With Andrew Brunette beginning his tenure as the bench boss of the Nashville Predators, Milwaukee Admirals head coach Karl Taylor was among those he worked closely with during the summer.
Though Brunette is in charge of leading the NHL club, Taylor needed to make it clear to him that if their relationship was to work, he wasn’t going to change everything about the way he coaches.
During a radio interview with Admirals play-by-play voice Aaron Sims Monday night on the Big 920, Taylor said he and Brunette reached an agreement that will allow him to keep approximately 80% of the system Milwaukee runs in place while conceding the other 20% to accommodate Brunette.
“I’ve negotiated to have a little bit of room as a coach to make adjustments and not follow 100% because that’s important just to have some room to win games in the moment when you need to,” Taylor said. “…Andrew and Barry are coming into a new situation and they’re trying to change a little bit of the mindset there in Nashville, and they will have some leeway there to do that.
“For the past five years, I’ve been here with [assistant general manager] Scott Nichol and [former Nashville general manager] David Poile and now Barry is stepping in, so I think they’ll be very consistent with how we’ve done things since Scott is still in the organization.”
When Taylor joined the Predators organization five years ago, he wanted to implement a fun atmosphere in Milwaukee that empowered his players to make decisions on the ice for themselves. It’s a similar quality Taylor said he saw out of Brunette while he was in Nashville for training camp the last two weeks.
“It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out this year,” he said. “Whether it’s who starts in Milwaukee or who starts in Nashville, how that proceeds throughout the season, and there’s a lot of different ways it could go for a number of players.”
One player who went to Nashville with a chip on his shoulder was Admirals defenseman Marc Del Gaizo, who has yet to make his NHL debut but has made an impression during training camp. Del Gaizo was drafted 109th overall in 2019, and he’s appeared in 147 American Hockey League games since then.
“Marc’s been great and the new coaching staff have enjoyed him and want to take a longer look at him, so that’s great for him,” Taylor said. “He earns everything he gets, so I’m very happy for him and excited for him to have an extended stay or to stay there to start the year in Nashville. I’m not sure how it’s going to end or how Nashville is going to move forward. They’ll make those decisions as we’re moving through our camp.”
While there has yet to be a decision made about who will play in the Predators final two preseason games later this week, Del Gaizo will at least be on the ice for practice with the Predators on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Taylor was part of some of the Predators meetings before returning to Milwaukee to prepare for the upcoming AHL season. He said it was then he learned that Nashville had made a final decision on at least one player.
“Okay, you get assigned to Milwaukee, the message from Barry (Trotz) leaving Milwaukee — I was in some of the meetings — is now you have to go and make Milwaukee, and that was a message to a first-round pick to an American League contract, someone who’s been here for a couple of years,” Taylor said.
“The message is very clear that Barry wants to base things on merits and we love that. … When it’s based on merit, you’re never ever going to stop fighting for something whether it’s holding what you have, getting more special teams, or getting more ice time. Everyone wants more and that’s what creates the environment.”
Taylor also mentioned the importance of challenging his AHL players, not only for their gain but also to see certain individuals take the next step in their development as sort of an iron-sharpens-iron philosophy.
“We’re trying to have positive peer rivalries where you have people pushing each other to get better in a positive environment,” Taylor remarked. “And it doesn’t mean you’re going to get along, but that’s OK. But you’re going to try and push each other to reach levels that you didn’t know you could, so hopefully we can create that and assist players in building that within our locker room.”
The Admirals will have 15 forwards, 11 defensemen, and five goaltenders in camp, which begins on Tuesday, before making any cuts or sending players to the organization’s ECHL affiliate, the Atlanta Gladiators.
Taylor’s group went to the AHL Western Conference Final last season. His team should be just as good, if not better than a year ago after adding three first-round picks in Fedor Svechkov, Zachary L’Heureux and Reid Schaefer plus defensemen Jake Livingstone and Luke Prokop to a core that went 41-24-7 and finished second in the Central Division.
“We’re going to have good goaltending and good defense,” Taylor said. “We will have a little bit of a challenge just having youth in our forward group. The amount we do — five or six rookies is the number — it’s going to be a youthful group but a very talented group.
“There’s always some learning curves with that, which we understand and we accept as we move forward. We will be pushing the group a little firmer, whereas maybe our emphasizing points were in different areas in the past.”
The first practice for Milwaukee begins Tuesday at 10:15 a.m. at Panther Arena. The Admirals will play a pair of preseason games, including one at home on Friday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. CT.
The regular season begins on Saturday, Oct. 14 in Chicago against the Wolves before their home opener one week later at 6 p.m. CT against the Texas Stars.
Follow Nick Kieser on Twitter/X: @KieserNick