As I settled in and placed a recorder on the table, I started to offer an option. Our preseason chat could be on the record, or perhaps off it, depending on how it went.
Seated across from me, Barry Trotz interrupted with a grin.
“Everything is on the record,” he said. “We’ll just talk.”
That, in a sense, said more about the Nashville Predators’ new general manager than anything was about to tell me. It's unique. Most sports GMs are cagey and careful in public settings. They'll talk without saying much, at least while the recorder happens to be on and you'll hear them, too.
Trotz isn’t like that. The old coach, as ever, is unafraid to be himself – and to be real as a GM. When he “just talks,” he’s refreshingly transparent in a way that reflects total confidence in his plan for the Predators, a vision that was launched in recent months with the subtlety of a check into the boards.
Look at all that has happened in 2023 already to Predators. Core players – some big names with big reputations – were sent packing, either via trade or in the case of high-priced forward Matt Duchene, a buyout to pay to get rid of him. Trotz fired coach John Hynes weeks after the season and replaced him with Andrew Brunette. He made a ton of draft picks. He added some free agents. He tweaked things behind the scenes, he said, in scouting and facilities.
“I changed a lot of things,” Trotz said. “I created a lot of adversity, if you will, or angst. … I could feel it.”
All this turnover might have been routine for other franchises, but not this one. The Predators simply weren’t accustomed to uncertainty. Trotz’s retired predecessor David Poile was the lone GM they’d known. Trotz himself was hired as the Predators' first coach before the 1998-99 season and stayed in the job until 2014.
If anyone, Trotz understood that about this place. He just didn't care. Or rather, he just wasn’t going to let that stop him as a GM. He knew what he wanted to do, and as such, "I knew that there’s certain things that have to change."
That’s what made him an ideal choice to replace Poile. The Predators had grown stale.
Wasn’t all at once. It has been a slow deterioration since the 2017 run to the Stanley Cup Final and a Presidents’ Trophy the following season. Along the way, a decline was increasingly evident on the ice, but within the organization, a reluctance to make sweeping change began to be perceived as a passive denial about what was happening – or what needed to happen – with a core group that failed to win a playoff series the past five seasons.
If you could personify Predators fans’ grumbles and cries for change in recent years, that person would be Trotz. Someone who has been willing to, in his words, “pull the Band-Aid off.”
Those who’ve wished for all this, they’ve gotten it.
And those who didn't, well ... get in, anyway, loser. They're goin' winning.
“It’s OK to be uncomfortable,” Trotz said. “I think you can’t grow unless you’re uncomfortable a little bit. … The standard is high. We want to be elite. That’s where the fun is."
‘The ceiling is really high’
The fun part? Nah, not quite yet. This is about to be the difficult part. The part of the movie that gets presented in montage form to save time. The Predators won't get to speed through it like that. They'll feel every setback and growing pain, and so will their fans.
We don't know for sure yet what to expect from a makeshift roster featuring quite a few young, unproven players and a brand-new coach, but we kind of do. This season will require patience. It really might take forever.
As for that coach, Brunette has work ahead of him. He accepted a tough job. He must combine different ingredients quickly into some cohesive blend on the ice. He’ll need a lot of buy-in from players of all ages and points in their careers. He has arrived promising a clean slate and expressing positivity. Both should be useful to him.
“I think the ceiling is really high for a lot of our guys,” Brunette said. “That’s my belief. … I don’t want to cap anybody off. I want to see what I have.”
After the end of last season, I’m interested to see what Brunette has in his young players, too.
Evidently, so are some of the returning veterans.
And that’s why Trotz – without naming names – optimistically recounts an anecdote from this past offseason.
“I had opportunities to add a couple of people,” Trotz said. “Good people, that are productive in the minds of hockey people. They were good players, productive players. And that group (of returning Predators leaders) said, ‘You know what, we want to go with the kids,’ which is a great statement from that group. …
“They felt that they were going to get to the promised land that way (and not) the way that they were going. That, to me, is the best statement that you can get as a general manager, when your core is telling you that.”
So how about this season?
Trotz didn’t tear this roster to its foundation. Some studs are indeed still there – we’ve mentioned Josi, Forsberg and Saros – to go along with some promising youngsters (Cody Glass, Luke Evangelista and Tommy Novak) and free-agent veterans that Trotz sought and signed.
It was more telling, though, which players Trotz really didn't want back. Here’s how much he wanted to jettison Duchene and Ryan Johansen: The Predators are still paying part of their $8 million salaries while watching the forwards suit up for other NHL teams. These moves, questionable on paper, were symbolic. They were aimed at the team’s culture, addition by subtraction, so to speak.
“It was all about doing what’s best for the young guys, the core, the future, the direction,” Trotz said.
Trotz was looking for depth pieces and “serial winners,” he said, to help ease this transition and assure that he wasn’t just throwing his young players to the NHL’s wolves.
I asked him how he'd define success this season.
“I’ve looked at it both ways: I think we could be sneaky good, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we struggled, too,” Trotz said. “It wouldn’t surprise me, because I made a lot of changes. … Sometimes that change just takes some time. I’m not even going to judge our team, really, in probably the first – the first 10 games, they’re just trying to come together.
“As the season (goes), are we getting better? That’s going to be success to me.”
Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on the X platform (formerly known as Twitter) @Gentry_Estes.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Barry Trotz has already shaken up the Nashville Predators. So buckle up