Barry Trotz may leave the Preds without the elusive cup — but how many NHL coaches can say they built a hockey city from scratch? 

He Built This City

He Built This City

During an emotional, heart-wrenching press conference, Barry Trotz — the only coach the Nashville Predators have ever known — faced the media one last time after being told his contract would not be extended when it expired at the end of June.

He's a young man, still — just 51. He was hired just weeks after his 35th birthday in the late summer of 1997, when general manager David Poile eschewed the conventional wisdom and the urging of his colleagues, who implored him to hire a wily, grizzled veteran. Trotz had no NHL coaching experience and just five years of experience in the minors.

He leaves Nashville a changed man. His hair is thinner and greyer. His smooth face is now flecked with the seedlings of a salt-and-pepper goatee. Yet despite the struggles of the past two seasons — a dreadful, lockout-shortened campaign, a less dreadful but equally disappointing 2013-14 season — he leaves Nashville a winner.

Much will be made of what Trotz meant to hockey in Nashville, and none of that can be overstated. As the only bench boss at Fifth and Broadway, he leaves an indelible mark on the franchise. Back in 1998, Nashvillians were such babes in the woods that basic hockey concepts like icing and offside had to be explained on the Jumbotron prior to every game. But the teams that used Trotz's system shepherded the city into fandom and molded their new followers into educated aficionados. The teams themselves became regular competitors: seven playoff appearances in eight years, the last two of which were promising enough that the Predators, a team with a reputation for scrappiness instead of style, were lauded as Stanley Cup contenders.

They never touched that silver chalice, though. And that was Trotz's great regret — a sentiment he echoed as he choked up time and again in that final farewell.

He would be back behind a bench somewhere, that much was clear. He used our regional vernacular for the second-person plural to tell Nashville that he loved us — but no love would be lost in the future.

"I love y'all," he said. "I love Nashville. But now I'm going to have to beat you."

He'll get his chance. Respected league-wide, Trotz won't be out of work for long. It's a credit to Poile that he was the first GM to fire his coach in this offseason, for Trotz will have the pick of the litter. There may be an opportunity in Winnipeg — a homecoming of sorts for the Dauphin, Manitoba, native — or perhaps in Vancouver or Washington or Toronto or Minnesota. True, Trotz will have to swap out his Predator gold tie for another color, since nowhere but in Nashville is neon yellow a hockey color. It's a reflection that Nashville has matured out of the imitative culture of an expansion team into a place with enough confidence to thumb its nose at the retrograde provincialism of hockey's Ancien Regime.

Confidence isn't the only by-product of maturity. Knowledge comes with it — and so do expectations. And in the past two seasons, Trotz fell short of his own expectations, those of his employers, and those of the fans whose hopes were raised by his teams. Somebody had to take the fall. Somebody had to be the man who shouldered the blame.

Trotz was the easy target. He was, in a way, a victim of his own success. No doubt part of his legacy will be an assessment of the times he came up short.

But the bigger part of his legacy will be how he shepherded this city along, and the remarkable stamp he's left on Nashville and the Predators. And we returned the favor.

Barry Trotz said he found a home in Nashville, just as hockey has. He leaves here with the city's admiration and gratitude. He leaves here as one of us.

He even learned to say "y'all."



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