The 2019-20 NHL season has been a strange one due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the Nashville Predators season got weird long before the team played its final regular season game against the Montreal Canadiens on March 10.
Nashville suffered through a six-game losing streak from Nov. 7-21, defenseman Ryan Ellis was lost for a month after suffering a concussion during the Winter Classic on New Year’s day, the team fired head coach Peter Laviolette on Jan. 6 after five-plus seasons and then hired also recently-fired John Hynes as his replacement the next day.
Now, the Predators have nearly two months of individual workouts followed by a three-week training camp as part of the NHL’s return-to-play plan to prepare for a play-in series against the Arizona Coyotes.
Rarely — if ever — does a head coach run his first training camp with a team during the season — and before the playoffs, no less. But that’s exactly the situation Hynes finds himself in, and it may not necessarily be a bad thing.
“When [Hynes] came in during the season, he didn’t have a lot of time to practice,” Preds captain Roman Josi said in a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday. “We were in the midst of the season and playing a lot of games. So, there wasn’t a lot of time to practice all the new stuff for his system. A training camp will definitely be helpful. I think he can bring in his systems a little more.”
Given the adversity Nashville has faced this season, the four-month-plus layoff between the end of the NHL’s regular season and beginning of the playoffs might benefit the Predators more than any other team.
With added time to implement Hynes’ system while allowing the team to get back to 100 percent health, a fully acclimated and highly motivated Predators team may be bad news for the rest of the Western Conference.
“The first round — the play-in for the playoffs — is going to be really competitive,” Josi said. “Obviously, there’s no fans and its different circumstances, but it’s still the playoffs and I think (the NHL) did a pretty good job with the whole plan.
“…Arizona, they’re always a tough team to play against in the regular season. They’re very structured, very good defensively and they work really hard. It’s definitely a little different having a training camp preparing for one team…Normally if you have a playoff series, you might have a couple of days or a week maximum to prepare for an opponent.”
Josi divulged that only about 10 Predators players are currently in Nashville, but they are skating and working out on their own. The team has elected to take a little more time away from Bridgestone Arena to prepare individually before hitting the ice back in their home barn.
“We have a small group skating right now,” Josi continued. “It’s just a bunch of guys skating with a good setup at the gym, so we felt like we wanted to do that for a little longer. We’ll have two or three weeks before training camp to go back to Bridgestone and then three weeks of training camps.”
Due to the long layoff, the concern for every team — not just the Predators — is getting back into playing shape after enduring what essentially equates to an offseason. Finding team chemistry was an issue during the regular season, but with a full training camp under Hynes and everyone back to 100 percent, Josi said getting back into game shape quickly will give the Preds their best chance to make some noise in the playoffs.
“Obviously, [we’re] working out and practicing, but playing games is a whole different story," Josi said "So, I think using this time right now to get back into that shape with camp and then I think it’s going to be really fast. Everybody’s rested, the game is going to be intense and whoever builds that chemistry the quickest and gets back to their ‘A-game’ the quickest will have a really good chance.”
“Once we start training camp, it’s three weeks, and we’ve got to make sure we practice as a team and get that chemistry back as quick as we can.”