When Peter Laviolette accepted the Nashville Predators coaching job Tuesday, four other NHL jobs were vacant, some with teams that might be considered to have more talented rosters.
Laviolette said he chose Nashville in large part because of the relationship he developed with Predators general manager David Poile while the two worked for the United States in the time leading up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics. They knew each other before Laviolette became an assistant coach, and Poile the GM for the U.S., but the relationship strengthened during that period.
"We spent an awful lot of time talking over the phone and in meetings," Laviolette said Wednesday via conference call from Minsk, Belarus where he is coaching the United States in the IIHF World Championship, "and it's an opportunity to work for a first-class general manager, one of the best in the League, and that's appealing to me."
Peter Laviolette said the opportunity to work with a top general manager in David Poile and a roster that includes big-name players like Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne made the Nashville Predators' coaching job an appealing one for him. (Photo: Getty Images)
Laviolette also spoke glowingly of the Predators fan base and the environment at Bridgestone Arena, and of the Predators roster. The highlights include captain Shea Weber, who became a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the third time this season, and goalie Pekka Rinne, a two-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy. (Laviolette said he got a chance earlier in the day to talk to Rinne in the lobby of the hotel where he is staying; Rinne is playing for Finland.)
"They've got some terrific players in place and some young, promising players in place," Laviolette said. "They're a team that just missed making the playoffs [by three points] this last year, and I'm just really looking forward to the opportunity to getting them back in and being able to compete for the Stanley Cup."
Laviolette was fired three games into this season by the Philadelphia Flyers. That came after failing to qualify in 2012-13 for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He reached the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with the Flyers in 2009-10, then the Eastern Conference Semifinals each of the next two years.
Laviolette, who coached the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup, said he never lost faith in how he approaches the game.
"When coaches come and go, it's difficult to always understand why or agree with them or disagree with them," he said. "It's just one of those professions where things happen. I think that it's always best in my situation to always look forward to hope that there's another opportunity and another chance to get back in. I said this before, and I don't mean it to sound cocky or egotistical, but I 100 percent believe in how I want to prepare a team and how I think the game should be played.
"From that point of view, I want to take what I know and I want to move forward. I want to try to get that identity instilled into the team and watch our team grow."
In terms of style of play, Laviolette used similar words to the way Poile described it a day earlier: moving forward instead of backward. Poile said he wants to play a more offensive style. Scoring goals proved an issue the past two seasons under Barry Trotz, who coached the Predators for their first 15 seasons since entering the NHL in 1998 and established a defensive identity.
Laviolette was very careful to show deference to Trotz, who he called one of the best coaches in the League.
"I think that there's a thought you can play the game moving forward, taking time and space or being more layered and protective," Laviolette said. "I don't want to characterize what we do as reckless. It's worked at different levels and I truly believe in it. It could be summed up by moving forward. Instead of maybe sending one man, you send two men."
Laviolette said he likes a team that "works hard together, on the attack in a responsible way." He is known as a communicator and a motivator, able to get the most out of each player. He said it's important for each player to know his role and that he wants to play an aggressive game.
In his three previous coaching stints and as an assistant in the NHL, Laviolette always worked in the Eastern Conference. The Nashville job represents his first in the Western Conference, which some see as more competitive. Five of the past seven Stanley Cup champions have come out of the West, and this season five of the top seven regular-season records came from Western teams.
"I'm not going to sit here and say I'm experienced in the West, because I'm not in the sense that my teams have been in the East, but that doesn't mean that when you're in the East you don't play teams in the West," he said. "We don't necessarily play any differently. If I was in Philadelphia or Carolina and playing Nashville or playing Dallas or playing [Los Angeles], I think there's a routine that you go through with your clubs in preparing for the clubs. You do your best. You make small changes to your identity or your game plan to fit the opponent.
"So while I may not be as familiar with Phoenix as I was in Philadelphia with the Rangers, I feel like those are learned traits, and as we approach a game our team will be well-prepared and ready to play those games. Even with regard to the travel and the arenas, I'm not as well-versed in the West, but I've been there and I've done it before, and I don't really see that being a problem."