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Predators expect Laviolette to improve offense

by John Manasso

The idea of hiring Peter Laviolette as the Nashville Predators' second coach seemed like a natural fit to general manager David Poile.

The two worked together for the United States at the 2014 Sochi Olympics with Poile as general manager and Laviolette as an assistant coach. Poile was impressed with Laviolette's preparation and game plans and liked Laviolette's experience and motivational abilities.

Yet Poile wanted to do his homework. It was 17 years since he hired a coach and he wanted to get it right. So Poile spoke with some who played for Laviolette with the Carolina Hurricanes, who he coached to the 2006 Stanley Cup, and the Philadelphia Flyers, who he brought to the 2010 Cup Final. Poile spoke to Predators center Matt Cullen, who won the Cup with Laviolette in Carolina.

Poile might have ended his search where he started. The Predators announced Laviolette on Tuesday as the successor to Barry Trotz, who coached the team for its first 15 seasons. Poile, the third-longest tenured general manager in the NHL, said his confidence in the hire was about as high as any decision he had ever made.

"Peter is a very successful coach," Poile said. "Am I glad that we have that an experienced coach who won a Stanley Cup? Yes, sir. That's good. All of the criteria is great. Again, I think I knew all that but I wanted to check it out with other people, other players. Again, I just did my due diligence. This is arguably the most important decision we're making this offseason."

Laviolette, who has an NHL record of 389-282-25-63, will hold a conference call Wednesday but the Predators cannot formally introduce him until next month. The 49-year-old is coaching the U.S. team at the IIHF World Championship in Belarus.

Kevin McCarthy joins the Predators as an assistant coach alongside holdovers Lane Lambert and Phil Housley. The status of goaltending coach Mitch Korn remains uncertain; Poile said he plans to talk to Korn in the coming weeks.

The hope is that a break from Trotz's defense-first approach to Laviolette's more offensive-oriented one will help Nashville's young forwards develop and for the team to score more.

"The potential of our defense joining the rush, participating in the rush, creating offense allows teams -- I don't like to use the word risk -- he just believes in taking more risk, taking more advantages," Poile said of Laviolette. "He just believes in going forward versus going backwards. So it's more of that in a nutshell. Again, talking to Matt Cullen, especially, it's a different way of playing. The word I kept hearing is players like to play that way. It's a fun way to play."

Cullen had a career-high 25 goals playing for Laviolette in 2005-06 and said he brings out the best in every player.

"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. He just has a real ability to bring out the best in all of his players whether you're a fourth-line guy or a first-line guy or a first-year guy or a veteran guy. The year we won the Cup is a great example of how he brought out the best in all of his players."

Predators captain Shea Weber said the change will be exciting.

"I think everyone likes playing with the puck," the defenseman said. "… When you're playing offense, you're not playing defense, so it'll be something different but I think guys will like it."

Laviolette's players often lauded him for his motivational ability. The Predators missed the Western Conference's final wild-card playoff spot by three points.

"He's very good at that," Cullen said. "He's a good motivator. In the room, he brings a real presence. He has an ability to get guys fired up. He brings a lot of passion. He brings a lot of fire to the rink. He's just an easy guy to follow, as far as a player. He's an outspoken leader in the room and he's a good speaker and he's good motivator that way. It's fun to play for a guy like that."

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