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Good Lovin' Gone Bad - Laviolette on Hot Seat

The Carolina Hurricanes are back in the news, but certainly not in the way that fans would like them to be. General Manager Jim Rutherford is telling anyone who will listen that he is far from happy with his 2006 Stanley Cup winning coach, Peter Laviolette.

The rumor mill has picked up on the GM's angst and one legitimate source has even reported that Lavi is almost as good as gone.

The talk is the Hurricanes are going to give coach Peter Laviolette his walking papers. If they do, Laviolette could end up with Atlanta.

So, what's up? Why is Rutherford so upset with Laviolette? Some people were picking Lavi to be coach of the year, taking into consideration how the team performed after the All Star break, (before the end of year choke), even with all the injuries.

One big problem is that the Hurricanes franchise lost millions of dollars, thanks to their end of year collapse. Everyone in North Carolina, including the Zamboni driver thought that the Canes were in the playoffs. They had a 7 point lead with just 7 games left. How could they blow that?

Most fans had already bought, paid for, and had their playoff tickets in hand. But now, The First National Bank of Karmanos has to return tons of money to the disappointed fanbase. Giving back money never sits well with rich people. The current foul mood, or in some cases, the feeling like you were just kicked in the stomach, will also affect season ticket sales for next year. And forget about the merchandising. The financial ramifications of not making the playoffs are far-reaching.

Someone has to take the fall, why not the coach? You don't think that Rutherford would fire himself for all the mistakes that he made, do you?

Does the GM have a legitimate beef with the coach? Let's take a look at some of what JR had to say at his press conference on Thursday afternoon. I will copy some of the transcript, then read between the lines and translate into "Bubba speak" for us regular folk.

"I’ll say the obvious. It’s disappointing that we’re having this gathering at this point in the season. It was not expected, not projected. I’ll just go back over the season. Since I’ve been a manager, which is a long time now, I thought it was the best training camp that we’ve ever had. Peter (Laviolette) and his coaching staff and the use of people like Ron Francis at camp, I thought really gave us a really good camp and a good basis to get off to a good start to the season, which we did. Part of that good start was exceptional goaltending by Cam Ward.

We started off so well because of the efforts of Ron Francis and Cam Ward. Ward is our franchise goalie.

For whatever reason we then went through a period of time in November and December of undisciplined, lackluster, inconsistent – I think that’s most of the words – poor work ethic, and that’s what really cost us the playoffs. .......When I sit back and look at the season, it was November and December where we went through 30-35 games of being a handful of games under .500 I would think, and with the team we had and even the injuries we had, if we go through that period of time at just a .500 team, we would have been right at the top of our conference. We won 43 games, the most a team won in our conference was 47, but it still wasn’t good enough. I think if we were playing in a series today, we would view ourselves as one of the top contenders and a chance to win our conference and go on to the Stanley Cup Finals, but we’re not.

If we were in the playoffs, we would probably do very well and win the Stanley Cup. Our coach would be great. But we are not in the playoffs, and that means that our coach is not so great and he has to go.

Now we go into another offseason, two in a row without making the playoffs, even under the best of times there’s changes that are made and then when you miss the playoffs two years in a row you have to consider what are the things you can do to try and change and bring about change in your team and give you a better chance to make the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup. I’m going to take some time probably in the next couple of weeks. I’ve had my meetings with the players, initial meetings with the coaching staff and I have enough information now to digest over the next couple of weeks and see what changes that I may consider making."

During the meetings, none of the players indicated to me that I did anything wrong, so obviously the failure of this season was not my fault.

"Cam Ward’s play was good this year. In the start of the season he was the reason we were winning most of those games. We can talk about a lot of things because there were a lot of good things – people brought different things to our team when we had injuries, the players we called up and whatnot. But really when you get right down to it, when we really went on that good run from the All-Star break on, Cam Ward was the difference in a lot of games. He was selected as a first or second star in a lot of those games, and even in the games he wasn’t he made a difference. Sure, there were a handful of games you can point to where he and the team probably would have viewed him as maybe we would have liked him to play a little bit better, but he played almost 70 games and when you play that many games you’re not going to be at your best every night. But overall he had a good year. He put us in a position to be in the playoffs, and certainly I can’t say it was the goaltending that did not get us in the playoffs, because it wasn’t."

