Just two days into training camp — and subsequently a new regime under first-year general manager Barry Trotz and head coach Andrew Brunette — there’s already a recognizable difference in how some Nashville Predators veterans and new draftees are interacting on the ice and at the podium.
“The energy is already so nice,” defenseman Alex Carrier said. “It’s light, it’s fun. The game is so fast. It’s all about speed now.”
The players are already buying into Trotz’s vision. A culture shift was ostensibly needed.
One by one, as players spoke to reporters for the first time since locker cleanout day in April, two things were abundantly clear: every returning player from last season is delighted to have a fresh start and for the first time in a while, they’re having fun.
Wanting to develop a winning culture, Trotz brought in a handful of “serial winners” to mentor the rest of the locker room. Players like center Ryan O’Reilly and defenseman Luke Schenn are key components of Trotz’s vision.
The term culture has become a bit of a cliché in professional sports. But the teams that have built winning foundations recognize its importance.
“It’s not something that happens overnight,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “It takes time and it takes sacrifice — spending time with your teammates, reaching out to them, checking in with them, inviting them out for dinner, getting to know their wives and kids, all of those little things as far as having somebody feel that much more comfortable coming to the rink and getting dressed in the locker room and all that stuff. It’s more or less just caring about what’s important, caring about your teammates and caring about what it takes to win.”
Those on the roster who have won in the past have stressed the importance of doing things the right way. Having played in four Stanley Cup finals and winning it all twice with Tampa Bay, McDonagh knows what it takes to win.
Just four Predators players (Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg, Colton Sissons, Juuse Saros) remain from the team’s Stanley Cup run in 2016-17 who got a glimpse of playing deep into May and June. So during the offseason, Trotz added two more former Stanley Cup winners in Schenn, who won twice with McDonagh in Tampa Bay, and O’Reilly, who won in 2019 with the St. Louis Blues.
“[Culture] means a lot of things,” Schenn stated. “…I think you know when you have a good culture as far as when you walk in the doors. A lot [of] different conversations lead into how guys approach things off the ice, whether in the gym or their habits getting onto the ice and what they do on the ice, the extra work they put in. It’s making everyone feel included. It’s [a] really hard thing to gain traction and establish a culture. It’s really hard to hang on to that once you got, and it’s [a] very easy thing to lose, so it’s not something that you just try to establish overnight.”
O’Reilly divulged that Brunette admitted to the team before camp started that the transitional period the Predators are in would be different and uncomfortable at first, but his system is designed to push the pace.
Brunette’s attitude has already resonated without much of the locker room after just a few meetings and on-ice sessions. The players have admitted that they’re having fun, and Brunette acknowledged that a team can’t succeed in the winning and entertainment business without having fun.
“The message to the group is (it’s) a clean slate for everybody,” Brunette remarked. “The past is the past. You’ve got guys who have been here for a while and have been slotted into certain roles. I believe everybody is going to earn their role. I’m going to watch and experiment, which is fun, but I don’t want to have any preconceived notions of what they can’t do. I kind of want to see what they can do, and put them in the best positions to succeed.”
Brunette’s way of doing things is likely a breath of fresh air for many of Nashville’s younger players who may have previously been compelled to filling roles they weren’t fully comfortable with. The first-year head coach’s philosophy is simple: every team is successful when every player is treated equally from veteran to prospect.
There are a lot of unknowns as the Predators begin their journey into the 2023-24 season, but for the first time in a while, the feeling of optimism is palpable. Changing the culture is just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s an important one.
Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10