Philadelphia Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette looks on in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game with the Detroit Red Wings, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
PHILADELPHIA - Peter Laviolette led the Flyers within two wins of a Stanley Cup championship. Philadelphia is willing to give their coach a few more years to finish the job.
Laviolette and the Flyers agreed Wednesday to a two-year contract extension that will take him through the 2014-15 season.
Philadelphia has the third-most wins in the Eastern Conference (122), behind only Pittsburgh and Washington (127 each) since Laviolette was hired to take over for John Stevens in December 2009. The Flyers needed a shootout victory in the final game of the 2010 season to make the playoffs. Once in, though, they stormed through a surprising run to the Cup finals as a No. 7 seed.
Eventually, they lost in six games to Chicago.
While the roster remains a work in progress—Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren continues to reshape it with trades of one-time anchors like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and James van Riemsdyk—the stand behind the players, where the coach roams, is more than solid. Holmgren has remained a staunch supporter of Laviolette, even as the team has been bounced the last two seasons in Round 2.
"I was really excited to come to a market like Philadelphia, and an organization like this with the history, the ownership, and working for Paul," Laviolette said. "I'm as excited today as I was back then about being able to move forward. There's a great group of players here and to come back and be able to continue to work here is where I want to be."
Laviolette has compiled a 122-73-26 record since taking over Stevens. In 2010, the Flyers defeated the Devils, Bruins and Canadiens to reach the Finals. And in that second-round win over Boston, they even overcame an 0-3 series deficit.
Regular seasons have not been a problem of late, either. The Flyers collected 47 wins in each of the last two years, but were knocked out in the East semifinals by Boston and New Jersey, respectively. They won only one game total in those two eliminations.
Regardless, Holmgren said Laviolette has done "a terrific job" to earn the extension.
"There was never a question that this wasn't going to get done," Holmgren said. "I am very happy to have it done. Peter is a tremendous coach in our league and he has done a tremendous job for the Flyers. I know that is going to continue.
"He is a good man and very deserving of this."
Laviolette, who also coached the Islanders for two seasons, was 167-130-30 in his four-plus seasons with Carolina. The Hurricanes fired him in December 2008 after he missed the playoffs two straight seasons after winning the Stanley Cup.
The Flyers haven't won a Cup since winning back-to-back crowns in 1974 and 1975.
"I think it is going to be an exciting time to be building it back up from where we left off and adding the new players to the mix," Laviolette said. "I feel good about the players that we have under contract and moving forward."
The Flyers, indeed, will have new players in the mix, if for no other reason, they had a rash of defections. Forward Jaromir Jagr signed with Dallas. Defenceman Matt Carle signed with Tampa Bay. And van Riemsdyk was traded to Toronto. Holmgren took one big swing and a miss, signing Nashville defenceman Shea Weber to an offer sheet last month. But the Predators matched the offer for the restricted free agent.
The Flyers did re-sign forward Jakub Voracek last week, and the deal with the Maple Leafs netted defenceman Luke Schenn, who will be reunited with his brother, Brayden, a Philadelphia forward.
But Philadelphia also lost out on the sweepstakes for free-agent prizes Zach Parise (forward), and Ryan Suter (defenceman), who both signed with Minnesota, and the Flyers still have questions on defence due to the uncertainty of Chris Pronger, who was limited to 13 games last season with injuries.
"When you look at a guy like Shea Weber, there are probably a lot of teams that wish they had a player of his calibre on their club. Our team moved forward without Shea last year," Laviolette said. "We dealt with certain injuries and things that I think our club had to overcome. We used a lot of good, young defencemen and a lot of good players. I am excited about the players that we brought into the fold this year."