Peter Laviolette

Laviolette looking forward to Wednesday’s playoff start

By Jim Diamond

A day after completing his first season behind the Nashville Predators’ bench, Peter Laviolette spoke with the media outside the Nashville locker room at Bridgestone Arena looking ahead to the upcoming playoffs, something the Predators have not been a part of since 2012. After missing the NHL’s postseason in both 2013 and 2014, Predators general manager David Poile parted company with Barry Trotz and hired Laviolette with hopes of the Stanley Cup-winning coach leading his team back to the playoffs.

In earning 104 points in the regular season, Laviolette’s team placed second in the Central Division, earning home ice advantage in their first round playoff series with the Chicago Blackhawks.

“The season that comes on Wednesday brings a life of its own,” Laviolette said. “Guys work hard all season long to get here. I think that there’s a lot of excitement when players end the regular season and they know their opponent, they know when their starting date is and get going.”

Despite the triple-digit standings points and the luxury of starting the playoffs with two home games, Laviolette’s Predators limped home the last month and a half of the season, winning just six of their final 21 games, a stretch that featured two separate six-game losing streaks including one that ended the season.

“The objective is to get into the playoffs,” Laviolette said. “We find ourselves with a season that’s good enough to get us home ice. Our guys are really excited to get going. We’ve got a great challenge ahead of us. Our guys are up for it. There will be plenty of excitement come Wednesday.”

Many of the players who will suit up for the Predators Wednesday night haven’t appeared in the NHL’s playoffs for a couple of years, and several will be making their playoff debuts. Laviolette isn’t focusing on the lack of recent, or any, playoff experience of his team.

“We are what we are,” he said. “You can’t manufacture playoff games. You can’t take them out of your back pocket and say, ‘Here’s a few for you and a few for you,’ you’ve got to go out and earn your stripes. We’ve got some young players in the room, but those young players are the ones that carried our team to have a successful season. I think that there’s a real good sense of team in our room. There’s a belief in there that if our guys go out and play hard and do the right things that we can be successful. I think we really need to rely more on that if some of our young players are short on playoff experience. I think they can use the regular season to know what it is that we have to do and how we have to play in order to be successful.”

As far as what players will be available Wednesday, Laviolette indicated that after missing Saturday’s regular season finale, both Shea Weber and Roman Josi would likely return to practice Monday morning. Both players practiced on Friday. Laviolette said that Mike Fisher and Cody Franson, neither of whom practiced Friday nor played Saturday, are listed as day-to-day while Eric Nystrom “probably remains a little further out.”

Laviolette had to get loud and bang on the boards to call his timeout Thursday

By Jim Diamond

Following Thursday’s morning skate, Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette mentioned that he would like to clean up some things in terms of the penalties his team took in Tuesday night’s shootout win over the Arizona Coyotes. The Predators were whistled for five penalties in the game, four of which happened in the offensive zone.

Laviolette’s team did cut down on the number of penalties Thursday night against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, with Mattias Ekholm’s holding penalty at 13:07 of the second period representing the only time the Predators were shorthanded in the game.

With Ekholm in the box, Laviolette sent out forwards Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom along with defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi. And for the next two minutes, the highly-skilled Blackhawks worked the puck around the Nashville zone. Chicago put three shots on Pekka Rinne, had two missed shots, and another two attempts blocked.

Since it was the second period, the Predators on the ice were a long way away from the team bench. And since they were unable to clear the puck, those same four skaters remained on the ice for the entirety of the power play and then some. After Ekholm was liberated, the puck remained in the Nashville zone, and the Blackhawks managed another shot on goal and another blocked attempt before the Predators were able to finally ice the puck.

“That was huge,” Nystrom said. “That was one of those shifts, they were shooting some pucks, but I thought we kept them to the outside for the most part. Anytime you get stuck out there for that length of time, it’s exhausting. The legs were burning. I’ve had worse ones than that though. Penalty killing is tiring, that’s just straight stopping and starting, but I’ve had some two minute shifts where they were really peppering. That one wasn’t the worst, but it was tough and then there was an icing, so we had to stay out there.”

The big PK ignited a loud ovation from the standing-room only Bridgestone Arena crowd, so much so that it almost hurt the team. Laviolette fully intended to use his only timeout of the game at that point, but he wanted to wait as long as possible to signal it, giving the fatigued foursome plus Ekholm some time to rest. The only problem for Laviolette was that he had trouble getting the attention of the officials.

