Philadelphia Flyers Head Coach Peter Laviolette spoke with the media reflecting on the 2009-10 season, the off season and what he hopes to see next season.
Q: Peter, can you first give us an overview of how you feel a couple days removed?
“I think everybody is still… you know you wake up and you have that empty feeling still. You were just in this march towards the greatest trophy in the world and looking, staring down a Stanley Cup run where you’re hoping to get a couple more wins and it doesn’t happen and you wake up and there’s a lot of disappointment there; an emptiness, so you know there’s not much you can do to make that go away, not at this point any way. I think as the summer moves on and you get away; you can start preparing for next year and getting ready to do the work that way, but you’ll always [have] a little bit of emptiness because you were that close.”Q: In the meetings that you’ve had with your players, what kind of a feeling are you getting from them…
“Yeah, I mean everyone is really disappointed. I think when you have a goal and everybody buys in and you start down the road towards that goal. You have to persevere and overcome a lot of different things and obstacles to keep moving on and you just keep your eye on the ball and you’re committed and you keep pushing and you keep pushing. Ultimately it’s to go all the way and to win it, so when that doesn’t happen… anybody that’s not disappointed I would be surprised. It has to be devastating for all of us, so the players feel the same way – the owner, the managers, the fans - we’re all in the same boat I think.”Q: Does that level of resolve in the playoffs ever at any point surprise you… Considering I know you get that bunker mentality for a long time, but at the end of the regular season your results were a little bit more inconsistent with it – Did it ever surprise you that they were that determined and that there was that much resolve to get as far…
“Yeah I think that they were only inconsistent at the end of the season because there was a time where we lost Jeff [Carter] and then we lost Michael [Leighton] and Boosh [Brian Boucher] came in and Boosh hadn’t played in a while and it took him a couple games to find his stride and we couldn’t seem to recover from the loss of Jeff. There were a couple games where we played really well and couldn’t get the results we were looking for - Minnesota and Montreal down the stretch. I’m not sure it was… I don’t think anything changed in our locker room or our belief. We were just trying to deal with a couple of big injuries and any loss at that point was a devastating loss. It didn’t matter that you just dominated Montreal, but you lost the game. It only mattered that you lost the game, because we’re down the stretch of the season and this playoff run. There were a lot of games, trust me there’s some games we’d like to have back and I think that happens during the course of the year especially when you’re pushing from Christmas time, where you’re not happy with some of the games and certainly the Atlanta series was nothing to be proud of – the home-and-home with Atlanta. So there’s definitely some bad games mixed in there, but there were a lot of good games down the stretch.”Q: About the conditioning of the team, was there ever a point where you were satisfied with it and what benefit will training camp have in getting to it…
“Yeah I was satisfied with the level. I felt like when games were moving on we got stronger as the game went on. There was a lot of times where we won the game in the third period and even through the course of the playoffs, but I definitely think that we were conditioned at a high enough level to win the Stanley Cup. Training Camp for me is an opportunity to get everyone on the same page, work through some things, maybe even try things you might not try in a stretch run, because you’re not… you just don’t get that opportunity. You have to win every game, every period and every shift, and experimenting with different things isn’t probably the best idea, so training camp you get to try a few more things, certainly you get to push the pace for conditioning. Coming out of camp, I think how the players come back into camp is going to be equally as important.”Q: Every time I look at your roster, I’ve had the same impression the last two years. You’re really top heavy with skilled centermen. Not enough position available for the kind of players you have. Do you have to make a decision this summer ‘you simply can’t be a center anymore, you have to be a wing and that’s the way it is or we’ll have to move you’…
“With that ridiculously top-heavy skill set up front that you’re talking about, we just came within a couple wins shy of winning the Stanley Cup. If we move forward and we return with those skilled centermen, I feel like we can move them around. Having centermen in your lineup, I don’t think it’s a negative, I think it’s a positive. There’s always things that come up during the course of the year. You know you look at Jeff [Carter] with his broken feet down the stretch there and to be able to take Danny Briere
and put him in the middle, you know that’s a positive and injuries happen during the course of the year all the time, but when you’re heavy on centers, skilled centers, I don’t think that’s much of an issue. I think that you can move it around and juggle it, so you can get by when everybody’s healthy.”Q: Do you think Michael Leighton proved himself as a number 1 goalie heading into next season?
“I think Michael Leighton played great for us this year. You know he came in, in December, and he played really well for us. In the playoffs he jumped in coming off of his high-ankle sprain, some of the injuries we sustained, mostly in net, but even the broken feet down the stretch… for guys to jump back in and be able to contribute the way that they did, I think was impressive and Michael was no different. He jumped into a tough circumstance when he relieved Boosh [Brian Boucher] in the series against Boston and he jumped in and did a terrific job for us. Certainly Michael has given himself every opportunity to be considered a number 1.”Q: But if Paul [Holmgren] came to you and asked you your opinion…
“Any decisions on the team will come from Paul Holmgren.”Q: Teams that lose in the Stanley Cup Final have a tough year after. Do you buy into that at all? Are there things you can do in Training Camp that you can perhaps change that?
