When the Buffalo Sabres fired Lindy Ruff and Barry Trotz became the NHL’s longest tenured active coach earlier this season, the question was asked often in the days that followed.
How, after all this time, does the Nashville Predators coach continue to get his message across to his players?
The answer is that Trotz never takes for granted that those players have heard it often enough. He is not bored of it, thus he is not afraid to deliver it as often as necessary whether his players want/need a refresher or not.
His reaction this week to Sergei Kostitsyn’s ill-timed line change in Sunday’s loss at Edmonton is the perfect example and proof positive that a consistent message can — and will — resonate longer than most might think.
Unlike the debacle last spring when he tried to make a point with Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov, this disciplinary action is likely to have a positive and sustained impact.
He benched the elder Kostitsyn and the mercurial Radulov for one game of the second-round playoff series with Phoenix — and then held them out of another — when they missed a curfew the night before a game on the road.
The problem with that was that Trotz and his staff never have conducted bed checks or actively enforced when players ought or ought not be in the hotel. When the announced one-game suspension effectively turned into two, the message got muddled even further.
It was not surprising, therefore, when the Predators meekly bowed out of that series not long after the whole affair.
This was something different.
Yes, Sergei Kostitsyn knew better then to head to the bench when the Oilers had a two-on-one developing in the third period of a tie game. He simply never stopped to consider what was taking shape behind him and thus made a bad choice.
For a moment, his mind got lazy and took his body out of the play. It was a mistake that probably cost the Predators the game given that it resulted in a shorthanded goal that put Edmonton ahead to stay.
Two nights later in Columbus, Kostitsyn watched in street clothes, disciplined like a youngster who was grounded for missing curfew or swearing in front of his parents.
Never mind that Trotz’s message got through to him a long time ago. In fact, the 26-year-old forward is one of the franchise’s great success stories.
Two months into the 2010-11 season, his first in Nashville, he was on verge of a trip to the minor leagues when he finally grasped the particulars of the Predators’ system and his place in it. He finished that season as the team’s leading goal scorer and one of the league’s most effective shooters.
For most of this season, he has been Nashville’s plus-minus leader, an indication that he has been a responsible and effective player. He has performed equally well as a member of the first line, the fourth line and the two in between, and as a regular on both the power play and penalty kill.
If there was anyone who deserved a break for having made a mistake, it was Kostitsyn. He didn’t get it … even at a time when the Predators need all the offensive players they could get.
Anyone who has watched this team for any period of time knows how important play on defense is important to its overall approach and success. To sit Kostitsyn for a game was to reinforce a message that has been delivered countless other times in many other ways.
No doubt it came through loud and clear to him and his teammates. Again.