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How Andrew Brunette Helped Accelerate Predators’ Rebuild

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Andrew Brunette
Photo of Andrew Brunette by John Russell/Nashville Predators

Andrew Brunette’s first season as head coach of the Nashville Predators looks like a success by almost every measure.

Instead of a throwaway rebuild year, Brunette helped turn the Predators into a team he believes – as he lamented in Tuesday’s end-of-season press conference – should’ve advanced beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2018.

“There’s only one other time in my career that I felt we deserved a little better,” he said. “It didn’t happen, but to be part of this group and be part of that energy and enjoyment with each other was really special.”

Brunette played for the Predators in their inaugural 1998-99 season, but his return to Nashville wasn’t exactly a back-to-the-future moment. He brought change in the form of a new offensive system based on speed, pivoting from the defensive-minded approach the team used under John Hynes.

Growing pains were to be expected.

“I came in with open eyes,” Brunette said. “I had a vision and an idea of what I wanted and how I wanted to play. I didn’t know if we could get there yet, especially after the first little while. But I was going to be stubborn and have a strong belief in what I think works. I was going to see it through.”

His bet paid off sooner than even the most optimistic of fans could’ve predicted.

Exceeding expectations

The Predators (47-30-5) recovered from a slow start in October and November and again following a difficult losing stretch in February to reel off a franchise-record 18-game point streak that lasted until mid-March. Nashville tied its single-season goals record (266), snagged the Western Conference’s top wild-card spot and gave the Vancouver Canucks a run for their money in the first round of the playoffs.

Filip Forsberg set the franchise scoring record with 48 goals, while Gustav Nyquist (75 points), Colton Sissons (35 points) and Jeremy Lauzon (386 hits) also had career years. Brunette (Jack Adams Award) and team captain Roman Josi (Norris Trophy) were named finalists for two of the NHL’s most prestigious individual honors.

None of it seemed possible when first-year general manager Barry Trotz began overhauling the roster at last year’s trade deadline (alongside former GM David Poile) and continued to do so throughout the summer. Yet, with Brunette in charge, the Predators took a step forward in 2023-24.

“It was a little bit of a rebuild or reset or re-something,” Trotz said Tuesday. “I think we accomplished a lot of things, and we reset some things. We reset the culture. Not that the culture was ever bad, but I think we just reset the culture to focusing and getting the mindset to winning hockey games. When you do that, you start the building blocks of what we’re trying to work towards – [competing for] a championship on a regular basis.”

Taking control

Brunette pointed to the team’s canceled Las Vegas trip to see U2 in concert as a turning point. That decision came as the Predators’ playoff hopes were slipping away in the aftermath of an embarrassing 9-2 home loss to Dallas on Feb. 15.

Nashville went 20-5-3 over its remaining regular-season games.

“It could’ve gone either way at different times during the year,” Brunette said. “But I was going to risk it all … because I believe this has to be done a certain way. And I was very fortunate the group stayed together, grew tighter and had a wonderful second half of the year.”

Brunette’s system did require an adjustment period for the players, including stars like Josi. His point production picked up significantly after the calendar flipped to January.

“Bruno believed in our team and believed in the system,” Josi said. “We kept playing the same way and kept playing hard. It’s pretty cool to see the whole process, see guys come together like that, make the playoffs and compete in the first round.”

Veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who won back-to-back Stanley Cups with Tampa Bay in 2020 and 2021, was initially unsure about Nashville’s direction as it turned over its head coach, GM and roughly one-third of the roster.

It didn’t take long for him to become a Brunette fan too.

“I loved his attitude all year, from coming in and trying to set an example all the way through the last minute, believing in our group,” McDonagh said. “That’s what you want – a coach that believes in you and thinks the world of you.”

Looking ahead

Trotz and Brunette each acknowledged the Predators’ turnaround may not be linear. But with the foundation now set, it’s easier to see a path to Stanley Cup contention than it was a year ago.

As Trotz put it, they share a long-term vision to “build something great here in Nashville.”

“[Brunette] just took the pieces that were handed to him and created something pretty good,” Trotz said. “That’s what he does. That’s why when we talk about the journey, I’m pretty excited about the journey.”

Follow Russell Vannozzi on X/Twitter @RussellV_MSP.

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