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Laviolette plans to return to Final

by John McGourty
Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said Monday that he likes his team and can't wait to conduct his first training camp with them in September.

Laviolette took over the coaching reins on Dec. 4, when the Flyers fired John Stevens after a 13-11-1 start, and his team went 3-7 in his first 10 games. That left them in 29th place in the NHL and as Laviolette said, "We were a team that from Christmas was in a stretch run. That's a long time, a really long time. Every game was important, a must-win game. When you are in 29th-place overall, you can't try different things or experiment with line combinations. (Making the playoffs) came down to the last game of year, so there was no wiggle room."

But before he can start the process of preparing for 2010-11, Laviolette needs to reunite with his family and find a place to live in the Philadelphia area.

"I'm going to go back to Florida," he said. "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."

The Flyers required a stiff in-season conditioning program to play Laviolette's style that got them to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. With the benefit of running his own training camp, Laviolette believes the Flyers can be a much better team from the start of the season.

"I want to make sure that we're in shape when we come to camp," he said. "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 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."

Laviolette understands there will be personnel changes between now and September. In goal, only Brian Boucher and minor-league goalie Johan Backlund are signed. Free agent goalies Ray Emery and Michael Leighton would like to return to the Flyers, but Emery won't know until August if he can resume his career after major hip surgery.

Laviolette said General Manager Paul Holmgren makes all personnel decisions but added: "I like our hockey team. I like the job we did up front at forward, on defense, and in goal."

Asked if he thought Leighton could be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL, Laviolette replied: "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 (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 No. 1."

For about a month now, even before the end of the Stanley Cup Final, local writers have been speculating that one of the team's centers, captain Mike Richards, leading goal scorer Jeff Carter, playoff scoring leader Danny Briere, top draft pick Claude Giroux or fourth-line faceoff expert and penalty killer Blair Betts might be used as trade bait for a goalie. After all, the thinking goes, there's five centers and only four lines.

Laviolette doesn't see it that way.

"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," he said. "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. 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."

"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." -- Peter Laviolette
Laviolette said defensemen Ryan Parent and Oskars Bartulis have to come to training camp in peak physical condition if they hope to nail down positions among the top-six defensemen. Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Bartulis and Matt Carle are signed long-term but Parent and Braydon Coburn are restricted free agents, and Lukas Krajicek, minus-10 in 27 games with the Flyers, is an unrestricted free agent.

Laviolette said captain Richards provides strong leadership for the Flyers.

"We rely on Mike's leadership in the room," he said. "The coach, you're in the room 10 percent of the time. I think Mike did a good job in making sure this team stuck together. I said this before, I think we grew as a team and it became a strength of ours toward 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."

Laviolette was reminded that while a team may be feeling good about its future after playing in the Stanley Cup Final, not many teams in recent years have returned to the Final.

"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," he said. "I think our guys will be pretty motivated. Just because we got pretty close, we're a young group, and 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 we can't come out and find success through the course of the regular season."

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