It hasn’t been the easiest calendar year for the Nashville Predators since hiring John Hynes on Jan. 7, 2020. The team was struggling on the ice and frustrated off it.
Coronavirus hit shortly after, halted the season, and the Predators made an early playoff exit after being swept by the Arizona Coyotes in the best-of-three Stanley Cup Playoff Qualifier.
The Predators took the ice at Bridgestone Arena for the first day of training camp, searching for a new identity in a realigned conference and shortened season.
“I would say the excitement around the room and in the arena is high,” said Hynes during Sunday’s press conference. “The big thing is, how do you focus the energy and excitement the right way? Its all about identity.
Returning this season is Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi, goaltenders Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros, forwards Filip Forseberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Matt Duchene, Mikael Grandlund, Rocco Grimaldi, Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Johansen and Colton Sissons, and defensemen Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm.
The expectations for the core players are high and General Manager David Poile says that they have to be better.
“They’re going to have to drive our team,” said Poile. “And then we’ve got some other guys that we brought in that are just hard-working guys that I think will make a difference in how we play… [How we play on the ice is still] unknown right now, but as far as competing to be a team to make the playoffs? Absolutely.”
Unlike in years past, there is no time to waste. There isn’t a preseason filled with exhibition games to explore lines and defensive pairs.
“We talked with our players [and told them] every day is going to matter,” Hynes said. “We need to make sure that our meetings and our practices are really focused, we have a high execution level and we need to get up and running quickly. We have a really good format for our camp on how we’re going to practice, have some intrasquad exhibition games and make sure that we’re physically and mentally prepared to go for game one.”
Prior to camp, Poile held a meeting with this year’s 40 camp participants.
“We basically talked to the players about being open-minded with our decisions and realizing that this is going to be a unique season,” Poile said. “Fifty-six games, a lot of back-to-back games, a lot of three games in four nights, four in six; it’s sort of setting up that it looks like you would need a bigger roster to be successful this year. We’re looking for patience and open-mindedness. How we start isn’t necessarily how we’re going to finish in terms of where our roster is going to be.”
But what is the identity of this team? That question will be answered soon enough when the 23-man roster is announced prior to the club’s first game.
“We’re moving on to the 2021 version of the Nashville Predators, and we’re hopeful that we made the right changes,” Poile said. “We’re hopeful that this reset gets us back to be one of the hardest-working teams in the League, gets us to be very competitive, gets us to be a hard team to play against, gets us into winning on a more consistent basis, gets us to be a playoff team, gets us to be a team that has a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup – it’s a lot of hopes and wishes and thoughts, but it’s all gone into that process of all the changes that we made this this offseason. That’s why I’m thankful and grateful that we have a chance to play this year to start with, and I’m really excited to see exactly what we have.”