One player described it as “a call to battle.”
Another player said “guys spoke from the heart” and that “it was definitely needed.”
On Saturday, some time before the Nashville Predators’ home matchup with the Los Angeles Kings, the team organized a full team meeting, with players and coaches, in an attempt to figure out what led to a disappointing result two days earlier in St. Louis.
Several players, including captain Roman Josi, described the meeting as “uncomfortable, but honest” as the team’s leadership took responsibility for the loss, as well as for rampant inconsistency in the team’s results this season.
“We just played a big game, a big team that’s right behind us in St. Louis,” Roman Josi said of the meeting, “And nobody was happy with the way we played. Nobody was happy with our effort.
“I think there’s certain things that are acceptable. Like sometimes you make mistakes, sometimes things go wrong. But the one thing that’s not acceptable is our effort. We just had an honest conversation in the morning that we need to play better.”
Following the meeting, the Preds played an exciting game against the Los Angeles Kings at Bridgestone Arena. Though Nashville blew an early 2-0 lead, they were able to come back in the 3rd period and defeat the Kings 5-3.
“Sometimes we need to have those uncomfortable conversations with each other,” Josi added. “And I think we did. I think it showed that it’s something we have to keep doing. You’ve always got to get better and go through things and find your way out of it. It was just us and the whole coaching staff, as a team, trying to find solutions.”
John Hynes set up meeting, but players led
The meeting was organized by John Hynes and the coaching staff, as are most of the team meetings. The team reconvenes after every game, win or loss, but something about this loss felt different, so it required a different approach.
“I think we needed to have a discussion. When you have a game like we played against St. Louis, nobody’s happy about that.” Hynes said, adding that while some post-game meetings are about video study or player development, “this one was about having a two-way discussion about why we performed the way that we did. Where was our mindset? What are some things we need to do to rectify that as a collective group? Not just the coach coming up with ‘Hey this wasn’t good enough.'”
Hynes said the coaches and staff initiated the meeting, and even created an agenda. But he made it clear that this meeting was led by the players.
“It was driven by the players,” Hynes said. “We have a lot of veteran guys on the team, guys that have good experiences. Trying to set up an environment where we can have a discussion and it’s not a lot of fluff. It was to the point and I think the players did a really good job in that. You can set those meetings up and participation isn’t what it needs to be. You know, it could be just another meeting.
But guys felt they had something to say and I think collectively as a group, it was the right way to go through it.”
Preds veterans taking responsibility
Obviously, media members who cover the Nashville Predators were not allowed in the room during this meeting. But, after talking to many people who were there, the theme seemed to center around the team’s “big players” and “veteran leaders” not doing their part in games.
In short, the team needs its most impactful players to be impactful every night. Not just occasionally. Not just in stretches. Not just against weaker opponents. But every night.
And, as it happens, one of the most notable developments from the result later that day was the play of those top players. Matt Duchene scored twice, Ryan Johansen had a nice deflection goal from the slot, and Mikael Granlund scored for the first time in 24 games. Plus Roman Josi had three assists and Filip Forsberg finished with a team high seven shots on goal.
The hit from Mattias Ekholm, the carry-in and pass by Alex Carrier, the finish by Matt Duchene. 4-3 Preds pic.twitter.com/9HV5x2pS7v— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) January 22, 2023
Big players, who are making big money, making big plays on the ice. Only hours after claiming responsibility for a bad loss in St. Louis.
“I think the most important lesson coming out of that was that it was backed up with action in the game,” Hynes said on Monday.
“We had the discussion about some things that need to change, some things that certain guys needed to bring to the table,” Hynes said, “and then there were actions to back it up. Particularly the guys that spoke were truthful and they were honest, and they said what needed to be said. And they backed it up. I think that’s what we really want to be able to build off of.”
“A call to battle”
Veteran players taking responsibility, uniting the team in the present moment, and leading the team to victory. An inspiring story, for sure, but this kind of thing has happened before; previous Preds teams have had “players only meetings” during rough patches, to mixed results.
Roman Josi, who was a part of some of those meetings, said this one felt different.
“It was a little different, actually,” Josi said. “I felt like it was very, very honest. Sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable. It was a little uncomfortable. But it was great. It was truthful, it was a really good meeting and very inspiring. Now going forward, that has got to be our standard for how we play.”
Perhaps one of the reasons this meeting felt different was the potential impact it may have on the younger guys in the room. For veteran players to get up in front of a room with a half dozen younger players and rookies, saying “here’s the ways I am letting the team down” (paraphrased; again, media was not present) had to be impactful.
Tommy Novak, who is only 25 years old and has played in only 17 games this year, definitely seemed to notice.
“A lot of guys spoke their heart,” Tommy Novak said of the meeting. “It was really a kind of ‘call to battle’ for all of us. All of the big guys took accountability themselves. And then they came out really hard. They played really hard.”
Novak added that the veteran leaders of the group had a message for the younger guys in the room.
“They said it themselves: they’re here to lead us,” Novak said. “I’m trying to get behind them and take inspiration from them. I really just want to follow their lead and play my heart out. Do the best I can to help the team. Just try to be the best version of myself.”
Moments like that can be galvanizing for young players, especially when hearing honest, truthful statements from players they respect.
I think it’s safe to assume that many players who likely took responsibility at the team meeting are part of the team’s leadership group: Roman Josi, Mikael Granlund, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Mattias Ekholm. But there may have been others, like Matt Duchene, Nino Niedderreiter, or Ryan McDonagh. Those are all veteran players with certain gaps in their game to this point this season.
That’s not a definitive (or even accurate) list of players who spoke at the meeting. Just educated guesses.
But assuming those are some of the names, it sounds like it went over well in the locker room.
The Nashville Predators have underperformed 46 games into the season. With the All-Star break looming, they are three points out of a playoff spot. Time is running out.
John Hynes knows this, and he knows that conversations like this should help direct the locker room towards a common goal sooner rather than later.
“Like in any relationship or team, you have to have some difficult discussions and honest discussions and not sugarcoat things,” Hynes said. “I thought it was very productive. They were prepared, they participated and said some real truthful things. Now we’ve got to build off of it.”
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —