Life with a new team, the upcoming season and why there’s plenty of reason for optimism around Smashville were among the topics of discussion for Head Coach Peter Laviolette as he spoke at the Rotary Club of Nashville’s lunchtime meeting on Monday.
The Predators bench boss was the guest speaker for upward of 200 of Nashville’s business leaders at the luncheon as he continued to get out in the community ahead of the 2014-15 campaign.
“I’m excited (to be in Nashville),” Laviolette told the group. “I’m excited about the potential of our team. There’s a lot of work to do, but I think there’s a general excitement that goes on right now, based on a coaching change, based on a personnel change… I think everybody’s looking forward to getting going. I know I am.”
Laviolette expanded upon the opportunities that he’s had since his hiring in Nashville to interact with members of the Predators staff and roster, including Assistant Coach Phil Housley and Video Coach Lawrence Feloney at the World Championships in May. Laviolette was the head coach of the American squad, allowing him to see Seth Jones and Craig Smith up close and personal.
“The trip over to the World Championships was a good thing,” Laviolette said. “I started getting to know the players and establishing those relationships that are so important.”
The head coach also covered the Predators offseason acquisitions, including one who he became familiar with as a member of the opposition. Having coached in Philadelphia for four-plus seasons, Laviolette got a chance to see firsthand what James Neal is capable of while Neal was skating for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I can stand here confidently and tell you that (Neal) is a natural goal scorer,” Laviolette said. “The puck gets on his stick and it has a good chance of going in the net.
“He was really a nice pickup for us. You have to let something go to get something and we did that, but we felt like we got a real good piece who can help change the makeup and identity of our team.”
Laviolette is pleased with the other free agent acquisitions, including the likes of forwards Derek Roy, Mike Ribeiro and Olli Jokinen, and defenseman Anton Volchenkov, and believes that those players help add to an already solid core.
He’s anxious to get going in training camp, even though those days can be exhausting for a head coach. Laviolette is excited to start from scratch with a team that will undoubtedly skate with his characteristics in due time.
“I think the goal in training camp right away is to start to change the message on how we want to play the game,” Laviolette said. “We want to play it fast, we’re going to be in good shape and we want to be on the attack. If we have the opportunity to not let teams out of the offensive zone, that’s exactly where we want to be.”
Before heading out into the heat, Laviolette shared one last story. When he was behind the bench in Carolina, a publication had ranked the Hurricanes to finish 29th out of 30 teams during the 2005-06 season. In June of 2006, his Hurricanes were lifting the Stanley Cup.
“Nobody knows who’s a Stanley Cup contender,” Laviolette said. “Nobody knows who’s going to be successful. If we had a crystal ball, we’d all go bet. But you don’t know. A team’s success is comprised of how well they come together. How well they fight for each other.
“If they play for each other, if they come together as a group, if they compete for each other, then we’ll experience success. I truly believe that.”
It’s easy for a coach to exude optimism at this time of the year, but Laviolette has good reason to do so. He’ll be looking to turn that optimism into results come October.
“I like our group,” Laviolette said. “I like our players, I like our core, I like our leadership and I think we’re going to be a good hockey team. We’ve got a lot of work to do but I think we’ll be a very competitive hockey team.”