It took former Nashville Predators general manager David Poile five years to turn a fan base against him that once feverishly defended his every acquisition up through Nashville’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning season in 2017-18.
One questionable coaching change, an expansion draft, a handful of dubious trades (Kevin Fiala, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Ellis) and a few high-priced, long-term contracts later, and Poile’s approval rating with the fanbase plummeted in just five short years.
But with Barry Trotz now calling the shots plus a new head coach, a new-look top six and a fairly successful 2023 draft class, the fanbase’s trust in front-office decisions appears to be slowly on the rise, as evidenced by their spot in Dom Luszczyszyn’s 2023 front-office confidence rankings for The Athletic.
The Predators jumped two spots from No. 25 last season to No. 23 this year, with Trotz seemingly earning the benefit of the doubt from a small contingency of fans, most of whom are likely still a little burned by some of Poile’s shortcomings.
“Barry Trotz hasn’t been shy about putting his stamp on the team yet,” Luszczyszyn wrote. “It’s certainly different enough that fans are more confident, but the results so far have been a mixed bag.
“…The most promising thing about Trotz isn’t about something he necessarily did though, it’s about something he said about the draft: ‘Take some high-end swings on some guys. …Go get me some guys that get people out of their seats.’ That’s a strong philosophy that warrants confidence, especially considering Nashville’s impending turn toward a rebuild.”
Of the six categories Luszczyszyn uses to evaluate a club’s success, the belief is the Predators improved in two and regressed in two. According to the fans that were polled, the consensus is the Predators got better in drafting/development plus team vision, and they got worse in roster building and free agency.
Based off what’s happened over the offseason, those assessments seem to be about right.
By most accounts, Nashville’s 2023 draft class — headlined by first-round duo Matthew Wood and Tanner Molendyk — earned high marks from most draft pundits. Even Poile’s last three draft classes, which look like they’ll produce several NHL mainstays including Joakim Kemell, Fedor Svechkov, Zachary L’Heureux, Yaroslav Askarov and Luke Evangelista, were well-received.
And it’s hard to argue that Trotz’s vision for the Predators (build through the draft, take chances on high-ceiling players, don’t overspend in free agency) isn’t a marked improvement over where Poile was steering the team in his end days — at least in theory.
But Trotz seemingly lost some of the favor he was building up once free agency began after spending a collective $33.47 million on Ryan O’Reilly, 32, Gustav Nyquist, 33, Luke Schenn, 33, and Denis Gurianov, 26, while adding a little over $19 million to the ledger over the next six seasons by buying out the final three years of Matt Duchene’s contract.
In adding O’Reilly and Nyquist while jettisoning Duchene and Ryan Johansen, Trotz upgraded the locker room culture at the expense of offensive potential — a move that on the surface was met with resistance from many who didn’t see the value in adding “serial winners” to a team clearly hitting the reset button.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_