“You look back at the past and the teams that have won, or made it to the Final, I think a lot of it has to do with the parity in the League, not necessarily a Cup hangover. I think our guys will be pretty motivated. Just because we got pretty close, we’re a young group, I think we have a good hockey team. I think if we come into camp in good shape, we have a good training camp, there’s no reason can’t come out and find success through the course of the regular season.”Q: In general, what areas do you think need improving to get to the next level?
"That’s more of a question for a team that didn’t make the playoffs. We came within two wins, and you look back and you get frustrated because you didn’t win Game 1 of this series in Chicago where you feel like you had the better chances and the better opportunity. I like our hockey team. I like the job we did up front on forward, on defense, and in goal.”Q: Paul mentioned the other day about the minutes that Chris Pronger can handle. Where do you see that range? Would you like to play him less in the regular season?
“Again, you’ve got to remember where we were at at Christmas. This wasn’t a year like Chicago had where you can try and spread those minutes around and get everybody in a comfortable position with their time on ice. We were a team since Christmas that was in a stretch run. A long time. A really long time. Every game was important… every game was a must-win. When you’re in 14th place in the conference and 29th place overall, you can’t afford to – it’s kind of like I said about trying different things or experimenting with line combinations or seeing if this works… you had to win, every game, and it came down to the last game of the year, so there wasn’t really any wiggle room on any of those games previous. Chris Pronger
has handled those minutes his entire career. Would it be great if we could play him 22, 24, somewhere between 20 and 25 minutes a night in the regular season? Sure. But we’ve got to make sure we win hockey games, that we finish high up in the conference and that we secure home ice for the playoffs.”Q: I get the impression that you only feel a few tweaks are needed and not a lot of major moves in the offseason?
“Those aren’t my calls. Those are questions for Paul [Holmgren]. I just told you, I like our hockey team. The guys played hard, they never quit, they never gave in. It stings because you’re that close and you don’t get there, so it stings because you came two wins shy. That’s what we’re trying to get over today.”
Q: What do you have to do this summer yourself to make yourself a better coach and make the team better as a result?
“I want to make sure that we’re in shape when we come to camp. I want to make sure that training camp is really high-tempo and that our players, the guys who are going to be putting on the jerseys next year, make sure that they get everything they need, make sure we understand exactly what we’re doing, so when the puck drops we come out and take a better course. Chicago had a good year, they finished in the top of their conference, they won a lot of hockey games, they gained success from that and then they entered the playoffs that way, that’s more of the run you’d like to have as opposed to the way we had to come in. That was our path, we chose it, the guys never quit on it, and they got through it. I think if we can come in at the end of training camp, I think if we can be in really good skating shape and we can understand exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, stay healthy, and enter that first game of the year, that’s really my goal.” Q: Will you move to this area?
“I’m going to go back to Florida… I haven’t really seen my family for about 7 ½ months, and I’m going to spend some time with them. But I will be in and out because we don’t have a house out here yet, we haven’t found out where we’re living, so we’re going to have to quickly find a place and get settled. I’d like to get my family up here and settled well before the school year starts.”Q: Ryan Parent a couple years ago was knocking on the door of the top four (defensemen), and it seems like the last couple years the injuries have been a problem with him. Do you still see an upside there?
“Everybody knows he was out and he came back. This is an important summer for Ryan. He’s still a young defenseman trying to figure out that position in the National Hockey League against some of the greatest players in the world that you see night-in and night-out. It’s a difficult role, a difficult job, and there’s a lot of learning that goes on there. I think if he has a good, strong summer of working out, conditioning and preparing himself for training camp, there’s definitely room for improvement and there’s upside for him. We’re looking forward to that.”
Q: How about Oskars Bartulis?
“Same thing. They’re a little bit different in their game, but I feel the same about Oskars, that he’s got to come in in excellent shape, get stronger. He’s going to be another year older and the experience of a good year, his first year in the NHL, and be able to build on that. Hopefully he’ll come in a little wiser, a little stronger, and compete for one of those top six spots.”Q: What did you see in Mike Richards this year and what do you think about his future as a captain?
“I certainly, and I think the organization, we rely on Mike’s leadership in the room. The coach, you’re in the room 10 percent of the time. I think Mike did a good job in making sure this team spent together. I said this before, I think we grew as a team and it became a strength of ours towards the end. We fought for each other and played hard for each other, and I always think that’s a reflection of the leaders in the room, and certainly your captain. Mike’s one of those guys who tries to lead by example, and I think the example was pretty good down the stretch.”Q: Was Ville Leino’s playoff a little bit of an eye-opener moving forward to next season?
“There’s no question it did catch me off guard. I asked Ville the same question. I think he got an opportunity. He’s a very slick guy with the puck out there, as you guys saw. He was an effective player and it was an effective line for us. There’s no question that I think Ville opened a lot of people’s eyes and gave himself kind of a jump start for next year to be considered a guy that has to get out on the power play, that has to play with skilled players and consume a lot of minutes. He gets that opportunity to prove that he can do it, and I don’t see why he can’t. He just did it in the toughest of circumstances against some really good hockey teams. He was really good for us… that line was very good.” Q: When you do your exit interviews, is there a process that you have about what you discuss?
“I think the conversations are different for each player. The exit meetings for me are more just to talk about what happened, what I think they need to do through the course of the summer. Conditioning for me is going to be a big thing coming back in, making sure the guys are in shape and are ready to play, and I think that message was delivered to everybody. But they usually vary from person to person.”