Basically ever since the Philadelphia Flyers fired Peter Laviolette in a very Flyers way (or maybe a Laviolette way … he has been fired and hired in-season a curious amount of times), I’ve been recommending that various NHL teams should hire Laviolette. Like Robitussin for Chris Rock’s childhood family, I essentially argue(d) that Laviolette could cure a wide variety of ills.
Do you need to push a team that has plenty of talent? Call Laviolette. The 2009-10 Flyers did so, and he took a team that seemed to have slim playoff hopes to the Stanley Cup final and just two wins away from a long(and still)-awaited championship.
Is your team a mess? The 1999-2000 New York Islanders were … and Laviolette brought them to two postseason berths in two seasons before getting fired. Laviolette worked even better magic with the then-moribund Carolina Hurricanes, swiftly taking them to a Stanley Cup victory in the first season after the second-most recent lockout.*
The Nashville Predators quickly jumped on the chance to hire Laviolette, and best yet - especially for fantasy owners - they emphasized his obvious strength: pumping up the Predators’ paltry offense. Becoming more explosive offensively was clearly stated in the team’s materials regarding the signing while Laviolette also praised the team’s promising group of defensemen and possibly underachieving group of young forwards.
(American hockey fans must feel a little bummed out that Predators GM David Poile only really “saw the light” after he frequently valued intangible and highly subjective “character” beliefs over black-and-white offensive numbers … but perhaps better late than never?)
Honestly, I’m fairly certain I’ve been pumping up Laviolette as a possible Predators coach around the time Pekka Rinne came down with E. Coli of the hip.
It’s not like it took a soothsayer to ponder this, either; Poile loves hiring Americans and Laviolette was almost certainly the “sexiest” U.S. coaching candidate looking for a job (with all apologies to Ron Wilson and his occasional ‘stache). This was a pretty easy one to see coming, although the Predators move at a glacial-enough pace that flipping the situation dramatically is still a pleasant semi-surprise.
Kinda like putting Bobby Ryan on the U.S. Olympic team or something.
All snark aside, I love the move, especially from a fantasy perspective.
Sure, there might be some trepidation about Pekka Rinne's prospects outside the cocoon of Barry Trotz's defense first-second-and-third system, but it's not like he has been prospering lately. Sure, it's a combination of two small sample sizes (one lockout-related, the other health-related), but consider the 31-year-old's two seasons since Ryan Suter bolted in the summer of 2012:
Rinne in 2012-13: 15-16-8, .910 save percentage, 2.43 GAA and five shutouts.
Rinne in 13-14: 10-10-3, .902 save percentage, 2.77 GAA and two shutouts.
All excuses aside, it's pretty stunning that a $7 million goalie has been one game under .500 since Suter signed with the Minnesota Wild.
Long story short, even Rinne owners should be excited. My guess is the big Finn won’t top all goalie sin save percentage, but perhaps those days had already passed him by. Fantasy still puts a big premium on wins and games played, however, and I think he could make a nice jump … even if it’s in the tough Central Division. At least he’s not on a team in a state of stagnation.
The offseason will determine if the Predators will furnish Laviolette with the kind of scoring talent he almost certainly covets. If nothing else, the team managed to get rid of one of their many redundant “blue collar” players by trading Matt Hendricks.
I’ll say this: there are some young forwards who showed flashes of brilliance even though they were shackled by Trotz’s system. Craig Smith is the obvious breakout candidate after making a nice jump (albeit under the mainstream radar) last season, but there are other intriguing intriguing pieces such as Colin Wilson and Filip Forsberg.
Laviolette’s former employers the Flyers showed that one team’s offensive trash could be another team’s treasure. The likes of Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and even Ville Leino made significant leaps with a change of scenery. The philosophy change from Laviolette to Trotz could very well feel like going from one team and city to another.
Still, the facet that must make Laviolette most excited is the Predators’ talented group of defensemen.
We’re all aware of Shea Weber (aka the offer sheet target from Laviolette’s former employers in Philly). Offensively speaking, it's difficult for me to imagine him topping his 23-goal, 56-point output from last season. Part of the reason for that is that his frightening shot was unusually accurate in 2013-14: he connected on a forward-like 11.8 percent of his attempts. His career average is pretty high for a defenseman (8.1 percent) anyway, so with another year of Phil Housley's tutelage** and Laviolette's more aggressive approach, he might be able to approach last season's production even if his puck luck recedes.
It might be the other blueliners who really generate the excitement, however. At 23, Roman Josi is hitting his prime; he managed to hit the "solid mid-level fantasy defenseman" benchmark of 40 points despite being limited to 72 games played. If he can avoid becoming a recurring concussion victim, he could become a bigger name. Seth Jones crashed after a strong start to his much-hyped rookie season, yet he still managed 25 points in his first-ever year. He scored 21 of those 25 points from October through the end of January, so his dip could have been a matter of fatigue, a possible concussion or a combination of factors. Either way, he could be a chic choice for know-it-alls (I'm not certain if you'd be better off with Josi or Jones if it came down to it, but I'd lean toward Josi in one-year pools).
Even Michael Del Zotto carries some intrigue, at least if the Predators decide to sign the pending restricted free agent. He had a pretty disastrous season, yet he's hit the 37 and 41-point marks in his career at 23. At the right price, he could conceivably be salvaged.
Either way, that defense makes me think that Nashville could be a nice fit for Laviolette, especially if Poile makes some smart moves to give him a high(er)-end offensive option or three. If nothing else, you shouldn't think twice about adding a scorer just because the words "Nashville Predators" are attached to his name any longer.
Some of you might wonder “Is there actually proof Laviolette improves his team’s offenses?”
The answer is “Yes, he generally improves his teams, especially on offense.” The differences were especially profound in the awful Islanders and Hurricanes teams he took over; he moved offenses that were in the bottom-five to the top-five basically right away and gave them big bumps in the standings (he won a Stanley Cup with Carolina and took the Islanders to two-straight playoff appearances).
The statistical jump with the Flyers wasn’t as profound, which isn’t shocking since he was taking over a team that made that previous season’s playoffs. The difference was that he took them to the Stanley Cup Final and arguably helped the franchise navigate some very shaky personnel moves (trading Jeff Carter and Mike Richards away; acquiring Ilya Bryzgalov).
Maybe the biggest knock is that he might not handle goalies all that deftly, but the Predators should simplify things in that he has a guy making, you know, $7 million. I think any team would be wise to invest in an above-average backup, but that doesn’t mean many will follow suit (even if Poile was burned big time by skimping in that area in 2013-14).
In a way, Laviolette almost seems to have a Bill Parcells-like impact on teams. It almost seems like the team he takes over (especially the really bad ones) get soaked under a wave of increased competence in Year 1, often making a big jump. After that, there might be diminishing returns and/or burnout, so maybe Laviolette will turn from fantasy gold to silver over time.
(I can guarantee he won’t last as long in Nashville as Trotz did …)
Most of us only care about what difference he can make in 2014-15 and I’d guess the answer is “Fairly significant.” It won’t be as easy in the brutal West, but the team should at least see a scoring boost.
I actually collected data from seasons before Laviolette took over teams to when he was running them to see if he really made a difference. The information is a little inconsistent formatting-wise, but if you’d like to take a look at the numbers yourself, click here.
* - Again, we really need some kind of naming system for these eras, especially if Gary Bettman uses that “strategy” again in about a half-dozen years.
** - Has anyone provided a good reason why Phil Housley isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame, by the way? Especially since [pause for effect] Dino Ciccarelli is in there? Just asking.