Exit meetings across the National Hockey League each spring are somewhat similar.
One by one, players meet with their respective coaches and general managers to discuss the good and bad of the previous season, what to work on during the summer and what to expect when training camp fires back up in September.
David Poile has participated in these meetings for two decades in Nashville, but in the conversations he and Peter Laviolette had over the past couple of days with Predators players, there was something different, refreshing, eye opening.
The general manager will ultimately have the final say of what his roster looks like on opening night in October, but the Preds made something very clear to those in charge: they want this group together again next season.
“A lot of the players expressed to us in the team meeting that they really believed in our team,” Poile said. “They loved our team, they thought our chemistry, our culture was really good; if I was trying to frame it correctly, I think what they were saying to the general manager and the coach is they didn’t want to see a lot of changes.”
The good news for the players is the general manager and the coach agree with them.
During their season-ending press conference on Monday in Nashville, both Poile and Laviolette expressed their disappointment in the way their postseason run ended, but also a firm belief that this is largely the group that can and will make another push for the Stanley Cup.
Sure, no team ever comes back exactly the same, and there will be some additions and subtractions in the coming months. To start, along with the retirement of Mike Fisher, Poile said the Preds would not be offering forward Scott Hartnell a new contract and he doesn’t expect defenseman Alexei Emelin back in the fold, either.
Minus those exceptions, however, Nashville’s roster is likely to look strikingly similar to the one iced throughout much of the 2017-18 season, a campaign that saw the Preds collect 117 points, as well as their first Central Division title and Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history.
“These guys want to go at it again,” Laviolette said of his team. “They’re going to have to wait the summer, but they don’t feel inferior to anybody. There’s confidence in the room. They’ve said it, I’ve said it, there’s a belief we’re going to win and be successful, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. We’re going to have to work. I don’t know where we’ll finish in the standings, and I don’t know what the playoffs will look like if we play well enough and we get in. But there’s a belief that we can be successful.”
The loss to Winnipeg is still fresh, and those in charge don’t expect the sting to go away anytime soon, but this particular early exit in the postseason didn’t bring about a call for major change. Poile readily admitted that hasn’t always been the case, and because of the sentiment amongst his players, he may think twice if and when something potentially comes up over the summer.
“It was clear as a group when we met in the locker room when a couple players spoke what they felt about our team, so yes, that’s going to be very influential,” Poile said. “I’ve sat here many years saying there’s got to be a lot of changes made, that I’m not happy with my team. This is different. I really think we’re building in the right direction. We’re disappointed and frustrated, but it’s not like we want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Throughout the season and the playoffs, the Predators preached experience (past and present) as a reason for optimism, no matter the situation. The group believed what they’d been through together had prepared them for whatever was next.
While the Preds would certainly rather be lifting the Cup instead of speaking on recent experiences, these recent events provided a new taste of what can happen in the springtime, how important consistency becomes, along with the necessity to capitalize when the opportunities present themselves.
“The losses and the things that don’t go your way in the Final, or this year being eliminated by Winnipeg, certainly they leave marks, they leave scars,” Laviolette said. “I don’t think scars are bad, I think scars can make you tougher, I think they can make you stronger. We’ll move forward, and I think we’re excited to continue to build on the ice and build the organization and build what we have here in Nashville, because it’s pretty special.”
Gone are the days of wondering if the Predators will be able to sell out 10 games in a single season. No longer is there a worry of icing a competitive team year after year. Nashville continues to show it’s a top hockey market when so many doubted it would ever work.
While the Preds are still striving for their ultimate goal, this offseason may be one of the quietest in club history, and that’s not a bad thing. Besides, nobody under the organizational umbrella wants it any other way.
“We’ve really got something going here,” Poile said. “We’re a really good team and we’re really close. Could we have won it this year? Yes. Could we have won it last year? Yes. We just have to remain focused, and if we do truly believe in all the things that we’re saying here, it’s going to happen.
“It’s just a little disappointing right now and we will get over it and we will move on. It’s not happening today, but it’s going to happen. Our players are confident, they’re proud, they’re committed and they want to come back. That doesn’t happen all the time.”