There was time for change following the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. After missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season, Nashville Predators’ general manager David Poile decided to end the 15-year head coaching tenure with Barry Trotz. Poile looked outside the organization and find a guy that would completely flip the idea of the Predators’ style of play. Peter Laviolette is that guy.
“Early on as a coach, I wanted to play fast and I wanted to play with the puck,” said new head coach Laviolette. “And I didn’t want to do in a reckless manner. At the end of the night, you want [the opponent] to say, ‘man it was difficult to score against that team, man it was difficult to get the puck back from that team, and they got a ton of chances in the offensive end.’ I think championships have been won doing it all types of ways.
“My style early on was that I decided to play with the puck and rather play somewhere else other than my own end. However we can pressure that, up the ice, or pressure through the neutral zone, get the puck out of our zone and play it down there. It has been a style I’m accustomed to and I’m looking forward to bringing here to Nashville.”
Poile was attracted to Laviolette because of his winning attitude. Despite playing and coaching at elite levels, Laviolette’s biggest coaching influence came at the high school level from his coach Tim Taylor.
“I learned a lot from my high school coach. He was a fierce competitor. I learned to never accept losing from my high school coach.”
Another thing that was attractive about Laviolette was his different approach to the game. With the assets Laviolette has at his dispense, defense will not be a priority of his. Laviolette’s number one job will be to enhance the offense into another gear.
“Of all the coaches I’ve worked with before, you spent a lot of time in practice working on the defensive side of the game, defensive zone coverage; things that you have to do to have success as a team,” said new assistant head coach Kevin McCarthy. “But he was the first coach that actually worked on the offensive game, having an offensive scheme. It was almost like defensive zone coverage in reverse. When you have the puck, what’re you going to do with it? All of a sudden, players knew from practicing over and over again that there was an offensive scheme and a defensive scheme. I thought that was very interesting and also very successful for us.”
McCarthy was added onto the Nashville coaching staff with Laviolette. They came together during the 2003-04 season when Laviolette was hired as the head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, retaining McCarthy as assistant coach. They later went on to win a Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Hurricanes with current Predator Matt Cullen on the roster.
“One of the first things I learned about Lavy was his passion,” said McCarthy. “The work habits, planning all the things you need to do to have success as a team was never anything that wasn’t thought about. One thing I was very impressed with was the way Lavy coached the game, how he approached the players, [and] his communication skills. He valued my opinion. He asked for my opinion. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for. I was very fortunate to stay on and experience that.”
With McCarthy, Nashville will have three assistant coaches, which means roles could change for assistants Phil Housley and Lane Lambert.
“This is my first time being in Nashville and I’m getting to meet a whole bunch of new people including the staff of the Nashville organization. I think as we move through the week here and into the month of June through meeting with the coaches, we’ll have a much better time frame to sit down with everyone. I need sit down and spend some time with Phil, Lane, Mitch and Kevin and we’ll sort through all that in time. The roles will come clear as the summer moves forward.”
Pressed For Time?
Laviolette has less than a month to get together with everyone prior to the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia. Nashville currently holds an important 11th overall pick, but they have limited time to discuss the plans for this summer. However, Laviolette does not feel that way.
“From a timeframe point of view, I don’t feel we are that under the gun or behind the 8-ball because I went to the World Championships. I’m going to pull something positive from that. I got to work with Lawrence Feloney, Predators’ video coach, and Phil Housley; and watch him run meetings and a power play. All positives for the organization.
Moving forward, there is still lots of time still to reach out to players, evaluate players, talk to players. There is teams in the NHL who have yet to name a GM or a head coach. So I think we are in real good shape here. I think the timing is excellent. And just because you have time doesn’t guarantee success either. The year I came into Philadelphia in December, we went to the Stanley Cup Finals and there was no time for preparation. I don’t know if time guarantees success and if it did, I think we are great shape. We have a whole summer and lots of opportunities to look at the organization and get everything in place before training camp.
“I’ve [already] reached out and talked to some of the guys. I’ve been picking off the players, reaching out and touching base. I talked to Mike Fisher a couple days ago. I’m working my way through it.”
Laviolette Works With Preds At World Championships
Call it a blessing that Laviolette was able to go to the World Championships for an entire month. While he could be settling with his family in a new city, he was out in Minsk getting feel for the upcoming season. Laviolette was able to connect with most of the core players on the Predators, including coaches. On Team USA, Housley was an assistant to Laviolette and Lawrence Feloney was the video coach, while Seth Jones and Craig Smith performed on the ice.
“Getting the opportunity to work with Phil Housley and Lawrence Feloney was terrific. They’re terrific coaches. I got to see first hand what they’re able bring to a team; what they’re able to bring to a coaching staff. I watched and learned from Phil from the way he runs his meetings and runs his power play units in the manner that he does it is so effective.
“There is nothing on the ice that you don’t like [from Smith]. He plays with the game with a tenacious attack to it. He constantly wants the pucks; he works for the puck. He wants to be an effective offensive player. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Smith excited Laviolette, but not as much as Jones did. Jones was awarded best defenseman of the tournament with 2 goals, 9 assists in 8 games.
“The kid deserved it. He was great. To be able to be a part of his future and watch him grown and develop into the type of player he is going to be is going to be special for all of us. I can already tell you that his game has already taken another step, just watching [him handle] the responsibilities that we put on him at the World Championships. He was playing 25 to-27 to-29 minutes per night and playing them very effectively for the United States. His game is already evolving and is going to continue to evolve.”
Pekka Rinne and the Finnish national team stayed in the same hotel as the Americans, giving the opportunity for Laviolette and the netminder to chat.
“I know he is coming off of a tough year. It was difficult to spend a lot of time with a lot of the players throughout the tournament because it was seperated into two pieces. Our side had the Finnish team and they were actually at our hotel. I got a lot of time to spend with Pekka. He is feeling good and looking really sharp. So those are all positives for our team moving forward into next year.”
Oh Captain, My Captain
In the summer of 2012, restricted free agent defenseman Shea Weber signed a massive 14-year, $110 million offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers that would have the penny-pinching Predators hands’ tied. However, Poile bit the bullet and matched the offer sheet, keeping the captain long-term. Laviolette was Philadelphia’s head coach at the time and would have been ecstatic to coach an elite defender like Weber. Now, he has the the chance in Nashville.
“To get the opportunity to work with a defenseman like Shea is exciting for me. I’m really looking forward to that. You’re talking about an elite defenseman in the NHL.”
The Big Question
When the microphone became open to fans to ask questions for the new coach, a young boy named Zach asked the question that was pondering the minds of all Predators fans — Can you bring the Stanley Cup to Nashville?
“I would feel good if this team, these players, this staff, this organization, this fan base, and the city of Nashville built something that was so special that at the end of the day, you look back at it and [say], ‘that was one of the greatest things ever done.’ And along the way, when people start to believe in that, people start to say, ‘this is something special.’ If that happens, then we will go down the road that you want to go down — and I, certainly as a coach, would like to go down.”
Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.