Sports are a business. No matter how good a relationship two individuals may have, players will get traded and coaches will get fired. It has always been that way and it will never change.
That business side of sports made the Nashville Predators’ decision earlier this week to fire associate coach Peter Horachek a tough one. Horachek had been with the Predators as an assistant since 2003 and developed close relationships with general manager David Poile, head coach Barry Trotz and the rest of the team’s staff.
“We are much more of a family than business in Nashville compared to other teams,” Trotz said, “and that’s why it made the decision more difficult. It affects a lot of people in our organization because of the relationships we have with Peter and Stacy (wife).”
“I really want to thank Peter for all the years and his contributions to our organization. He’s a good person and a very good coach,” Poile said in his opening remarks at Wednesday’s press conference, where the Predators officially introduced Phil Housley as their new assistant coach.
“This change is about addressing specific needs to our coaching staff; it is not something [Horachek] did or didn’t do.”
Housley is a great addition to the Predators’ coaching staff, alongside Trotz, Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn. Poile and Trotz both wanted more balance on the staff and Housley is the first former NHL defenseman to step behind the Predators’ bench.
Housley brings lots of valuable experience to the table, as he appeared in 1,495 career games over 21 NHL seasons and won a gold medal at the 2013 World Junior Championships as the team’s bench boss. The Predators hope his expertise as an offensive defenseman will help develop their young talent on defense and improve the power play. He finished his NHL career with 1,232 points, fourth-most all-time among defensemen.
“Sometimes you have to look at the big picture. What areas do we need to really focus in on? We’re focusing in on the offensive part of the game,” Trotz said. “I know how Phil Housley has played the game and where he’s been – he’s going to have new ideas, he’s going to have fresh ideas.
“The change is the new voice. Our power play may have gotten to a point where it’s as good as I could get it … If we want our power play to increase in terms of its effectiveness, Phil is as good as anybody out there in terms of his knowledge and new way of looking at the game.”
The Predators’ power play ranked first in the NHL in 2011-12, but failed to finish higher than 24th in each of the previous four seasons. This past season the man advantage ranked 17th.
The hiring of Housley is a bit of new territory for the Predators. The last two assistants the team has hired, Horachek and Lambert, were previously the head coach of the AHL farm team in Milwaukee. With Lambert being hired in 2011, this is the first time the Predators have brought in two new assistant coaches in such a short time span.
“This hiring is a totally different thought process,” Trotz said. “It’s no different than Kirk Muller (hired as Milwaukee’s coach in 2011). He still had a lot of ideas from the Montreal Canadiens and his time in New Jersey. They all have great experiences they can pass on and relate to. It’s a different way of looking at things and it’s a little off the map for the Predators, and that’s what is exciting about the hire.”
Since retiring from the NHL in 2003, Housley has mainly been coaching at the high school level in Minnesota. More notably, he has been behind the bench for USA Hockey at various events, including the recently-completed World Championships in Finland and Sweden where the U.S. captured bronze.
“Many people know that USA (Hockey) has had a huge impact on my life as a player and now as a coach,” said Housley, a seven-time member of the U.S. national team in his time as a player. “The things that I’ve learned are working with different people, getting new ideas, becoming a better person and a better coach … I’m going to continue to learn; I know I have a lot to learn.”
Housley, 49, fell in love with coaching from the start and felt this was the right time to jump into the NHL ranks. He said he had other NHL offers to become an assistant, but ultimately decided to join the staff in Nashville.
“Just being a player in Chicago and how tough they were to play against, the people that are involved in this organization and the success that they’ve had, I knew it was the right fit for me,” he said. “Maybe some people ask me why I chose now – my family and kids have grown, I’ve coached nine years at high school and a lot of World Juniors and national teams, and it was just the right time for me for me to move forward and accept a new challenge.”
Will this switch behind the bench benefit the Predators? Obviously, time will tell. Housley has all the makings of being a great coach at the NHL level and seems to a good fit as the Predators look to become more dynamic offensively. Perhaps this hiring is a small first step towards that goal.
But the Predators got rid of a quality coach in Horachek to get Housley – and they are the first ones to admit it.
“I think Peter is going to be a head coach. I think he’s going to get an opportunity,” Trotz said. “I know that if anyone asks me what Peter brought, I will definitely give him high marks as a coach and a head coach in this league.”