On Jan. 21, Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette won his 600th regular-season game in the National Hockey League. It was also his 211th victory in his 379th game as head coach of the Predators. In a league that has been, and remains, filled with quality head coaches, one might think that winning 600 regular season games is common. That thought would be incorrect.
Reaching the 600-win mark puts Laviolette rare company. With the victory, he became the 20th coach in league history to win that many games, and only six current coaches, not including Joel Quenneville, have won that many games. It’s an achievement that will certainly see Laviolette enshrined in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame and potentially the Hockey Hall of Fame located in Toronto. So how did he get to this point in his career?
Before He Became an NHL Head Coach
Laviolette was born in Massachusetts and was a defenseman prior to moving behind the bench. He played junior hockey in Massachusetts, including a four-year career at Westfield State College. He played 93 college hockey games and accumulated 43 goals and 87 points. Afterwards, despite going undrafted, he had a 10-year professional career largely spent in the minors as he bounced between the International Hockey League (IHL) and American Hockey League (AHL).
In the IHL, he played with four teams – the Indianapolis Checkers, Colorado/Denver Rangers, Flint Spirits and San Diego Gulls. He finished his career in that league with 227 games played, 27 goals and 93 points. He played for two AHL teams, the Binghamton Rangers and Providence Bruins and finished with 367 games played, 51 goals and 175 points. Laviolette reached the NHL with the New York Rangers during the 1988-89 season and finished his NHL career with 12 games and no points.
He also represented the United States at two Winter Olympics, the 1988 Calgary Games and the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway. In total, he played 13 games with one goal and two assists. The 1988 team in particular had many notable names on it, including Tony Granato, Jim Johanson, Brian Leetch, Kevin Stevens and Mike Richter.
Following the 1996-97 season, when he was with the AHL Bruins, Laviolette retired from playing. The following season he became the head coach of the East Coast Hockey League’s Wheeling Nailers. He stayed there for one season and coached them to a 37-24-9 record and won two postseason rounds. After the 1997-98 season, he left to take the head coach position with the AHL Bruins, the last team he played for.
He had immediate success during the 1998-99 season as the Bruins finished with a 56-14-4 record and won the Calder Cup along the way. Laviolette was named AHL Coach of the Year as well. He was promoted to assistant coach of the Boston Bruins under Pat Burns during the 1999-00 season. Burns was fired eight games into the 2000-01 season, and although Laviolette should have been in line for the position, Mike Keenan was given the job. Laviolette stayed in Boston through season’s end, at which point he was named head coach of the New York Islanders.
NHL Head Coaching Career
Throughout his career, Laviolette has been the head coach of four teams with great success. He’s won a Stanley Cup, won two more conference championships and has compiled a lot of wins. But it all started during the 2001-02 season when the Islanders gave him his first shot.
Islanders Offer Him First Opportunity
In the seasons leading up to hiring Laviolette, the Islanders missed the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons. The season before they hired him, the team was coached by Butch Goring and Lorne Henning and won 21 games en route to a fifth-place finish in the Atlantic Division. Miraculously, a 37-year-old Laviolette turned the team around almost immediately.
They won 42 games his first season at the helm and finished with 96 points and were second in the division, and thus qualified for the postseason. During the regular season, Alexei Yashin led them with 32 goals and 75 points in 78 games while Chris Osgood and Garth Snow split duties in net. They never lost more than three games in a row. They were ousted in seven games by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs.
In 2002-03, Laviolette again took the Islanders to the postseason despite a mediocre regular season with 35 wins, 83 points and a third-place finish in the division. Yashin once again led the team in scoring, while Osgood, Snow and Rick DiPietro were the netminders. The team lost to the Ottawa Senators in five games in the first round. At season’s end, GM Mike Milbury let Laviolette go, citing that the team “came up short:”
“More importantly, the measuring sticks by which I hold the team and the coach accountable — conditioning, discipline and motivation — in the end, by the team’s own admission and by the coach’s admission, they came up short,” Milbury said. ”We were not an inspired group in the end.” (from ‘Islanders Dismiss Laviolette” – New York Times – 6/4/03)
Ironically, three years later, Milbury was out as general manager and the team has had five postseason appearances and eight head coaches in the 15 seasons since Laviolette’s dismissal.
Related: Alexei Yashin Trade Revisited
In his two seasons on Long Island, Laviolette coached the Islanders to a 77-62-19-6 (W-L-T-OTL) record. He also coached them in 12 postseason games with a 4-8 record. After he was fired, he didn’t have a job to start the 2003-04 season, but that all changed when the Carolina Hurricanes called.
Winning a Stanley Cup in Carolina
Current Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice was Carolina’s head coach to start the 2003-04 season and had been for the previous seven seasons. However, 30 games into the campaign, and with an 8-12-8-2 record, the Hurricanes made the switch. Laviolette led them to a 20-22-6-4 record the rest of the season and they missed the playoffs. The following season was the lockout year and no hockey was played, but the team came back for the 2005-06 season with something to prove.
