Trotz looks at bright side

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

His team has a lame-duck owner, is operating on a bare-bones budget and could be moving in a year.

Two of his players, including the team captain, have already been traded, and it appears many of his top free agents won't be re-signed.

Oh, and his GM admits attracting new talent won't be easy, since nobody's sure who'll be signing the cheques.

So how's your off-season going so far, Barry Trotz?

"We've always had a road map of how we wanted to build our hockey team and try to win a Stanley Cup," Trotz, the only head coach the Nashville Predators have every known, was saying yesterday. "Well, right now we have a little detour. It doesn't mean we're not going to get back on the main highway."

A little detour? That's like calling the Grand Canyon a pothole.

Then again, the knee-jerk reaction hasn't been part of Trotz's repertoire -- how do you think he's lasted 10 years in the NHL?

A former Winnipegger and Dauphinite who first got behind the bench with the U of M Bisons, Trotz prefers the methodical, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to-work approach.

So ask him about the trade that sent star defenceman Kimmo Timonen and two-way forward Scott Hartnell to Philadelphia Monday, Trotz shrugs and tells you all about the good players he still has.

Remind him his GM, David Poile, acknowledges he likely won't be able to retain leading scorer Paul Kariya or Peter Forsberg or Vitaly Vishnevski or any top free agents, he sees a glass that's half-full.

"For the most part we're still a pretty good hockey team," Trotz said. "I think people tend to forget that. We didn't have Peter Forsberg all year and we were No. 1 in the NHL for about a month. Kimmo is a steadying influence and an original Predator who will be missed. Scott Hartnell wasn't with us the last 20 games. And Vishnevsky didn't play much for us.

"This is not going to stop us. We'll find another way, that's all."

It's hard to argue with Trotz's way. The Preds rang up 110 points this year, third overall. And despite another early playoff exit, this franchise has become a contender the old fashioned way: by gradually developing players.

As tough as it's been to get hockey in Music City to this point, it appears Trotz ain't seen nothin' yet.

The sale of the team to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie hasn't been finalized, so current owner Craig Leipold, who says he's lost $27 million over the last two years, is rather shy about writing seven-figure cheques to players.

You think any free agents will want to sign with Nashville this summer?

"We have a very good organization," an undaunted Trotz said. "That's what attracts players. The only uncertainty is ownership."

Well, that and locale.

If the team can't average at least 14,000 paid attendance next season, whoever owns it can break the lease and leave Tennessee, perhaps for Hamilton.

Always a staunch supporter of hockey in Nashville, Trotz isn't convinced we're seeing the beginning of the end.

"We've got very passionate fans," he said. "What has happened will be a real wakeup call for the city. Nashville is one of those towns where sometimes they take things for granted. And when they get their backs to the wall, they come out swinging."

Already there's a groundswell of support for the team, with save-the-Predators web sites. T-shirts, even a benefit concert.

If the team does eventually move and Trotz has to uproot his wife and four kids, well, you do what you've gotta do.

"Just the venue will change, that's all," he said. "I'm a coach. I have to coach. It hasn't been easy since I started. Nothing changes for me."


Videos

Photos