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Pressure for instant success is real for Peter Laviolette


May 14, 2014


The Nashville Predators were quick to replace Barry Trotz, the only head coach in the history of the franchise. With the hire of Peter Laviolette last week, it’s easy to say that it was the right decision.

Yet, for all that Laviolette brings to the Predators, one has to wonder if Nashville’s new head coach is potentially being set up to fail.

Laviolette’s resume is impressive, more so than the majority of any other candidate that the Predators could have approached: Stanley Cup Champions with Carolina in 2006, Stanley Cup Finalist with Philadelphia in 2010, 40+ win seasons in each of his first full years with each team he’s coached (New York Islanders in 2001-2002, Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-2006, Philadelphia Flyers in 2010-2011), a regular season win percentage of 57%, and a postseason win percentage of 52.4%.

He flipped a 30th overall New York Islanders team in 2000-2001, a team that had a -83 goal differential at the end of the season, into a 5th place Eastern Conference team with a +19 goal differential and a first-round meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He took a 30th overall Carolina Hurricanes team in 2002-2003, a team he took over for in the middle of the 2003-2004 season, and turned them into the fourth best team in the league in 2005-2006, including a Stanley Cup. He guided a Philadelphia Flyers team to the Stanley Cup Finals after taking over for deposed coach John Stevens only 25 games into the season, also taking them to their first division title since the 2003-2004 season just the next year.

There’s no question that Laviolette can and will turn a team around, no matter at what level they were at before he took over. Is the pressure of turning a team around in one full season, though, too much pressure for any coach to handle?

If you think about the possibilities for next season, Nashville could be well on their way to ending their tenure with long-time general manager David Poile if they don’t earn at least a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s not a guarantee, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Poile’s seat would be sizzling without a trip to the postseason next year.

In each of his first full seasons with each team he’s coached, Peter Laviolette has made the playoffs. That much the Predators have going for them. Do the Predators have the tools for him to do the same in his first year with the team?

In 2001, Laviolette had Alexi Yashin, Mark Parrish, and Michael Peca to lead the way offensively for New York, each registering over 60 points on the season with Yashin hitting 75 points in 78 games, near a point-per-game mark. Along with those three, the Islanders had eleven players with double-digit goal totals, including two (Parrish and Peca) with over 30. New York finished with the 11th overall powerplay and penalty kill that season.

In 2005, Laviolette had newly-drafted Eric Staal, Justin Williams, Cory Stillman, and Rod Brind’Amour all eclipse 70 points offensively for the Hurricanes. Staal became the first player (and only player since) in Carolina’s history to register 100 or more points in a season and was the first player to do so for the franchise since their move from Hartford in 1999 (Ron Francis notched 101 points in the 1989-1990 season). Carolina finished the season third overall in the league in goals forced and goals forced per game with 286 and 3.49 respectively.

In 2010, Laviolette had Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Jeff Carter, and Mike Richards all breach 60 or more points for the Flyers. Six of their forwards registered at least 20 goals each during the regular season. Philadelphia, like Carolina, finished the season third overall in the league in goals forced and goals forced per game with 256 and 3.12 respectively.

When was Nashville’s last 60 point scorer? J.P. Dumont in the 2008-2009 season (65 points in 82 games).

When was the last time Nashville had two players to score 60 or more points? 2007-2008 when Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont both registered 72 points each.

When was the last time Nashville had more than two players to score 60 or more points? 2006-2007. That’s the only year that Nashville has had more than two players with 60 points in a season. That’s also the final year that Nashville had the services of Paul Kariya. That’s also the same year that Nashville traded for Peter Forsberg and finished the year fifth overall in goal scoring in the league and had the third-best penalty kill stopping 85.8% of powerplays they saw. That’s also the first and last time that Nashville’s offense finished in the Top 5 in the league.

In the previous two seasons, Nashville’s offense has been living vicariously through their defense, with Shea Weber being their leading point scorer. While Craig Smith has showed significant promise and Patric Hornqvist still playing Nashville’s role of Tomas Holmstrom, the Predators couldn’t get the results they wanted out of the remainder of their offense. David Legwand was shipped out in the final year of his contract with the team. Colin Wilson hasn’t lived up to his potential so far and could be finding himself looking for another dance partner in the near future. Viktor Stalberg was an utter disappointment, registering only 18 points after being signed to a four year, $12 million dollar deal by the team.

For all intents and purposes, Nashville is devoid of offense. They have plenty of prospective offensive talent for the future (Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok to name a couple), but there’s no telling how any of Nashville’s prospects will do under Laviolette’s system. If things go in the Predators favor, they’ll be able to develop players like Forsberg, Jarnkrok, Leipsic, Sissons, and Salomaki into productive forwards in the NHL.

Though the question remains, what happens if Nashville’s plan backfires and they miss out on the playoffs for a third straight year? Depending on what the team does during this upcoming offseason, it’s entirely possible this scenario plays itself out.

Nashville has to address it’s top issue of finding a true elite playmaker to ignite it’s stagnant offense. They also have to address the fact that their current lineup is set to cater to the coaching style of former head coach Barry Trotz, not Peter Laviolette. You can hire Laviolette and have him instill his system with the team, however as the old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

Ultimately, there’s a possibility that if Nashville misses the playoffs, David Poile could be out of a job, a new General Manager and staff could be brought on, and where would Laviolette find himself? Would have be given another year for his efforts or would the new management want to “go a different direction”? It’s entirely plausible.

The pressure is there, the heat is on, and Peter Laviolette has a lot of work in front of him to turn Nashville into the offensive juggernauts he’s known for producing