They finished with a 52-22-8 record, 112 points and won the Southeast Division. They never lost more than three games in a row and had five winning streaks of at least five games, including two nine-game streaks. Of course, that was the season the Hurricanes won the first (and only) Stanley Cup in franchise history, defeating the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers along the way in the first championship of the salary cap era.
Laviolette became the fourth American-born head coach in history to hoist the Stanley Cup. He also finished second to Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff in Jack Adams Award voting by a 155-154 margin. It’s easy to forget how good that Hurricanes team was with Eric Staal, Justin Williams, Rod Brind’Amour, Erik Cole, Ray Whitney, Matt Cullen, Cam Ward, Mark Recchi and Andrew Ladd on it.
Laviolette lasted two more full seasons in Carolina and never got the Hurricanes back to the playoffs. On Dec. 3, 2008, he was fired after 25 games and a 12-11-2 record. He was replaced by Maurice, who got the team to the 2009 Playoffs, which remains their most-recent playoff appearance. In total, Laviolette coached the Hurricanes for three full seasons and parts of two more. He led them to a 167-122-6-28 record in 323 regular season games and a 16-9 record in 25 playoff games.
A Second Stanley Cup Final Appearance with the Flyers
Almost exactly one year after the Hurricanes fired him, Laviolette was hired by the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 4, 2009. He replaced John Stevens in the role after 25 games and a 13-11-1 record. In that first season, Laviolette took the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final after a 28-24-5 record and a third-place finish in the Atlantic Division.
In the conference semifinals, the Flyers famously clawed back from a 3-0 deficit to the Bruins. In doing so, they became the third team in NHL history to win a series after dropping the first three games. Ultimately, they lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final. That team, like Laviolette’s 2005-06 Hurricanes, was a memorable one with Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Chris Pronger, Daniel Brière and Claude Giroux on it.
Laviolette coached the Flyers for three more full seasons with two more postseason appearances. However, after a lackluster effort during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and an 0-3-0 start to the 2013-14 season, the Flyers fired him on Oct. 7, 2013 and replaced him with Craig Berube, current interim head coach of the St. Louis Blues.
Laviolette coached the Flyers for 272 regular season games and a 145-98-29 record. In 45 postseason games, they went 23-22.
Current Success in Nashville
Laviolette sat out the remainder of the 2013-14 season and the Predators hired him on May 6, 2014 after they parted with Barry Trotz, the only head coach in franchise history. Laviolette is currently in his fifth season with the Predators and has led them to the playoffs every season and they are on their way to reaching them again in 2018-19.
During the 2016-17 season, he led the Predators to the Stanley Cup Final and became the fourth coach in league history to lead three different teams to the Final. When asked what that distinction meant, he responded, “Probably means I got fired a lot.” (from ‘Predators Coach Peter Laviolette Joins an Elite Group” – Los Angeles Times – 5/22/17). Although the Predators lost that series in six games, it was the furthest the team had advanced in the postseason.
They followed that season up with an even-better campaign in 2017-18 when they set multiple franchise records, including most wins (53) and points (117) en route to winning the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy. However, that season ended in disappointment as the Predators were defeated in seven games by the Jets in the second round.
Following up the stability that Trotz’s 15 seasons behind the bench brought the franchise, Laviolette has only continued that run. In 379 games, the Predators have a 211-117-51 record, and in 55 playoff games, a 30-25 record. He recorded his 200th win with the Predators on Dec. 3, 2018 against the Sabres to give him that many wins with a team for the first time in his career.
How Far Can He Climb on the All-Time Wins List?
Laviolette is already the second-winningest American-born coach in league history after John Tortorella’s 603 wins and is 20th all-time. He became the third coach this season to reach the 600-win mark after Claude Julien and Tortorella, and has the opportunity climb quite high on the leaderboard.
If the Predators continue winning 57 percent of games this season as they have to this point, they will win 17 of their remaining 31 games. That would allow Laviolette to pass Jacques Martin and tie Jacques Lemaire for 19th all-time. If he keeps coaching quality teams that win at least 40 games per season, it’s easy to foresee him getting into the top-10 in wins. Keep in mind, he is only 54 years old with the potential for a lot of hockey in front of him.
But, back to the present, where Laviolette has the Predators in second place in the Central Division and firmly in a playoff position. He has already pushed the Predators to levels that Trotz couldn’t and will look to continue pushing those limits. And, if he can get them to the ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup, he’ll become the fourth coach in history to win a Stanley Cup with two franchises. It would be an honor that would cement his future enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame and his name among the best head coaches in league history.
My name is Kyle, and although I’m from Pennsylvania and grew up a Penguins fan, I cover the Predators here at The Hockey Writers. And while I would consider myself a Predators fan, I really enjoy watching all hockey and try to always take an objective approach to things. In addition to covering the Preds, I write hockey history and some statistical analysis pieces as well as book reviews.