Karl Taylor

Given the way the Nashville Predators 2021-22 season ended, the growing indignation within the fanbase will presumably force ownership’s hand to make some significant changes this offseason.

Those alterations could start at the top, beginning with head coach John Hynes.

Everything I’m hearing points to Hynes returning in 2022, as he does have a team option for next season as part of the three-year contract he signed with the Predators in January 2020 after taking over for Peter Laviolette.

In his two-plus seasons, Hynes has led Nashville to a 92-64-10 record, including three straight playoff appearances. He took a Predators team that was underperforming under Laviolette’s guidance, gave them a new voice and transformed them into an aggressive, physically-imposing team that led the NHL in fighting majors and penalty minutes this year.

“I think he gave us an identity as a team,” captain Roman Josi said. “I think that was one thing when he came in, we were always talking about getting back to [having] an identity as a team and I feel like we found that, especially this year. …This year with training camp, we had a little bit more time and I think that was a big part for us coming into this year was having that team identity and playing up to that.”

“He’s a hard-working guy and that’s what he demands out of us,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm added. “...He’s a straightforward guy. I really enjoy that part of it. You know what he needs out of you, and he’s not shy about telling you what he wants and what his philosophy is. I think [he’s] been more about a hard-working, gritty sort of game.”

This year’s team had the best power play (24.4 percent), the second-most goals scored (262) and eighth-most wins (45) in franchise history, along with several individual team records that were broken as well. 

While he does have a few things working in his favor — career years from Josi and Filip Forsberg, the career revivals of Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen, the emergence of Tanner Jeannot, the development of Philip Tomasino, and the Vezina-caliber play of Juuse Saros — it’s increasingly difficult for Hynes, or general manager David Poile for that matter, to defend his 3-11 playoff record and three straight first-round postseason exits during his Predators tenure, as well as his .211 career win percentage in the postseason and the fact that he’s never won an NHL playoff series.

Working against Hynes is the seeming stagnation in the development of some of Nashville’s top young players — including Luke Kunin, Eeli Tolvanen, Dante Fabbro, Philippe Myers and Cody Glass.

Heralded by Poile as one of the great young developmental coaches, Hynes has done well with maximizing the talent of the Predators’ veterans, but his message seems to be hit or miss with some of the team’s youth.

Moving forward, players like Tolvanen, Fabbro, Glass and Myers need to be part of the solution. And the Predators need a coach that can maximize their skills.

Which brings me to Milwaukee Admirals head coach Karl Taylor and the unique position the Predators find themselves in.

While Hynes does have a one-year option that Nashville could pick up, what does one more year with him at the helm truely offer the franchise? Has he shown enough in his two-plus seasons to earn the benefit of the doubt?

After suffering through the first-ever sweep in franchise history at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, has Hynes genuinely taken the Predators as far as he can?

Taylor represents the much more intriguing option — and one that will likely keep fans from mentally checking out on the team — of bringing in a fresh voice while also promoting from within.

The learning curve would be minimal since Milwaukee already runs a similar system to that of Nashville, albeit with slightly less physicality and a little more emphasis on speed and skill. Not to mention there's already a familiarity with most of Nashville's roster as 18 of the 33 Predators players that suited up last season played under Taylor with the Admirals at some point.

In just three seasons, Taylor's star has been on the rise while he has built quite the resume for himself. He has a 115-66-24-9 record, a Central Division title and an AHL regular season championship to his name. And Milwaukee hasn’t finished worse than third place in its division or had a win percentage below .572 during his tenure.

Taylor led the Admirals to 41 wins in a COVID-19-shortened 2019-20 season, winning the team’s first division title since 2015 en route to being named the AHL regular season champion and winning the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL Coach of the Year.

This year, Taylor guided the Admirals to their first first-round playoff series win since the 2010-11 season, and a win over the Chicago Wolves would give the team its first second-round series win since 2005.

He even has two NHL wins to his credit as well, serving as interim head coach during the team’s COVID-19 outbreak in December that sidelined the Predators’ entire coaching staff.

That mini-run showed Taylor just might be ready for his first NHL head coaching job.

“We both have aspirations of the full-time call-up,” Taylor said in an interview with the AHL in December when asked his thoughts on getting to coach the Predators with assistant coach Scott Ford. “That’s our goal, to be full-time NHL coaches while doing a great job while we’re waiting for that opportunity.”

Taylor’s success will likely get him noticed by a team with a head coaching vacancy, if not this year than possibly next year.

The Predators were in a similar situation in 2018 when then-Admirals head coach Dean Evason was hired as an assistant coach by division rival Minnesota. Two seasons later, he was elevated to head coach and the Predators have watched him lead the Wild to a 96-42-12 record with three playoff appearances.

Taylor could be on track for a similar trajectory. Only this time, the Predators could be in a position to not let him get out the door.

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_