As many professional sports teams are wont to do when they fire a coach, the Nashville Predators hired a replacement – former Flyers, Isles and Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette – who in many regards represents the polar opposite of his predecessor. In some cases, that’s not the ideal approach to take. But in bringing Laviolette aboard Tuesday to replace Barry Trotz, the only coach the franchise has ever known, the Preds are making the right choice.
If any team needs a philosophical reset, it’s Nashville. And while Laviolette won’t be able to work miracles with a squad that’s still years from gaining admittance into the upper echelon of the Western Conference, he’ll be a breath of fresh air for the Predators as they continue to build toward being a more offense-minded, well-rounded group. Laviolette is a proven winner (he’s got a lifetime regular-season coaching record of 389-282--63 since his NHL career began nearly 13 years ago), but the most encouraging part of his resume – other than the Stanley Cup he won with the Canes in 2006 – has to be his ability to boost the fortunes of a team almost immediately after his arrival.
When Laviolette was hired by the Isles in 2001, he was handed a 30th-place team that accumulated just 52 points; in his first year with them, the Islanders made a 54-point jump in the standings and finished second in their division. Similarly, when Laviolette left for Carolina after two years on Long Island, the Hurricanes were 23rd overall with 76 standings points; by the time he completed his first full season with Carolina, he’d steered them to a 112-point regular season and the franchise’s only Cup. And when he joined the Flyers in 2009, they were the NHL’s 18th-best team with 88 points; after his first full year in Philly, they’d improved to a 106-point season.
If anyone excels at taking what a team already has and making it better, it’s Laviolette.
That said, improving the Predators won’t be a cakewalk for the 49-year-old Franklin, Mass., native, who was fired by the Flyers after only three games of the 2013-14 campaign. This is an organization that, under GM David Poile, has been to offense as Kim Kardashian has been to humility. But Laviolette won’t go in and berate and/or intimidate their youngsters into bending to his will. He isn’t a country club type coach, but he will give his players room in which to breathe. After so many years of Trotz’s safe structure, that may be all that’s needed to get the Preds back on track. (Well, that and a full year of No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne.)
It’s unlikely Laviolette will get 17 years on the Predators’ bench as did Trotz, but if he can repeat the pattern of his coaching career to this point, Laviolette will make many new fans in Tennessee – and lead the Preds into previously-uncharted competitive territory.