The Nashville Predators are set to begin training camp on Monday, setting the table for one of the most crucial hockey seasons in recent history for the franchise.

Following a number of successful seasons under Peter Laviolette, the Predators now enter the 2020-21 season under a slew of challenging conditions. Not only is new head coach John Hynes still trying to establish his system, Hynes and his team are still facing the consequences of a global pandemic and a shortened 56-game NHL season, for which they have very little time to prepare.

Hynes also has several new faces to work with, as well as some that are missing from last year’s disappointing squad. Craig Smith is in Boston, Kyle Turris is in Edmonton, Dan Hamhuis is retired. Onboarding this season are Erik Haula, Nick Cousins, Matt Benning, Mark Borowiecki, and Luke Kunin (and possibly Philip Tomasino later in the season).

Hynes and his team will face only seven different opponents in the upcoming 56-game season. The schedule includes 23 instances of playing the same team twice in a row, including nine back-to-backs.

Also, the Preds will not have one of their biggest weapons on hand to start the season: the Predators announced that they will not allow fans in Bridgestone Arena for at least the month of January (after that, they will update their plans according to the current state of the pandemic in Nashville).

Then there’s the fact that the Preds have not played much hockey recently. As Ryan Ellis pointed out today, the Preds have played exactly four hockey games in five months. Now they have to get back into an expedited regular season mode at the drop of a hat. Expedited, of course, because the team has only 56 games to secure a playoff spot.

“For us,” John Hynes said to the media on Sunday, “it’s really just 56 playoff games.”

Preds with short term focus

When it comes to this particular training camp, Hynes doesn’t see it as all that different from previous years, with the main difference being the time crunch.

“I think the challenge of this camp is just like every other one, I think you have to take the situation that you have and for us it’s really trying to make the most out of every day. Having a short term focus, we talked to our players about that today. Every day is going to matter. We need to make sure that our meetings and our practices are really focused with a high execution level and we need to get up and running quick.”

Hynes also mentioned that he and his staff will have less time to assess players, and thus less wiggle room to allow for players to adjust to the needs of the team. With no preseason games, the team will play two intra-squad scrimmages. Those scrimmages and a busy training schedule will be all players have to prove their value to the team.

“We don’t have a lot of time to let players find their way,” Hynes said on Sunday. “Guys have to be ready to go. We’re gonna come out tomorrow and practice and have certain lines together and play and someone doesn’t look as good or as well as they need to, we might make a change and put someone else in their spot.”

An urgent mindset

Every new season comes with renewed hope and excitement. To John Hynes and the Nashville Predators, this year is no different, just with an added sense of urgency. The quick turn around from training camp to regular season “heightens the accountability and the competitiveness” in the locker room.

“I would say the excitement around the room and in the arena is very high. I think for all of us, players, coaches, management, media, you know I think we’ve all been starved of hockey for the most part for the last five months.”

“You’re starting a new season. It’s about getting your work habits, your structure in place, your accountability in place. What is this year’s team gonna be like? We don’t have any other focus except we tried to have a really good meeting today to kind of set the foundation and mindset.”

Hynes added that the most important thing for the Nashville Predators is to use that excitement the right way, starting with an efficient training camp that leads to a positive start in the regular season.

“We need to make sure that we put 100 percent effort into whatever we’re doing. Preparation, pre-scouting, playing, coaching, whatever it is. We need to make sure we’re taking each game as an individual entity and put everything we have into that.”

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —