As the one-year anniversary of Laviolette’s hiring approaches, the head coach of the Nashville Predators, along with Preds General Manager David Poile, sat down with the media on Tuesday morning at Bridgestone Arena in their season-ending press conference to reflect on the campaign that was, as well as the promise that lies ahead.
For Laviolette, having spent just under one year with the Predators organization, things are working out quite well thus far.
“I can tell you that after a year gone by now and having the opportunity to work with everybody, what a terrific choice,” Laviolette said on coming to Nashville. “I’m grateful for the opportunity because for me, it was a terrific year and a great opportunity to work with great people and great players.”
Of course, if the Preds had it their way, they’d still be playing hockey right now. But 30 teams set out with the same goal each season. It’s a simple fact that 29 of them are going to be disappointed in the end. Laviolette believes that this holds true for the Predators, and he shares in that feeling with all associated with the organization.
“The ultimate goal was to win a Stanley Cup,” Laviolette said. “I said the same thing to the players yesterday, we can put it right on the table right now, and we’re disappointed. It leaves a pit in your stomach, and I can speak for everybody, I think. I can speak for the fans, the players and the managers and the coaches; when you invest a lot, it hurts a lot.”
But the return on investment figures to come sooner rather than later. Both Laviolette and Poile echoed a sentiment that the Preds players spoke to on Monday, sharing a belief that this team isn’t far from attaining that ultimate goal.
“As we get ready for next year, we’re still working toward our ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup, and we’re so much closer than the last couple years or even last year,” Poile said. “I feel way more comfortable, way more confident in our players, our staff, our coaching staff and the belief in our team going forward.”
“As we move forward, I think that we’ll look back on the year as a [real positive] and a building block,” Laviolette said. “This group can now say, with all the young players that we have, this is a chance to move forward and get better from here.”
And for Laviolette, his first decision is paying off.
“I really enjoyed coaching this year,” Laviolette said. “I enjoyed working with these players, working with management; I love the fans, I love the building and it was just a real solid year.”
Contracts & Draftees:
With the beginning of the offseason comes the questions of personnel changes. The business side of hockey ensures that each team will have at least some sort of change from season to season, but Preds General Manager David Poile stated on Tuesday that he expects those changes this summer will be much less numerous than they have been in the past.
Forwards Mike Ribeiro, Mike Fisher, Matt Cullen and Mike Santorelli, as well as defensemen Cody Franson and Anton Volchenkov, are unrestricted free agents. Poile predominantly expressed a strong desire to re-sign Ribeiro and Fisher, while the pair both stated on Monday their wish to remain in Nashville as well.
With the start of free agency not arriving until July 1, Poile said he’s in no rush to delve right into negotiations, but the proper meetings will be held with players, coaches and agents over the coming weeks before any decisions are made.
Forwards Colin Wilson, Craig Smith, Calle Jarnkrok, Gabriel Bourque and Taylor Beck are all restricted free agents. Defenseman Anthony Bitetto, who saw time at the NHL level this season, as well as goaltender Marek Mazanec are also among those who also carry a RFA status.
As for future Preds, the 2015 NHL Draft comes at the end of June, and as of now, the club does not possess a first-round pick. While Poile expressed he may try to acquire something in that realm before the draft, the GM doesn’t believe it’s a priority.
“I think the way we do things, even without having that first-round pick, we’ll still probably get a guy highly rated [on our rankings], just by the way we’re going to do things,” Poile said. “[We’ll] just be more specific to the type of player we want to get…I’m very confident in our scouting staff, and they’ve done a really good job in the last couple years.”
The Secret’s Out:
Prior to the 2014-15 season, the Nashville Predators weren’t picked by many to even contend for a playoff spot, let alone a division title or the Stanley Cup. So much for that.
Now that the team has shown what they’re capable of in the regular season, Head Coach Peter Laviolette knows that it won’t get any easier from here.
“I said this yesterday to the players, we shouldn’t assume anything,” Laviolette said. “We shouldn’t assume that we’re going to be fourth in the League next year and we shouldn’t assume that we’re going to play three rounds in the playoffs. It’s going to be hard and difficult, especially in our division.”
The hope is that the success that the Predators experienced this season will go a long way in helping to build for the future, but success won’t come without plenty of gumption, among other attributes.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but what we did do this year, we had a lot of players come in, first-year experiences, first time on our team, first year with a new coach and a new identity, and we experienced some sort of success,” Laviolette said. “We need to build on that and we need to work hard to build on that next year.”
But if there’s anyone to guide the club through whatever adversity comes next September through April and beyond, it’s the man behind the Preds bench.
“I’ll tell you, I’m proud of our guys and I’m proud of our organization,” Laviolette said. “I loved the community, the fans and the building and what it brought, and I’m very excited and looking forward to next year.”
Two More Preds Head to Worlds:
A day after four Predators players announced they’d be traveling to the Czech Republic for the 2015 World Championships, two more joined their ranks.
Defenseman Mattias Ekholm was unsure of his place on Team Sweden on Monday, but Nashville General Manager David Poile announced less than 24 hours later that the blueliner and countryman Filip Forsberg would both represent their nation at the tournament. The 2015 IIHF World Championships will run from May 1 through May 17.
The 2014 edition of the 16 national-team tournament was a clear indicator of future success for several Predators later that year in the NHL. Pekka Rinne won MVP honors while playing for Team Finland, while Seth Jones, Craig Smith, Assistant Coach Phil Housley and (newly named, just three days prior) Head Coach Peter Laviolette all collaborated as a part of Team USA.
“I’m excited to experience the World Championships with [Team] USA again,” Jones said. “Our [NHL postseason] series with Chicago was long and difficult, but I’ve had some time to refresh, and I’m ready to go.”
For much more on the World Championships and continued coverage of the Predators players involved in the tournament, click here.
Eric Nystrom exited a contest on March 3 with a lower-body injury and ultimately was unable to return to game action for the remainder of the Predators regular and postseason play.
On Tuesday, the winger’s ailment was revealed to be a high ankle sprain. The forward took part in the team’s morning skate prior to Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals and would have likely been able to return to game action within a week to 10 days from now.