only could have been, as they responded with the most dominant win they had all season.
For all the progress Hynes has made, he is still not where he needs to be as a head coach, as plenty of the reasons the Predators have struggled have also been due to him. This is most notably seen in the number of penalties that the team has taken.
The Predators are the most penalized team in the NHL, and it is not even close. That physical style that they play with really catches up to them, and it has in games, as their penalty kill and momentum at times have really suffered.
Hynes needs to figure out how the Predators can play physically and stay out of the box, and if they cannot, maybe they need to tone down the physicality a little. It would be tough, but they just cannot take that many penalties if they want to be anywhere close to a Stanley Cup calibre team.
Regardless, Saros needs to be resting a lot more for the sake of his body, as we are seeing how the amount of starts he has had is burning him out, which is not what you want to see right before the playoffs. Hopefully, Hynes can lean on Connor Ingram a lot more next year, or we might start to worry about legitimate injury concerns for Saros due to overuse.
At the end of the day, it might be concerning when you see a coach with flaws like Hynes has, but this year has shown us why you should believe in him. It is because he is getting better, and is truly getting better by the moment.
You cannot just completely fix every bit of your coaching flaws overnight, it takes time, and Hynes has shown that he is eager to improve and can do so. He has gone from firmly on the hot seat to one of the safest jobs in the NHL, which is an extremely encouraging sign moving forward.
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