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Allen: Getting to Know Preds Head Coach John Hynes

Kevin Allen Writes Coach is Willing to be Unconventional to Win, Also Understands Off-Ice Side

by Kevin Allen @ByKevinAllen /

John Hynes leaves no path unexplored when it comes to winning, even to the point that he once asked a Canadian icon to give an inspirational speech to his U.S. National Team before the Bronze Medal Game at the 2008 Under-18 World Championship.

"He brought Ray Bourque into the locker room to speak about how in 1998 the Canadians had a chance to win a bronze at the Olympics and didn't do it," USA Hockey's Scott Monaghan said. "Ray told the boys it was the biggest regret of his career."

Historically, the Americans had found rising up to play in Bronze Medal Games challenging, but they played inspired hockey and won that game. Bourque's son Ryan was on the American roster.

The story illustrates the innovation and passion that Hynes commands and explains why he was out of work 35 days between the time he was fired by the New Jersey Devils and hired to be the Predators' coach on Jan. 7.

"When we had him here he was a very cutting-edge, young coach with new ideas," said Monaghan, USA Hockey's senior director of the National Team Development Program.

Monaghan gave Hynes his first head coaching job when he hired him for the NTDP in 2003; Hynes was an assistant at the University of Wisconsin at the time, but had previously been a graduate assistant at the NTDP.

"What I saw then and what I've seen since he left is that he's constantly looking for new ideas," Monaghan said. "He is always looking for a way to do things differently, to give his guys an edge in the game."

Video: Preds introduce John Hynes as head coach

Predators General Manager David Poile's hiring of Hynes was a logical choice, given that Poile knows Hynes from the U.S. Program. Poile didn't have to guess what kind of person or coach Hynes was. He knew. It was also a logical choice because Hynes's detail-oriented style may precisely be what the Predators need to improve the team's 27th-ranked goals-against average.

"He looks like he has a lot of structure to the way he manages a bench," said NBC analyst Keith Jones, a former NHL player. "He seems like an organized coach."

The season before Hynes took over the Devils in 2015-16, they were 14th in the NHL in goals-against average. In his first season as New Jersey's coach, the Devils ranked eighth.

"One of his real strengths is an ability to take a team that is underachieving and help them," said Providence College Head Coach Ron Rolston, who worked with Hynes at the NTDP.

Massachusetts native Hynes is a former New England Patriots fan - and newly minted Tennessee Titans fan as of Monday - and friends see a hint of Bill Belichick in his style.

Video: John Hynes hired as Predators' new Head Coach

"Discipline and structure," Rolston said. "The guys know what they are going to get. With that Nashville foundation, he will put in a good structure, and players will know how he wants them to play. He will get consistency, and I think that's what Belichick brings. It's a standard that every day you know how you are supposed to act and how you should perform. John is bringing that to the table in Nashville."

Historically, mid-season coaching changes have considerable impact because everyone embraces the idea of a fresh start. With a new person in charge, players see it as a chance to earn more playing time. Everyone pushes themselves harder.

The most profound impact often comes on defense because it's easier to tighten a defensive structure than it is to transform a 20-goal scorer into a 30-goal scorer. 

"I do believe a new head coach can make his mark by making his team defend harder, and that means blocking shots and winning one-on-one puck battles much like Craig Berube did last year with the St. Louis Blues," Jones said. "He can also instill the idea that hard work will be rewarded with greater opportunity."

The Blues were last in the NHL in January and won the 2019 Stanley Cup. Hynes is taking over a team that is only five points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. He inherits a team that ranks sixth in the NHL with a 3.44 goals-per-game average. The mission in Nashville isn't to reinvent the wheel. Hynes's job is simply to elevate the team's performance level to where it should be.

At 44, Hynes has already coached more than 700 games at the professional level. His teams have usually been challenging to play against.

"John will do a really good job," Rolston said. "He works at his craft. He has a presence about him. There is a good foundation for him to work with in Nashville. Pekka Rinne has traditionally been very good and the D corps has been among the best in the League. He will just bring some structure to their game."

Hynes comes across as "all business," which is both accurate and misleading. His work ethic measures up to any in the game. But he has a fun side.

"It may seem pretty stoic, but away from the rink, and around other coaches, he has a good sense of humor. He is a likeable guy, someone you want to be around," Rolston said. "When you are a coach, you have to have a stoic personality that you can build a winning culture around, but he can joke around with players and have a lightness about him."

Mostly, Hynes will do whatever he needs to do to bolster the confidence of the Predators' players. Jones believes Hynes is already doing that with Rinne, who has struggled at times this season. Hynes played him back-to-back in his first two games behind Nashville's bench.

The message we take from that is Hynes believes Rinne can be as dominant as he has been in the past.

Jones points out that the key factor to the Blues' turnaround last season was Berube's defensive structure and elite-level goaltending from Jordan Binnington.

Video: NSH@CHI: Rinne launches home first NHL goal

Hynes should upgrade the team's defensive structure. "And the Predators have had Binnington-type goaltending in the past from Rinne," Jones said.

Rinne's confidence should receive a lift from becoming the first NHL goalie since 2013 to score a goal on Wednesday night.

"The goal he scored might have a huge impact on all that he does," Jones said. "It might be the turning point to getting back and playing a confident game, as crazy as that seems."

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