I t’s hard not to see Peter Horachek as a scapegoat.
As Darren Pang first reported on Twitter last night and as the Predators reportedly confirmed this afternoon, the Nashville Predators’ associate coach has been fired.
Horachek arrived in Nashville prior to the 2003-04 season after the Predators attempted to reassign assistant coach Paul Gardner to a scouting position before he ultimately departed the organization.
The former head coach of the ECHL’s Nashville Knights returned to Nashville after one season coaching the Predators’ AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals. Horachek also coached the Orlando Solar Bears to the final championship of the International Hockey League in 2001.
As a player, Horachek never made it higher than the AHL. However, when he joined the Predators as an assistant in 2003-04, it was timed perfectly with the franchise’s rise to prominence. In 9 seasons with Horachek at Barry Trotz’s side, the Predators made the playoffs 7 times.
Last season, with Brent Peterson’s retirement from gameday coaching, Horachek was promoted to associate coach. During his only full 82-game season as associate coach, the Predators had perhaps their best season in franchise history. The team finished 2nd in the Central Division and 4th in the Western Conference, while leading the league in power play percentage and finishing in the top 10 on penalty kills and goal scoring.
This season, Horachek’s 2nd as associate coach and 9th on the Nashville bench, the team finished last in the Central, 2nd to last in the Western Conference and with the 4th-worst record in the league. After finishing in the top 10 during the previous season in scoring, the Predators finished dead last in the abbreviated 2013 schedule. After finishing in the top 10 on the penalty kill, they finished 29th. After leading the league on the power play, they dropped to 17th. It was just a bad season.
But it was also a weird season.
There was a lockout that wiped out nearly half of it. Until the middle of January, players and coaches had no idea when, who or even if they would be playing in the coming season.
There is no denying that the Predators were ill-prepared for what laid ahead of them. They were terrible this season – absolutely terrible.
At the same time, this season is unrepeatable in the near future. Some coaches and coaching staffs figured out how to excel in the short, 48-game season. Others, such as the Predators stumbled through it.
There will not be another season like this one. Yes, the Predators coaching staff has shown an inability to get out of the early rounds of the playoffs, but they have shown continual improvement in normal seasons. There was nothing about this season that was evidence of a long-term trend from the Predators – nothing. In every category they struggled in – goal scoring, the power play, the penalty kill – they excelled in it last season. If it had been a long term issue, then yes, by all means, it’s time to clean house. However, nothing was a long-term trend. It was a one-off – it was strike one.
Right now, we have no further information. We may never have further information. On the surface, however, the whole situation seems bizarre. The season ended nearly a month ago and Barry Trotz has been in Europe for the past three weeks. A major organizational decision like this seems like something that would have been dealt with before he left to coach at the World Championships.
Until someone tells us otherwise, it looks like Peter Horachek has become the fall guy for Nashville’s dismal performance this season.
Peter Horachek was not sitting behind the bench telling players not to shoot. He was not telling them not to score. He was not telling Sergei Kostitsyn to quit on a play. He was not telling the linesmen in Colorado to not call Matt Duchene offside or to call a hand pass on Paul Gaustad in Minnesota. Peter Horachek did not injure Colin Wilson and Gabriel Bourque. He did not sign Ryan Suter to a long-term contract in Minnesota or replace Roman Josi’s open position on the roster with Scott Hannan. Peter Horachek did not cause the lockout. He did not limit the amount of practice time players were allowed to take each week.
None of that matters, though, since Peter Horachek is now gone.
It’s hard not to jump to conclusions as to why.