Shortly after posing with a Gold, No. 20 jersey, his last name affixed to the back, John Hynes made his first remarks as head coach of the Nashville Predators.
If first impressions are everything, it wasn't long before the 44-year-old native of Warwick, Rhode Island, won over the room.
Named the third head coach in franchise history on Tuesday morning, Hynes fielded questions from the Nashville media alongside the man who hired him, Preds General Manager David Poile. Less than 24 hours earlier, Poile made the difficult decision to relieve Peter Laviolette and Kevin McCarthy of their coaching duties, two men who guided the Preds to places they had never been before.
The first half of the 2019-20 campaign has only delivered so-so play for a team with much higher expectations. Now, Hynes is tasked with turning things around, delivering a sixth-consecutive playoff berth and proving to all those watching that he's the right man for the job.
"I certainly am very excited to get working with the players on the team," Hynes said. "[Predators management has] put together an excellent hockey team. It's very talented, it's well built, there's a lot of different dimensions and it comes from an extremely successful tradition. That's my job, as the coach and the coaching staff, along with the players, to try to maximize the talent that we have on the team and get ourselves to be an extremely competitive team here the rest of the season."
Previously the head coach of the New Jersey Devils from 2014 until just over a month ago, Hynes comes to Nashville with ringing endorsements from all who have worked with him. An AHL Coach of the Year honoree in 2011 while with Wilkes/Barre Scranton, Hynes has also been in charge of the U.S.A Hockey National Team Development Program, among other stops.
As Poile put it, Hynes is "one of the best, young coaches in the game." He's getting another chance to prove it at the NHL level.
"John Hynes is a great leader," Poile said. "He has a great track record of both effectively developing younger players and successfully motivating veteran players… I feel [he's an] up and coming, very bright coach. We're confident that he is the guy to cultivate a winning culture in our locker room."
Video: Preds introduce John Hynes as head coach
Hynes has 41 games to get the Predators back into a playoff spot, something he and Poile, as well as the players, feel is certainly doable, but it's going to take some work. That's where Hynes comes in, and as he becomes acclimated to his new surroundings, he plans on identifying exactly what needs to be changed on the team.
"There needs to be tweaks on certain things that we'll go through, but I think it needs to be a bit of a slow process," Hynes said. "The most important thing is trying to maximize the players mentally, physically, get them to play at a higher level. Over the course of that time, we'll be able to make some slight adjustments, but the players can't overthink. It's a good group of players, they're very competitive and we've got to get them to play that way."
Nashville's new bench boss says he wants his club to play a fast game with an aggressive forecheck and a shot mentality with five guys involved on the offense. On the defensive side of the puck, Hynes expects sound structure when the Preds are in their own end, a commitment to good habits before going back on the offensive.
Of course, there will be mistakes along the way, but the Poile believes one of his team's greatest issues this season has been consistency, or lack thereof at key times of games. It's up to Hynes to find a way to change it, while getting the most out of his players.
"The reason why we're in the situation we're in is we have to elevate the performance of the team," Hynes said. "To elevate the performance of the team, you have to have strong performances individually… in short order here … It's a clean slate for the players, which is a bonus for them, but every game you play there's an evaluation. From there over the next few days here, [I'll] be able to meet with guys one on one. That way, everyone's on the same page."
Hynes also discussed his philosophy as a coach and finding that balance between hockey and life. At the NHL level, winning games is paramount, but he believes it's imperative to have harmony among different elements that come along with being a professional athlete.
"I really like to communicate, and when it's time to work, you work," Hynes said. "I do believe in being very direct in your message where there's not a lot of gray area and how we're going to play or how we want to do things… Around the game, there has to be a certain level of intensity and focus that you need to have, but in the players' lounge, on the plane, I'm easy to talk to. I do like to socialize, and I've got a life outside of the game. When you talk to players that have played under me, there is an intensity and directness, but there's also a human side. Even the players are humans too, and it can't be hockey nonstop."
The task that lies ahead - not only in the next three months, but in the years to come - is a demanding one, but it comes with the territory. Hynes is up for the challenge, and he can't wait to get started.
Also, it's worth mentioning, he's rather eager to do so in Nashville, Tennessee.
"The Nashville job is special," Hynes said. "The fan base here is unbelievable. When you come in as an opposing team, you really know that it's going to be an energized building. The atmosphere is fantastic, and the fan support for the players and the team and the community is second to none in the NHL. Even as a road team, it's an extremely exciting building to play in. It's a difficult building to play in, so I can only imagine what it's like when you have the whole building on your side. I'm certainly excited for that."