When Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan relieved Todd Reirden of his duties and began the search for a new head coach, he was very clear in the type of coach he was looking for. In announcing Peter Laviolette as the 19th head coach of the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, he expressed his belief that he had found the guy who checked all the boxes.
"[Laviolette's] got tremendous experience within the league -- 18 years of coaching experience, 1,200 games and a solid track record of accomplishment with a number of different organizations," MacLellan said. "He’s been to the Stanley Cup Final three times, won a Stanley Cup, so again, we’re excited to bring Peter’s experience and vision to our team and I’m very pleased to announce Peter as our new head coach."
Following the team's first round playoff exit, MacLellan expressed concern about the slipping culture of the team and how the new head coach needed to be able to push the player's buttons, motivate them and keep them disciplined. Laviolette comes with a track record of doing exactly that with success throughout his career, including one Stanley Cup win and two additional conference championships.
"We have an experienced group and I think we need an experienced coach and the skillset Peter brings," MacLellan said. "He’s a good teacher, he’s a good communicator, a good motivator; motivating is one of his strengths. I think he holds players accountable and I think he does it in a good way, with integrity. He’s very honest. I think his track record with different organizations, he’s been challenged a number of times of having teams that have different personalities in the locker room and on the ice and he’s been able to adapt to different groups and be successful in the league."
Coming into a team with a talented roster, Laviolette expressed his excitement for the opportunity.
"You have a terrific cast of talent that's big and strong and can play the game aggressive and has a chance to be successful on a nightly basis," Laviolette said. "For me, it's an incredible opportunity."
But the skill and talent of the team was never in question. The discipline and the effort are and that's really why MacLellan made this hire.
It wasn't just that the Caps lost in the first round against the New York Islanders that was so concerning, it was the way they lost. The team played with a complete lack of discipline or structure. They could not stay out of the penalty box, defensive breakdowns were rampant, they had no control of the front of the net on either end of the ice and their inability to correct those obvious mistakes or adjust to the Islanders' system left many wondering if the team was motivated at all to win.
That's what prompted MacLellan's fears over the culture and that's really what Laviolette was ultimately hired to fix.
"Peter has a track record of establishing a culture, and it's one of his priorities," MacLellan said. "And part of that culture is getting guys to play the right way and holding them accountable to play the right way. I think it's a big priority when you talk to him, so I have confidence, because he's done it in the past, and it's a priority the way he speaks about it, the way he communicates about it. We both, me and I assume the players, [know] that's a big strength of his moving forward and it's a big reason why we hired him."
"I feel like there's always an opportunity going in as a coach to not only build an identity on the ice, on how you want your team to play and an expectation of what it's going to look like on a nightly basis, but also how you're going to build your team internally and how hard they fight for each other, how much they care about each other," Laviolette said. "For me, those are things that you can go in and you can work on on a daily basis both in the room and on the ice.
"When it comes to holding players accountable, that's a pretty wide-open question. I do believe in honesty. I do believe in directness. I can be firm and I can be compassionate. I think that you have to be in today's game. But more often than not, you've got to be honest. When I was talking with Mac about this, for me, before you get to accountability, there's a chance to motivate. There's a chance to push players to take the ice and think that the night is going to be successful and that there's going to be great things that happen and you'll find success."
The Caps have lost out on two years of being Cup contenders and the window appears to be rapidly closing on a veteran group whose core is built around older players. But the good news is that a coach who seemed to excel at everything MacLellan felt the team needed just happened to be available at the right time.
"This is an important day for our organization as we officially name Peter Laviolette as our head coach," MacLellan said. "We feel very fortunate to be able to hire someone of Peter’s caliber and to have him available at a time of need for our organization."