April 12, 2024

Earned culture essential for success, push to make playoffs

The Coaches Room will be a regular feature during the 2023-2024 season with former NHL coaches and assistants turning their critical eye on the game and explaining it through the lens of a teacher.

In this edition, Dean Evason, former coach of the Minnesota Wild and assistant with the Washington Capitals and Wild along with six seasons as head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals in the American Hockey League, writes about the importance of developing an earned culture within the team. and its impact at this time of the season.

Developing an earned culture is essential to success in the NHL. Without it, you’re probably just playing the string at this time of season and not going anywhere. This means you’re either already in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, or you have to push, scratch and claw to get there.

The process of developing it starts in July, at your potential customer’s development camp.

The first thing we’ve done in the past that I want to continue to do as head coach is put up a sign just outside the locker room that says, ‘This is earned, not given.’

The meaning is that if you want to walk through those doors and sit in that booth, you have to earn the right to be here. The right is not just given to you.

So as soon as the development guys come into camp in the summer, we want to point that out to them right away and tell them that you have an incredible opportunity to earn the right to sit in these seats. It’s a temporary thing right now, but you want it to be permanent, so we’ll start talking about that right away.

Then you go to your rookie camp and talk to him again.

As you move forward with your NHL group, when you reach that point, verbally reinforce that this is how it has to be. You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but you also have to stand behind it. What coaches have now, and it’s one of the few things coaches have now, is ice time that they can give or take away from the players.

It’s so hard to make trades in the NHL, so you can’t go in and threaten someone that I’m going to trade you or we’re going to send you down. The players are not stupid. They know what’s going on. They know the cap situation. They all know it.

But what you can put the most emphasis on as a coaching staff is earning your ice time, earning your position, going out and getting it.

I’ve told a lot of guys over the years that if you don’t like your role, work hard to change it. You have to do something to earn the position of playing on the penalty kill, to play in the lineup or to get opportunities to play on the power play. You have to prove that, earn that. It’s not given to you just because you were picked in the first round or because you’re a top free agent. You have to earn that right to be able to work in those positions at our hockey club.

Earned culture changes every year because the dimensions of your group are always changing.

It would be great to always have the same group, but that is not the case in today’s match. It’s not reality.

If you look back at the time I played, there weren’t many trades. You stayed with that team for a longer period of time, but in today’s world guys are constantly on the move.

The trade deadline, free agency, it’s great. It has made the game grow. It has given the players an opportunity to earn a living that no one could have dreamed of when they were playing hockey. But it doesn’t allow you to have the same group year after year, so you have to find a way to resend it to the group the following year.

Every year it is different. Sometimes it happens very quickly that your earned culture takes shape. Sometimes it takes a little time to get through it, but it does weed out the guys who really want it, who are really willing to do what it takes.

Let’s be clear: Most guys will do whatever it takes to play in the National Hockey League, but will you do whatever it takes to win at that hockey club, to help your hockey club win? Will you do what it takes to do that?

Through the eradication process of developing this earned culture, you find that some guys will, and some won’t. The players that will are the players that play more, play on your special teams, all as the season goes on.

The eradication process of developing the earned culture, of creating it, harvesting it, and growing it, is now having the greatest impact on teams as they prepare for the playoffs or fight to get into them.

Your weeding out process finds the guys you want to give the team to, the players who have already gone the extra mile and already been given the opportunity to be in those spots. These are now the boys who will teach, coach and motivate the group to progress as colleagues at this time of year.

You’ve done all your work as a coaching staff developing the culture, instilling the team aspect, the work ethic and how your team plays every night, but now the players believe in it and those who have earned the right to be the leaders need to take the next step.

The regular season grind is coming to an end, and I can’t stress this enough: By now, the players better have adopted that earned culture and are moving forward with it.

I’m not saying the coaches don’t coach this time of year. There’s obviously plenty to do, especially when you get to the playoffs and you narrow it down to one opponent and try to pick out all their weaknesses and use your strengths against them, but those are the X’s and O’s of it.

The players must have already taken ownership of the culture, realizing that they can’t just stick their sticks on the ice and expect to go into the playoffs. They have to keep pushing each other without the coaching staff pushing them. That’s where ultimately the captains and assistant captains, the leadership group, take charge.

When you see it happen, you know there is a winning culture. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll win, but it shows that your group is all pulling in the same direction and gives you a chance to win.

It’s such an exciting time of year to either be in the playoffs and do your best, or push to get to the playoffs. You hope that everyone is healthy enough going into the playoffs to perform at the highest level without worrying or thinking about your culture because it’s already earned.

That’s the impact of developing an earned culture, starting in July at development camp and continuing until now.

You can win with that.

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