Cam Ward is our franchise goalie. (see answer to 1st paragraph)

On how many changes he plans to make this offseason
"I don’t know. It’s hard to say, because sometimes when you make one change it leads to another and then all of the sudden you’ve made four or five different changes. I don’t expect a lot of changes to be made. We presently sit here, debatably, with 10 top-nine forwards. That’s not including Sutter or LaRose in that. Sutter is a little bit young and LaRose has shown signs that he can play in the top nine, so we would have 10 or 11 top-nine forwards, and we’re going to have to fix our defense. Even projecting and not knowing for sure at this point whether Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican are coming back, I have a lot of disappointment in the way our team played in our own end. I like the style of play we have, I think it’s great for our fans, I think it’s fun to watch with the offense and I really don’t want to see that style change, but I do think we need to get away from cheating in the defensive zone on killing penalties and cheating in the defensive zone to go on the offense when we should be more responsible defensively. Those are areas we have to look at."

We have to play a tighter brand of hockey in our own end and not leave the goalie stranded. (not sure if you noticed, but he can't stop break-aways.) Besides, most of the defensive players we have should never be cheating away from the defensive zone anyway. They couldn't score at a kittykat ranch with a no-limit credit card.

I'll make my decision about Bret Hedican and Glen Wesley after they tell me whether or not they want to play another year and how much I should pay them. I usually allow my oft injured, aging players to call the shots. The coach, on the other hand, has got to go.

On the undisciplined play in November and December
"Part of what brought it on was the good start we had and not realizing how we had that good start. I just spoke to the fact that we had great goaltending through that early run, and I think some players got comfortable and we lost our work ethic and lost sight of the fact that there’s not an easy team to play in this league. There’s a lot of parity. There’s going to be parity going forward, there are teams that are going to get better like the Pittsburghs and the Washingtons with their good young players, but the good news is that every team has a chance to be in the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup year after year. This team is probably in a stronger position today than we were a year ago with the number of players we have and the assets that we can fix our team, but with that being said we have to make the right decisions.

It's obviously the coach's fault that the players got fat, lazy, and complacent. He must have told them to slack off and take it easy. Besides, Cam Ward won many of those early games for us, anyway. Cam Ward is our franchise goalie. (see answer to paragraph one.)

On the injuries the team experienced throughout the year
"The injuries had something to do with the end, because of the last game and we put players back into our lineup that were not ready to play, and it wasn’t fair to the players and it wasn’t fair to the overall team. In that sense it affected it. Last year we had key injuries in Stillman and Kaberle, and I said we wouldn’t use it as an excuse. I don’t want this to be a story about an excuse, but I think there’s a legitimate point here that this team has a reason to use that as a reason why we didn’t make the playoffs. There were stretches during the season there before we got it going where just prior to making the trade with Ottawa we had lost four games in a row. We were lost. We just didn’t have enough good players and we didn’t have enough work ethic and things like that. I think with the team we had, I don’t think we would have gone through the stretches we did if we had a healthy team. With that, I want to just clarify that, I don’t want to use it as an excuse, but if we ever had a year that we could say that it made a difference, it made a difference."

The injuries are not an excuse, but they are the reason we lost and missed the playoffs. Anyway, I'm just ticked off that Brookbank and Conboy didn't play in those last couple of games. It wasn't fair, and I'm all about being fair.

On if rushing players back into the lineup relates to his decision to delay the review of the coaching staff
"It’s emotion and gathering enough information for me to make the right decisions. In our business everybody is always under review. That’s just the way life works and the way sports works. I need to look at the overall picture. I was very, very upset and disappointed when we went through that stretch in the first half of the season, and quite frankly I didn’t think our team would rebound from it, and we did. We made some changes in the team and we rebounded and almost made it to where we needed to go. I have a lot to think about. That period of time bothers me more than losing the last game."

I'm so upset right now I could spit! The season was in the tank before I saved the day with some well timed trades. But even with the best players in the league, they still lost. If I met with Laviolette at this very moment I would fire his ass. But I figure that if I wait a few days and keep bitchin' in the press, maybe he will get upset and quit, that way we won't have to pay him the remaining 3 years on his contract.

