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What is discussed in players-only meetings?

Peering inside the Nashville Predators dressing room. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

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Peering inside the Nashville Predators dressing room. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

For a team that had so much buzz around it following the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, Minnesota’s 4-4-1 start to the season wasn’t acceptable. Sport has always been a “what have you done for me lately” business, but with this season being limited to 48 games that cliché rings more true than ever.

So, after the Wild lost their fourth game in regulation of the season, the team decided to hold a players-only meeting.

When it was announced the Wild players were holding this meeting, I had a fan tweet at me and ask about these meetings. I thought it would be a great idea to give you guys a glimpse into what a typical players-only meeting is like.

Generally, players-only meetings would be called by one of the captains or senior leaders on the hockey club. This leader would normally start by colorfully reflecting on the recent loss and likely others that have preceded it. From that point the player would talk about things he felt needed to be changed to stop slide and get the team on track.  

As you might assume these discussions are fully open to constructive and non-constructive criticism. The sole goal of the initial part of this discussion is to be brutally honestly and identify the problems, regardless of who you might offend in the process.  

In my experiences, I rarely saw things cross the line of normal NHL communication, but I've certainly witnessed arguments that would be an HR professional’s nightmare. While this practice may sound like it could fracture a team, I've found the exact opposite to be true. I think by throwing thoughts out in an extremely honest fashion, all parties can come together much quicker than they would by beating around the bush and worrying about hurt feelings.

The first topics to be raised are often echoes of what the coach’s words of advice are, but will move on to other topics not necessarily addressed by the coaching staff. This is where real strides can be made as a team, because no one knows a team better than the players.

When the initial speaker concludes the floor is open to anyone who has an opinion they wish to share about either the team’s shortcomings or suggested solutions to the problems. It’s usually another senior player or two who follows up the initial speaker.

One of my favorite things about these discussions is the fact young players and guys you don't read about in the newspapers every day are free to speak their mind regardless of how many zeros they have in their contract. In meetings like this there is only one thing that matters: winning.

So now you might ask “what kind of meeting is my favorite club going to have?” To answer this it's easiest to divide the league into three tiers. The top one-third of teams have Stanley Cup expectations – your Bostons, Vancouvers and Pittsburghs. The middle third are teams that are expected to make the playoffs, but will have to overachieve to reach the top echelon. The bottom third of teams know they're going to have to scratch and claw all season to have any hope of making the playoffs. These are the teams who are, for the most part, considered to be rebuilding.

The upper echelon teams usually have extremely strong leadership - the following gives you an idea about the themes they may be talking about:

• “We have incredible opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. You may go your entire career and not have a better opportunity than this season. We need to pick it up and make sure we seize this chance.”

•  We've had a tough stretch, but we need to get back on track. We know we are a good team, but we need to play like it.”

• “Guys, we were put together with the idea of winning a Stanley Cup. If we don't start getting it done they’re going to find others who will.

• “The season hasn't started quite how we would have liked, but there is still enough time to make up ground. We need to act now because if we wait much longer the playoffs or home-ice advantage could slip out of reach.”

When a middle-of-the-pack team (ones who make the playoffs off-and-on) calls a players-only meeting, it's a good bet that one of these topics will be discussed.

• “Guys, we have a great opportunity here to make the playoffs and make some waves. All we have to do is get in and then anything could happen.”

• If things are starting the slip: “Guys, we need to circle the wagons and fight through this adversity.”

• Something about discipline could be discussed. These middle teams often rely on the power play to get them in the playoffs, so if they start taking more penalties than receive power plays they can quickly turn into a lottery pick team.

Finally, what the bottom rung of teams may talk about:

• If things are going really bad: “Guys, we have to pick this up or I can promise you we are all either going to get sent to the minors or traded.”

• If things are going better than expected: “Guys, realistically I know not many of us thought we would have an opportunity to make the playoffs this season, but we do and we just need to continue to pick up points. Don’t let this one loss bump us off track.”

• Discipline could also be discussed in these rooms, revolving around the fact they are simply not good enough to keep giving opponents opportunities on the power play.

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Follow Ben Clymer on Twitter at ben_clymer.

Clymer was originally drafted in the second round, 27th overall, by the Boston Bruins in 1997. He played 438 games in the NHL over seven seasons with Tampa Bay and Washington, scoring 52 goals and 129 points. After playing for the American League’s Hershey Bears in 2007-08, Clymer joined Dynamo Minsk of the KHL. Read his other THN.com Insider Blogs HERE.

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