As the Nashville Predators head down the stretch attempting to make the playoffs for the fifth straight year, one of the most overlooked pieces of the puzzle is Predator’s Head Coach, Barry Trotz.
Trotz is the only coach the Nashville franchise has ever known, and is one of only four coaches that has led his team to four consecutive playoff appearances, dating back to the 2003-2004 season. His 817 games coached with the Preds stands eight on the list of games coached with one team.
General Manager David Poile was familiar with Trotz when he hired him as the Predator’s original coach, the two having worked together in the Washington Capitols organization. Trotz came to the Preds after spending four years as the head coach of the Portland (Maine) Pirates where he led them to the Calder Cup Championship in 1995 and received AHL Coach of the Year honors.
David Poile had a five year plan to build the team from within with draft picks being the primary source of quality players. This strategy left Trotz with an odd mix of inexperienced youth and cast off veterans during that time. In spite of the lack of proven NHL quality talent in the early years, Trotz was able to field a team that would compete with the NHL’s best on most nights.
As the quality of players improved over the years, Trotz stuck with the same basic philosophy of team play every night with “no passengers” as he likes to say. His focus has always been on “character” players and ones that will put the team first. He describes his teams as “a group of twenty, a Band of Brothers”.
This season at the trade deadline, The Predators opted not to pick up another skilled player because of concerns about what it might do to the team and the locker room setting. Trotz and Poile chose to stick by the “character guys” that they already had.
Trotz reflects on the Predators ability to go beyond expectations over the years. "I just think it's with the culture, it's a little bit of everything. Our franchise is an expansion team - we always have been sort of a little bit of the underdog, a little bit of the tryers. We’ve built a culture here where we work hard, we're a family, and we're a team, and guys just sort of play for each other and play hard, and when people doubt us, I think that’s been something that being an expansion team they doubted if we would be very competitive. And I think we were pretty competitive the first couple years.”
He continued, “They doubted we could make the playoffs and we made the playoffs. We've had everything from ownership changes to limited resources in some areas for our team, but we don't really make excuses, we look at that as an opportunity. When players get a chance or someone gets hurt it's an opportunity to show your character and we've got good character and when times are tough that's when you really reveal your character, so every time times are tough and we really respond in a real positive way it reveals our character and I think we've got good character."
Every year that the Predators have made the playoffs with exception of the talent laden 2007 Preds, the team had been counted out repeatedly during parts of the season. This year, two months ago, the Preds were in fourteenth place and going nowhere. They have since risen from the ashes to be in the thick of the Western Conference playoff picture, once again. Even through all the recent injuries that have befallen the Preds, Trotz has held firm and believed in every player he puts on the ice.
Trotz explained his coaching strategy about playing under adversity, “We talk about having no excuses, we went to game five of the series against Detroit last year without Nichol, Arnott and Legwand and we pushed them hard. Everyone talks about opportunities and when you get them you have to embrace them and go for it. We’re pretty close to the finish line and there's no reason to make excuses, guys step up and play, playing as a team is how we win, it’s not going to be one individual putting it on his back, it’s going to be 20 guys pulling together with all they have”.
As the Predators head down the stretch for the last few games, we will see if Barry Trotz, the coaching magician, will be able to pull a few more rabbits out of his hat and take the Predators to their fifth straight playoff appearance. Barry has never received NHL honors for his coaching accomplishments, but fans of the Nashville Predators should be thankful that they have a coach with a steady hand steering the ship on a focused course every year.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass and the Columbia Daily Herald