It’s up to a couple of old Nashville Predators to make sure these aren’t the same old Nashville Predators.
That’s the major takeaway after this week’s press conference at Ford Ice Center. Andrew Brunette is replacing John Hynes as head coach, Barry Trotz is replacing David Poile as general manager. They’re two familiar names, but each bring a new perspective and a new way of thinking to the organization.
At the end of the day, THAT was the Nashville Predators’ biggest need; something different.
That fact shouldn’t discredit the work that David Poile or even John Hynes did during their tenures. Poile built some of the best teams in franchise history; his shrewd moves and savvy eye for under-the-radar talents brought legitimate team legends into the fold. Hynes, despite his missteps, did the best he could with the near-impossible task of turning a fundamentally-bad Predators roster into a contender, and his work of leading a hodge-podge team of prospects and AHL players within one win of a playoff berth deserves kudos.
But the Predators were stuck; the team was caught in an endless loop of “taking a step back” and “going for it” that ultimately ended with the same end-result each season. Something needed to change.
That’s ultimately what Trotz and Brunette will be tasked with. In the simplest terms, yes, it’s the results that need to change. The Predators need to find a way to become a consistent contender year-in and year-out like the NHL juggernauts. But to get there, the Preds need to change the way they do things… their draft strategy, they way they develop talent, how they manage the players on the roster.
These changes give the Predators to re-invent themselves and create a new “Predators identity.”
We’ve heard that phrase so often it feels like a part of the Preds’ marketing campaign. It’s a pop of nostalgia that brings us back to the earlier Preds squads that made us fall in love with the team: a gritty, blue-collar team that battled every night. They won games the hard way, using their physicality and hustle to offset skill, battening down the hatches with shot-blocking and stingy goaltending, and waiting for the opening to throw that one jarring counter-punch.
That identity worked for several years. It helped get several Preds teams into postseason berths they had no business being in, and it helped them give eventual Cup-winners some of their biggest scares during their Cup runs. It helped lead an injury-riddled Preds team to their only Stanley Cup Finals berth in 2017, and when their attempts to become more skilled resulted in first round disappointments, it was the crutch they went back to in order to will themselves to skin-of-their-teeth playoff berths in 2021 and 2022.
The issue is, as Trotz has alluded to multiple times this offseason, the game has evolved. It’s faster, more skilled, and requires creativity in both play and strategy. In addition, the league is packed with superstars who can fill both the skill and grit quota. Guys like Cale Makar and Devon Toews have shown you can be a shutdown defender while still being an offensive juggernaut. Roope Hintz and Sasha Barkov prove you can be a game-changing top-line forward while still being a go-to on the penalty kill. And Matthew Tkachuk is showing it’s possible to be a 100-point scorer while still throwing your body around for hits and shot blocks at any opportunity.
These are the types of guys who have destroyed the Preds in recent years, and they’re exactly the type of players the Preds need to fill their roster with if they want to take that next step towards being a contender. Those particular players are superstars for a reason, but there are still plenty of players across the NHL who have the speed, skill, and versatility to play a similar style game.
Just as those types of players and teams are fun as hell to watch, it’s equally fun as hell for the players to play that type of game, something Brunette and Trotz are well aware of. Both mentioned the words “fun” and “joy” multiple times in their press conferences this week. Brunette highlighted his belief that players play better when they’re part of a system they enjoy playing in.
If done right, Brunette and Trotz can make this the new “Predators identity,” a team that’s fun to watch and equally as fun to play for; one that’s a little less blue-collar and a little more free-spirited, one that players around the league strive to play for because it just looks like a team you want to be a part of.
It won’t happen overnight. The Predators roster needs work, and despite several promising young talents in the system, they all need time to grow and develop. But for the first time in a while, the Predators have a clear vision for where they’re going, and more importantly, the steps they need to take to make that “next big leap” as a franchise and get to the Stanley Cup.