“I was buying more time and then I couldn’t get him back, it was loud,” Laviolette said. “I didn’t want him to get too far away and then blow me off, but I was waiting to buy a little bit more time. They were tanked, so I figured any second we could get, but he didn’t look at me too long because we couldn’t change, really just kind of a gaze and went on his way and I was like ‘Oh oh,’ so we had to get him back to the bench. It was good. It was enough to get those guys a quick breath.”

Since the NHL implemented the rule that teams that ice the puck can’t change, officials rarely look to the offending team’s bench. With a raucous crowd and no officials looking toward the Nashville bench, Laviolette had to get creative, so he jumped down from his perch behind the bench and hammered on the boards with his fist loudly enough to garner the attention of someone with the authority to grant him the one timeout he had at his disposal.

Less than a minute after play resumed, fresh Predator bodies finally came onto the ice and James Neal scored his second of three goals in the game.

“It was a big kill, but for the team to respond with a goal, that feels really nice for the guys who were out there killing,” Nystrom said.

Nystrom, Gaustad, Weber, and Josi were all credited with a robust shift of 2:19 in the penalty kill plus the additional time.

Seth Jones made a solid first impression on his new coach

By Jim Diamond

Early in the 2013-14 season, Peter Laviolette found himself with a whole lot more free time on his hands than he was anticipating having. The Philadelphia Flyers terminated Laviolette three games into the season, and having been already named one of Team USA’s coaches for the Sochi Olympics, Laviolette was given an opportunity to travel around the NHL scouting potential players for the American squad.

One of the players on Team USA’s radar was Seth Jones, a 19-year-old rookie defenseman with the Nashville Predators. Although Jones did not make the final Olympic roster, his and Laviolette’s paths would cross again in just a matter of months.

After a second consecutive season finishing out of the playoffs, Barry Trotz was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Predators. Nashville general manager David Poile selected Laviolette to succeed Trotz.

Laviolette was also chosen to lead Team USA at the World Championships in Belarus. Jones and fellow Predator Craig Smith were named to that team. The Americans finished outside of the medals in Minsk, but Laviolette gained some very valuable time with his two new charges.

“I think you always learn a little bit more about a player when you get to coach him; one because you get to have meetings with him, you get to talk to him just about the game or a situation or the next day or whatever it might be,” Laviolette said Sunday after his appearance at the Music City Sports Festival. “So right away, you get a better feeling and a better understanding of a player once you get to work with him from a coach-player relationship.”

Smith posted three goals and five assists in eight games played. He averaged 18:56 of ice time per game. Jones had two goals and nine assists, leading the Americans with 11 points. He also led the team in ice time, averaging 25:38.

While he didn’t come back to the US with a medal, Jones did return with multiple accolades. The Directorate named him the best defenseman in the tournament, he and Smith were both named as two of Team USA’s three best players by the coaches, and Jones was also named one of the tournaments all stars as voted by the media.

“Seth Jones got voted best defenseman in the tournament, and I’ll tell you he deserved every vote that was given his way because he was outstanding, he really was,” Laviolette told Sunday’s crowd. “To be able to help be a part of his future and watch him grow and develop into the player that he is going to be is something special for all of us; for me and for you and for the city of Nashville.”

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Like any rookie who makes the jump directly from junior hockey to the NHL, Jones had some ups and downs in his first season with the Predators. With a year of experience under his belt and the confidence of his coach behind him, Jones appears to be set up well for a successful sophomore season when it begins this fall.

“From an on-ice performance, you get to realize how valuable a guy like Seth is that can play 25-plus minutes and play them very well against other team’s best players,” Laviolette said. “And we used him in that role over there. That was a shutdown pair and a shutdown defenseman that we used to put out against the best players that the opponent had to offer that night. He thrived in that role and in that environment. He did a terrific job and had a great tournament.”

Laviolette has the reputation of coaching an up-tempo offensive game, and that type of game suits Jones’ strong skating and above-average on-ice vision.

With Nashville’s top defensive pair of Shea Weber and Roman Josi already set, Laviolette will likely not have to lean on Jones as much as he did in Belarus, but Jones’ continued progression may allow the Predators coaching staff to reduce some of the workload on the Weber/Josi pairing.

Have turtle will travel; Laviolette anxious to get to Nashville

By Jim Diamond

Peter Laviolette was introduced to the Nashville media Wednesday afternoon, a day after he was named the second head coach in the history of the Nashville Predators.

Laviolette spoke to the media via conference call from his hotel room in Minsk, Belarus where he is serving as the top bench boss for Team USA at the upcoming IIHF World Championships. After a long day of travel from Germany, where his team played a tune up game against the German National Team Tuesday night, Laviolette said that he was anxious to put down roots in his new city.

