He’s known as a players’ coach, and if it were baseball, he’d be a hitting coach. Were it football, he’d be an offensive mind that’s known for a fast pace and lots of points.
The Nashville Predators’ hire of new coach Andrew Brunette was meant to bring fun.
It was about offense, faster hockey, more skill, more goals, more excitement, and generally where the NHL has been headed without the team in Nashville. These changes were what new general manager Barry Trotz promised, in so many words, while introducing Brunette on Wednesday.
Who wouldn’t like that?
“I think it sounds great,” said forward Filip Forsberg, one of a handful of players in attendance.
Brunette likely won’t be some instant cure-all for a roster with some rebuilding left to do, but Trotz has done a fine job selling it. To media. To fans. But mostly, to his players.
We’ll get back to them.
I mentioned Forsberg first because Trotz did in an interview Tuesday, calling him “a special talent” and someone that “we’ve got to get playing to the level that he’s very capable.”
More than anyone on the team, Forsberg is the Predators’ answer to the Connor McDavids and Nathan MacKinnons of this league, flashy talents with jaw-dropping offensive skills that are perfectly suited for today’s NHL.
The Predators not only haven’t had those types of forwards. They basically haven’t been playing that brand of hockey. For the better part of their existence, the Predators have been known as a franchise built around defense and stellar goaltending.
Hasn’t always been bad. Plenty of 2-1 victories to savor in there, but when you’ve not won a playoff series for five seasons and counting, it’s a good idea to start looking at teams that are winning them and why.
The NHL averaged 3.18 goals per game in the 2022-23 regular season, its highest mark in 29 years, per HockeyReference.com. Yet the Predators ranked 28th in 32 teams in goals scored, and I’d suspect that had a lot to do with why Trotz fired John Hynes and replaced him with Brunette.
“I want us to be an exciting team,” Trotz said Wednesday. “… You look for coaches that do that. That’s Andrew’s strength.”
Over the past three seasons, the Predators ranked 22nd in the NHL in goals.
Guess who was first: The Florida Panthers.
In 2021-22, the season that Brunette served as interim coach and won 51 games and the Presidents’ Trophy, the Panthers scored 337 goals, 25 more than anyone else.
Obviously, the Panthers have much better players than Brunette’s new team, as evidenced by Florida being in the Stanley Cup Final right now.
But it’s still encouraging – and fun.
And you know who haven’t been fun in a long time? The Predators.
One of the more telling quotes from Trotz on Wednesday about Brunette was directed at the handful of players in the room: “They will play for this guy. … They (will) have fun and enjoy the game, enjoy coming to work. That’s what I like about Andrew.”
Trotz didn’t go so far to say the Predators didn’t enjoy playing for Hynes, but he didn’t have to spell it out.
Neither did captain Roman Josi when I asked him if the Predators have been having fun in recent years, and he didn’t answer in the affirmative, instead starting with, “Last year was tough.”
He’s right. It was tough for a lot of reasons.
It continued an odd trend under Hynes as the Predators languished with their core players, only to be rejuvenated by the arrival of energetic youngsters. It happened in 2020-21 and again in 2022-23.
Under Hynes, it never made sense how the Predators tended to fare better while short-handed. An outlier was the 2021-22 season, but those Predators wore down in the final weeks of the regular season. They barely held on to make the playoffs and that wasn’t just a lack of buy-in or the best players not being the best players, as departing GM David Poile so often liked to say. That was a team that ran out of gas.
They led the NHL in hits in 2021-22. This season they were third. An overly physical, grind-it-out style may have been the best path to success for Hynes with the pieces he had, but it took a toll on his veteran players.
In other words, it wasn’t much fun.
“I want them to enjoy the game and to be a style of hockey that’s enthusiastic, it’s entertaining and it’s fun to play,” Brunette said Wednesday. “I want them to have fun coming to the rink every day, because I think if you’re enjoying the game, you play better.”
To that, I’ll agree with Forsberg.
Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville Predators hiring Andrew Brunette has Filip Forsberg’s attention
Source: Yahoo Sports