On the status of Keith Aucoin and Ryan Bayda
"I was really proud of those guys. They have been up and down with us, they’ve been good depth guys and they played extremely well and showed that they’re capable of playing here. This will be talked about in our hockey meetings in early June about who’s in and who’s out. The one concern that we have talked about in the exit meetings and the coaches’ meetings is the size of our team. Not a lot’s going to change with the size of our top nine forwards. We’ve got a lot of skill guys, and you look at some of those teams that we have to compete with that are bigger and skate real well. Do we have to change our fourth line and get it a little bit bigger, and if in fact that’s true, I don’t think their size is going to change over the offseason. But I give them a lot of credit, and they may very well be back with us. If we had a fourth line with them playing on it and they play the way they played, that works too, but that decision has not been made yet."

Obviously, they are great guys and did a good job for us this year. The problem is, they are smaller players and we need to beef up and get bigger, especially on the 4rth line. Taking that into consideration, we will see if they want to return for another year and after they tell me how much I should pay them, I will make my decision at that time. Hopefully, they will want no-trade contracts. (See reply about Wesley and Hedican above)

On David Tanabe’s status
"He’s still not doing that well. I’ve requested a couple of meetings with him to come into the office, and he hasn’t been able to come in. His exit meeting was scheduled, and he didn’t come for it. Other that the reports I get from the doctors and the trainers it’s hard for me to give you a good answer because I’d like an answer too. He’s not able to drive, but his wife drives him to the doctor’s. I know it’s more important to see the doctor than me, but I think he could be driven to see me.

David Tanabe is dead to me....

On if he wants to bolster the defense in free agency
"We have guys that we like on other teams that are under contract, and we have guys that we like that are coming into free agency. I would suspect, based on what our budget will be for our team, that it would be more apt that we would trade a player for a defenseman, or trade two players for two defensemen, because if we don’t we can’t offset the money. The fact that we have extra forwards, I would suspect that would be the way we do it."

If I can't pull a miracle of deal, we're pretty much stuck with the same lunk-heads we've already got under contract now. Please keep in mind that I gave everyone a no-trade clause, so making that miracle trade could be difficult. The coach on the other-hand, is the only person that does not have a no-trade clause, so he is gone.

On if missing the playoffs will affect the player budget for next season
"When we do our budget we only do our budget based on the regular season. Based on the regular season we’re going to lose money. I would like to think we can keep our payroll at least at the same and not lower, but that’s a topic for another time when I go and meet with Mr. Karmanos and see where we want to go with that. The one thing we know for sure is that this division is getting better and teams are not going to get worse. In order to compete and win another Cup, we’re going to have be at a certain level. It gets a little bit tricky when you’re in a lower-revenue smaller-market team, but I still think that we have the pieces here to make the adjustments we need to be a real good team in our conference next year."

Are you kidding? (laughing hysterically), After Mr. Karmanos has returned everyone's playoff ticket money, we'll be lucky to pay the electric bill, let alone increase the budget.


All kidding aside, this is obviously a serious time for Carolina's General Manager and Coach. We are not privy to all the inside details of their conflict, but there are obviously some problems that we can speculate about.

JR seems upset about how the return of the injured players was handled. He can stand in line about that one.

He also doesn't seem to like the wide open, cheating style that Lavi employs. It is certainly all or nothing, which shows why the Canes have so few points earned for regulation ties. They also allow too many wide open shots from the slot area, maybe more so than any other team in the NHL.

From Laviolette's perspective, how is he supposed to motivate the 2nd oldest crew in the NHL, half of whom have no-trade contracts? Fans certainly noticed that the younger players seemed to respond to Lavi, the guys from Albany who brought so much energy to the team when it was needed.

Laviolette's system generated more penalties and powerplays than any other team in the NHL. Unfortunately, the powerplay wasn't the best and they didn't really take full advantage of those drawn penalties.

Peter Laviolette did win the Cup once. If he did it once, he can do it again.

Jim Rutherford is doing one of two things. He is softening the blow for when he fires Laviolette at some point in the near future. Or, he is firing warning shots across the bow, telling the coach that there is no more room for mistake. Either way, I haven't seen JR throw anyone under the bus in public like this since Keith Primeau.

Hopefully, both men will compromise and cooler heads will prevail. I don't think that I could stomach the sight of the Cup winning coach for this franchise, over on the Atlanta Thrashers bench.

Bad Company