His family is a direct representation of the nomadic lifestyle that coaches in professional sports and their families have to endure.

“My oldest son is a West Virginian, and my second son, he’s a Rhode Islander,” Laviolette said. “My daughter, who is 12-years-old, she’s a Long Islander, so she’s a New Yorker. My dog is a North Carolinian. And our turtle is a Philadelphian.”

A turtle you say?

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“The turtle’s name is Frank,” Laviolette said. “Frank was given to us by my my sister’s son, my nephew.

“When we got the turtle, he was about the size of a quarter, then when I actually looked him up online, I found out that he could grow to the size of a dinner plate. In the coaching profession, it’s good to be mobile, you can go from place to place, and I am thinking to myself, ‘What are we doing with this turtle? Why is this turtle ours?’ My daughter insisted that I love this turtle and it is part of the family, so the turtle’s name is Frank.”

And that may rank right up there among the best-ever answers to a turtle-related question of a National Hockey League coach.

While turtles are technically illegal to own as pets in Tennessee, one has to hope that Frank will be grandfathered in since he is an existing pet. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency stopped issuing permits for pet stores to sell them in 2012.

Surely they don’t want to disappoint a young lady who has grown so attached to Frank. And surely they don’t want to raise the ire of a guy who is willing to go after an opposing coach like this.

Imagine what would happen if he had to defend his daughter’s beloved pet.

Poile’s hiring of Laviolette capped a lengthy courtship

Tuesday, Peter Laviolette was named the second head coach in the history of the Nashville Predators.

To hear general manager David Poile speak about the end of Barry Trotz’s tenure and the start of Laviolette’s, it sounded a lot like the sporting equivalent of a relationship gone stale and one party in the relationship developed a wandering eye.

The storyline could mirror one of a daytime soap opera. Two people familiar with one another run into each other in the produce section of the grocery store, which evolves into stopping off for coffee, and it goes on from there.

It wasn’t as overt as Poile taking out a personal ad ask if anyone liked piña coladas or getting caught in the rain, but in all, it meant that Trotz’s tenure with the Predators would soon be over after 15 seasons with the team.

It started out innocently enough. David Poile was the general manager of Team USA for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games and Laviolette was one of the team’s assistant coaches. When the Philadelphia Flyers fired Laviolette just three games into the 2013-14 season, he had a lot more time on his hands to do some pre-Olympic work for Team USA.

“Obviously one of the things that favored Peter in this situation is that I’ve known him for a number of years based on a lot of our mutual work with USA Hockey and especially last year with the Olympics, naming him one of the three coaches, basically interviewing him at that point for that position and then getting to work with him all year long,” Poile said at his Tuesday afternoon press conference. “When he lost his job with Philadelphia after three games last year, I basically talked to him at least once or twice a week through that whole process. I used him as a conduit between myself and the coaches. So, subliminally, we had a general manager/coach relationship the whole year last year. As I said, I’ve interviewed a few people, but that’s one or two interviews. With Peter Laviolette, basically in some form, I was interviewing him all year long.”

Was Poile having thought bubbles of doubt all season long?

  • How he and Barry had been together for an awfully long time.
  • And his head coach has never won a Stanley Cup like Peter has.
  • This team can’t seem to score goals, but the teams Peter has coached have consistently found the back of the net.
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At Trotz’s press conference the day it was announced that he would not be back as head coach, he admitted that he could tell things were different between he and Poile. A late-season conversation told him everything he needed to know.

“I’ve been with David for 30 years, and he is wonderful,” Trotz said at the time. “He is a first-class guy and I knew he was hurting. I asked him a question and he got a little emotional like I did.”

It probably resembled that scene in the movie Airplane where a husband and wife are shown after dinner and the woman thinks to herself, “Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home,” or later when dinner had made him ill, she again thinks, “Jim never vomits at home.”

In all seriousness, Poile probably got the right man for the job. If anyone can fix the systemic offensive woes that have plagued the Predators over the years, he is the guy.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Poile indicated that Laviolette thinks that the pieces that are in place up front may just need a second chance under a new regime.

On an afternoon conference call, Predators forward Matt Cullen was excited for the opportunity to play for Laviolette again. Cullen played for him in Carolina, winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.

“I think he’s a great fit for our team and what we need going forward,” Cullen said. “I think a lot of Peter as a coach. He’s a good person and he just has a real ability to bring out the best in all of his players whether you are a fourth line guy or a first line guy or a first year guy in the league or a veteran.”