Shaun has been appearing on the Renegades of Puck radio show on WNSR this season. He’s taking some of his notes from his segments and putting them into writing. He’d like us to note that these are his opinions and you’re welcome to disagree with him. Eamon does, and so can you!
When the Nashville Predators hired John Hynes, I don’t remember anyone out there that sounded excited about it. I remember a lot of people saying they hired someone too soon—that the team should have used an interim coach to wait out the season and see who was available. However, as someone who had experienced the end of the Peter Laviolette era in person, I immediately appreciated the way Hynes interacted with the media. He has always given thoughtful answers to questions from the media, even when the team lost, or when lineup decisions, or ice time decisions, were questioned. He was also very forthright about how he ran things, especially when it came to players who were getting scratched and what that process looked like from the inside. Especially considering the nightmare the team and fans had just been through with the unexplained benching of Kyle Turris, it was a welcome change.
When the team was going through the return to play process after the long stoppage due to COVID-19, I asked Coach Hynes about his leadership style. He said he’d been reading a book about Winston Churchill and his period of leadership during World War II. He felt a kinship to Churchill in that he came into Nashville in the middle of a difficult time. It wasn’t long after he was hired that Middle Tennessee was devastated by a deadly and destructive tornado. And it wasn’t too much longer before COVID-19 brought everything to a screeching halt. But John Hynes believes that sports can be unifying and inspiring, and said he hoped he could lead the team through a difficult period for the city like Churchill led England through the war. Of course, the qualifying round didn’t go the way they wanted it to last season, but the new season started soon after—and it came on the heels of the Christmas Day explosion in downtown Nashville, just a stone’s throw from Bridgestone Arena. Hynes was certainly right about taking over the leadership of this team at a difficult time.
Early on this season, the team started to see some difficulties. You started to see a team that seemed to be carrying over a lot of in-game habits from the Laviolette era. The most noticeable of these would have to be the endless barrage of point shots that had long since been ineffective at generating offense. The team seemed to be out of step with the system that Hynes wanted to on the ice. Injuries started to pile up and a vast assortment of rookies rotated into the line up. Then, the team headed out on the longest road trip in franchise history…and something magic happened.
The point shots and power play stagnation went away and were replaced with speed through the neutral zone, aggressive forechecking and backchecking, and dynamic passing that, whether it was bottom to top or east to west, relied on having guys in front of the net to drive the puck home. More importantly, proving everyone that writes on this website right, the team learned that the slot was not, in fact, lava. Combine that with Juuse Saros playing lightning-in-a-bottle hockey, and the team went on an epic run. As veterans returned to the lineup after injury, they quickly fell in step with the rest of the team and the style of hockey that was being played in their absence. Then, suddenly, the team seemed like a well-oiled machine. And that machine ran straight into the playoffs this season in spite of the injuries.
I in no way want to diminish the role or impact of any other factor that contributed to this team’s success, but I am of the belief that John Hynes came into this organization and helped rebuild a culture and an identity that seemed to have gone out the window for a while toward the end of the Peter Laviolette era. Yes, there were a lot of moving parts, but the common denominator in all of these is the head coach, John Hynes.