Barry Trotz is quick to point out that he is a different coach than he was 14 years ago.
“Coaching in this league is sort of life-long learning,” he said. “The things that I did when I first got here I wouldn’t dare do now because they were stupid. Because the game has changed. A lot of people don’t realize the game has changed so much. Players have changed.
“… If you’re not growing you’re falling behind. So I look at everything in terms of how we do things.”
A different coach, perhaps, but he's the same coach who has been behind the bench since the Nashville Predators played their first game back in 1998. His tenure now covers 1,066 regular-season and 50 playoff games with 522 victories overall.
His longevity is, for many, a curiosity. After all, only one current NHL coach, Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, has been in his position longer and nearly half the teams have made changes at that position since the end of 2010-11. The other four coaches in the Central Division, in fact, have combined for 1,008 regular-season contests in their current roles.
For the Predators, it is a badge of honor, a symbol of the consistent philosophy and steely resolve that have defined the franchise as it has evolved from its expansion days to its current place among almost perennial playoff participants.
Despite what has happened in recent weeks and months around the NHL, there is, however, no sense that his continued presence behind the bench is in any way a hindrance to the team’s chance to one day win a Stanley Cup.
“If you’re asking about our coaching staff: I think Barry is a terrific coach,” general manager David Poile said. “I have no interest in making any changes in the coaching staff.”
One of the least newsworthy moments of Thursday’s season-ending press conference was when Poile noted that Trotz, associate coach Peter Horachek and assistant coach Lane Lambert are under contract through next season. In fact, in an expansive rehash of the season in which Poile, Trotz and chief executive officer Jeff Cogen put a predictably sunny spin on things, the mention of the coaches’ status was practically an afterthought.
Among the highlights noted by Poile was the fact that Nashville was the only Western Conference team that reached the second round of the playoffs each of the last two seasons.
That was not the only thing that made the Predators unique among that group. Two of the other three, the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings, changed coaches after the start of the season. Phoenix, which eliminated Nashville in five games, was in just its third season under Dave Tippett.
It was similar in the Eastern Conference, where Washington, which changed coaches during the season, was still alive, and New Jersey, in its first year under Peter DeBoer, awaited in the conference finals.
“For every one of those situations I could probably give you a 2:1 ratio that it didn’t work,” Poile said. “… There’s plenty of stories where a coaching change didn’t make one bit of difference, in fact it went backward this year. How about the Montreal Canadiens this year?”
The Canadiens did, in fact, get worse after Randy Cunneyworth. Their point-per-game average dipped from 1.03 to .90.
In terms of all the recent coaching changes, though, the positive impacts have outnumbered the negative ones.
Of the eight teams that fired coaches during the 2011-12 season, five performed better after the move. One of the three that did not was Washington, but the difference in points per game under Bruce Bourdreau (1.14) versus that of current coach Dale Hunter (1.12) was minimal and seemingly offset by the team’s playoff performance.
Six other franchises changed coaches prior to the start of the season and four of them (a 2:1 ratio) did better than a year ago and all four made the playoffs.
“There’s been no signs for me to feel that would be necessary,” Poile said. “ ‘Change for change’s sake,’ I don’t like that expression.
“What impacts me is how we’re doing — how our team is performing, the level of work ethic, effort, living up to our expectations, maybe not those of the fans but what I would feel are the real expectations for us, why we win, why we lose.”
The history of the franchise has included only two alterations to the coaching staff. Original assistant Paul Gardner was fired following the 2002-03 season and replaced by Horachek, and last spring associate coach Brent Peterson was reassigned due to health concerns.
Whatever changes Trotz has made to his approach along the way likely were for the better, if recognition counts for anything at least.
He was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach following the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. This season the Predators racked up 104 points and won 48 games, both their third-highest totals ever, despite significant changes to the roster.
“You know when the message gets old,” Trotz said. “Trust me, we wouldn’t end up with 104 points if the message was old. The players won’t allow you to do that. It just won’t happen.
“… Every year we go away, I take the coaches for four or five days and we will review everything. I review how we do our presentations. I review our decision-making. I review on our systems. We do all of that. You have to reflect.”
And, he believes, you have to change.
The fact that Poile does not feel the same allows him to do so.