One advantage Nashville Predators GM David Poile had in selecting the second head coach in franchise history were his USA Hockey connections. High-profile candidates knew him and worked with him, and vice versa.
On Tuesday, one of them signed on to replace Barry Trotz: Former Stanley Cup winner and Team USA coach Peter Laviolette.
“Having reached the peak as a Stanley Cup Champion, Peter knows the intensity and urgency it will take to help our team reach its ultimate goal,” Poile said in a statement. “He is a great hockey mind who not only has a winning resume, but has done it with an aggressive offensive philosophy while also excelling in helping young players reach their potential. We look forward to Peter instilling his culture in Nashville immediately following his duties coaching the United States at the 2014 World Championship.”
“I love the nucleus of this team, starting on the back end with two of the best players at their positions in defenseman Shea Weber and goaltender Pekka Rinne, in addition to a solid group of dependable veterans and talented, rising young talent,” Laviolette said in a statement. “My challenge will be to impart a system that enables our young forwards to thrive and reach their offensive potential. Being a perennial Stanley Cup contender requires buy-in, passion and commitment from every player on the roster. I can’t wait to get to Nashville and get started on our journey.”
Huh, didn’t know Laviolette held Shea Weber in such high regard … OH RIGHT, THAT HAPPENED.
You’ll notice something immediately in reading these canned quotes, which is an emphasis on offensive. In total, offense is mentioned four times in the team’s press release, and there’s an entire section dedicated to his scoring résumé:
Laviolette’s offensive-minded philosophy is evidenced by his teams’ goals for rankings through the years – six times in eight full seasons his teams have finished in the Top 10 in the category, with three of those being top-three results. When coaching a team for a full season, Laviolette’s squad has never finished lower than 13th in goals for. That doesn’t include his two midseason takeovers where the Hurricanes improved their goals for average from 1.87 to 2.23 when he moved behind the bench in 2003-04, and when the Flyers finished eighth in goals for in 2009-10.
This is, of course, is a direct fallout from the criticism Trotz faced for his team’s moribund offense. After finishing eighth in the NHL at 2.83 goals per game in 2011-12, the Preds were tied for last in 2013 (2.27) and then 19th this season (2.61). Basically, Laviolette's hiring is a giant neon sign about the arena flashing "GOALS ARE HERE."
The question is: Who will score these goals that Laviolette’s teams produce?
Welp, there’s another section that notes that “multiple young, developing players – who have gone on to become dependable NHL players and in some cases superstars – were cultivated under Laviolette’s watch.” It mentions Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, Scott Hartnell, Eric Staal, Justin Williams and even current Pred Matt Cullen, who “posted his two best point totals of his 1,150-game NHL career under Laviolette.”
You’re next, Filip Forsberg!
This is a brilliant hire for Poile. A market like Nashville isn’t always expected to land the big fish – frankly, Phil Housley, an assistant under Trotz, seemed like the likely next hire – and Laviolette is a whale shark. Several teams need new coaches; some others have jobs that could become available. The notion that Laviolette could take over a team a tad closer to the Cup than Nashville, or that a franchise that would have doubled his money, isn't that outlandish.
But high expectations lead to short self lives, while low ones lead to longevity. This is the fourth coaching job for Laviolette. A missed postseason and a three-game losing streak to start the season ended his tenure with the Flyers. Can you imagine if Barry Trotz had been held to the same standard? Chances are he’s not lasting 1,196 games.
Laviolette enters a situation where the bar is set at “making the playoffs.” He figures with a healthy Pekka Rinne and about $23 million under the cap this summer, that can happen, or at least the Predators can come close.
It’s not Toronto or Washington where expectations are indefensibly lofty; it’s more akin to Raleigh, where he thrived under lessened pressures.
And, eventually, captured the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.