David Poile believes the decision to hire Phil Housley as an assistant coach will be of great benefit to some of the Nashville Predators’ young defensemen.
Players like Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm — each is 22 or younger, and offers offensive potential — figure to get the most out of their time with someone whose career as an NHL blueliner lasted nearly 1,500 games and included more than 1,200 points. Even a two-time Norris Trophy finalist such as Shea Weber, however, can learn a thing or two.
The general manager also sees upside for someone a little less obvious, former associate coach Peter Horachek who was fired Monday to facilitate the addition of Housley a day later.
“The last couple years Peter had opportunities to interview for head coaching opportunities,” Poile said. “… He didn’t get those jobs [but] I really felt that Peter was ready to move up. I think he was deserving to have an opportunity to be a head coach. … So, from my standpoint, I felt that Peter needed to make a change also and that that would probably be healthy for him.
“It’s not a good situation today, but I’m certainly hoping it turns out good for Peter and when we talk in the future this will be the right thing for him also.”
So getting fired will help Horachek become an NHL head coach?
“It could,” Poile said. “I don’t know.”
Housley, 49, was formally introduced Wednesday afternoon as the fifth assistant coach in franchise history. He was fresh off a stint as an assistant with Team USA, which won the bronze medal Sunday at the World Championships and a few months removed from his stint as coach of the U.S. Junior National Team, which won gold at the World Junior Championships in January.
The majority of his post-playing days have been as a high school coach at Stillwater (Minn.) High School, yet he said he chose Nashville’s from among multiple offers to join an NHL staff this year.
“[Coaching] is the closest thing you can do without playing the game, actually,” Housley said. “It’s a lot of emotions. I felt I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a lot of time with my family and coach high school, and that’s reason why I did it. … Being a big part of [my children’s] life was a big priority for me. Now that they’re older and looking at the offers, I just thought this was the right fit for me.”
When his NHL career ended in 2003 his name was in the record books as the highest-scoring American-born defenseman (1,232 points) in league history. The sixth overall pick by Buffalo in the 1982 NHL draft, he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.
He had at least 66 points in each of his first 11 seasons, capped by a career-high 97 (18 goals, 79 assists) in 1992-93 with Winnipeg. Four times he scored more than 10 power play goals, and 38 percent of his career goals (129 of 338) came with the man advantage.
“I know Phil Housley — how he’s played the game and where’s he’s been — he’s going to have new ideas,” coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s going to have fresh ideas. … I wouldn’t say we’re rebuilding, we’re retooling and part of that retooling is the coaching staff.”
Poile has said repeatedly as the only general manager in franchise history that he is adverse to change for change’s sake. Only once before Monday had he fired a member of the coaching staff.
After seven playoff appearances in eight seasons, though, he did not like the differences in his 2012-13 team. Nashville fell to 14th in the Western Conference and young defensemen such as Ellis, Jonathon Blum (both first-round draft picks) spent at least part of the season in the AHL.
“The decision by me was just to get a little more balance in our coaching staff and — for sure — to make a change,” Poile said. “Right or wrong we’ve made a change and that’s hopefully to improve and go further. This is not about Peter Horachek. Peter is a good coach and a good person. This is about making a change.
“It’s just a timing situation. This is the job I have and the decisions that I make. Period.”
And he’s not the only one who thinks the change will benefit the now-unemployed Horachek.
“I think Peter’s going to be a head coach, as David said,” Trotz said. “He’s going to get an opportunity. Will [getting fired] help? It might help because he’s a free agent now, if you will. Sometimes that works in a positive way.
“At the same time, I know if anybody asks me what Peter brought I will definitely give him high marks as a coach and as a head coach in this league.”