Another season of Predators hockey is about to begin. The summer, which included very little turnover in last year's roster, has been a buildup of anticipation to start the journey to earn another shot at a Stanley Cup run.
With that in mind, here are some insights into the mindset of the Predators through Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette and General Manager David Poile. Each of them joined Preds flagship station, 102.5 The Game, this week on the Darren & Daunic Show as training camp came to a close. These two conversations will get you ready for the opening week in New York City, which begins Thursday at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
Here are some key topics covered:
The Building of a Close-Knit Group: Both GM and coach agree that a strength of the Predators is the chemistry between the players both on and off the ice that has been cultivated over the four years since Laviolette took over. Each spoke about their respective emphases during training camp as they evaluated a group that is virtually the same as last year.
Eeli Tolvanen: Poile and Laviolette each shared some of the conversation they had with the 19-year-old Finnish prospect, Eeli Tolvanen, who was sent to Milwaukee last week. It's always tough to tell a player that he is not ready for the NHL - especially one with the accolades of Tolvanen. But Poile provided the youngster with important perspective: every current Nashville Predators player on the roster spent time in the AHL. Every. Single. One.
There is a lot to be learned from that. The concern from Poile (as is always the case) is that the player actually absorbs the message, because in the moment it's hard for a player's brain to process anything beyond: "we're sending you to Milwaukee."
It can be a shock. Poile recalls telling Kevin Fiala at a similar point in his career that he did not make the team out of training camp, and that Fiala "gave me a look as if I had shot his dog or something." Poile says he likes the belief phenoms have in themselves, and he doesn't mind if they are a little angry that they are being sent down.
He notes that Fiala is a good example of a player who has gone through the growing process and developed each year. No. 22, who has been in the mix ever since Laviolette took over four years ago, but is still only 22 years old, is a good bet to build on his breakout season of 2017-18.
The Goalies: Perhaps the biggest question being asked from the national media when addressing the Predators is: "can a (soon-to-be) 36-year-old goalie coming off a Vezina Trophy winning season lead a team to a Stanley Cup?" There will be much discussion throughout the season on the correct way to deploy the veteran Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros. It is a good problem to have.
In his interview, Laviolette addresses this process as they begin the season. As always, the original plan is subject to change based on what transpires over time. It's noteworthy to listen to the glowing confidence the coach has in Saros as he describes him, and then Laviolette adds, "and over here we also have the Vezina Trophy winner."
During his talk, Poile discusses his communication with Rinne on the future beyond this season (Rinne is entering the final season of a seven-year contract). This was something he had on his priority list coming into training camp. The two have had productive conversations and have agreed there is no urgency to talk about a new contract at this point. However, there is a mutual desire from both parties to have Rinne finish his career as a Predator.
Poile added that it was comforting to hear this, and it can't be taken for granted that it will work out (see: Martin Brodeur). With Saros signed to a new three-year contract, the flexibility is there for a future deal with Rinne. But first things first, it's time to begin focusing on the task at hand - taking another crack at a championship this season.
Enjoy the interviews!