Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette propelled himself into rarefied air when the Preds won the Western Conference championship on Monday over the Anaheim Ducks. Laviolette has now taken three straight teams - the Carolina Hurricanes, the Philadelphia Flyers, and now the Predators - to the Stanley Cup Final, only the fourth coach to do so following Dick Irvin, Scotty Bowman and Mike Keenan.
With a pedigree like that, it’s understandable that looking back to Laviolette’s tenure with the Hurricanes is in style in Carolina these days. Over the years, what looked like the right move at the time may come to be seen as a mistake in retrospect; the mere mention of Justin Williams’ name in any Canes fans’ conversation is proof.
But was Laviolette’s departure from the Hurricanes, acrimonious as it was, the correct move? With the benefit of hindsight, we can evaluate whether the Canes did the right thing in replacing Laviolette with Paul Maurice in December of 2008.
The Case For Keeping Laviolette
I mean, it kind of starts and ends with this, doesn’t it?
Laviolette’s former players hold him in high esteem. Current Canes assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour told Luke DeCock of the News and Observer last year during the 10th-anniversary celebration of the Canes’ Stanley Cup win that Laviolette was one of a kind.
He pushed every right button that a coach can push for that year. Just the way he assembled the team, brought the team together. I never played on a team that was as tight.
A great profile of Laviolette that ran Sunday in the Tennessean quoted former Canes defenseman Mike Commodore echoing Brind’Amour’s praise of his former coach:
I’ve played for a lot of coaches, and some of them I think are good people, and some of them I don’t think are good people at all. Peter’s truly a good guy. That’s the main thing I will always remember and appreciate about Peter Laviolette.
Former Canes trainer Pete Friesen, who has been in hockey for more than half his life, had similar plaudits for Laviolette.
A lot of coaches are good tacticians, but Peter actually gets players to believe in a system. He can outline a whole freaking process and execute it, step by step. I’ve been a trainer for 37 years and he’s the best coach I’ve ever worked with. And I don’t just mean coach, I mean human being. In my mind, he’s another John Wooden.
Clearly, the players and staff love Laviolette. If they had their choice, he would still be coaching the Canes. (Or the Flyers, or the Islanders, for that matter.)
The Case for Moving On
Steve Logan, the sometimes analyst on 99.9 The Fan who makes regular appearances in between his NFL gigs, likes to say something that has relevance here: “Coaches are hired to be fired.” There are very few coaches who go out on top of their professions: the aforementioned John Wooden and Scotty Bowman come to mind, for example.
But even revered names like Phil Jackson, Tom Landry and Paul Brown didn’t ride off gloriously into the sunset. Everyone has a shelf life, and for Laviolette it seems to be right at about three seasons.
Canes owner Peter Karmanos minced no words a month after Laviolette was fired, telling a meeting of the Greater Raleigh Sports Council that the former coach would likely not be on his Christmas card list.
I didn't like our coach. His public persona and his private persona were two different things.
Oh. Well, then.
That could easily be dismissed as a one-off from a loose cannon, but then late Flyers owner Ed Snider piped up with this take after the Flyers canned Laviolette in 2013:
I thought our training camp, quite frankly, was one of the worst training camps I've ever seen. I'm not talking about wins or losses. There was nothing exciting. Nobody shined. Nobody looked good. I couldn't point to one thing that I thought was a positive. Unfortunately, my worries were realized.
Twice is a trend. So what’s three times? Here’s Mike Milbury (I know, I know) when the Islanders parted ways with Laviolette in 2003:
The measuring sticks by which I hold the team and the coach accountable — conditioning, discipline and motivation — in the end, by the team's own admission and by the coach's admission, they came up short. We were not an inspired group in the end.
Say what you will about the three executives involved, but there’s a trend here.
Not only that, at the time, the Canes’ firing of Laviolette was completely defensible. The Canes the year before had become the first team ever to miss the playoffs the year after winning the Stanley Cup, and they were floundering at the time, in eighth place by one point when Maurice was re-hired. All he did was take the Canes to the Eastern Conference Final.
With each passing game, it was becoming clear that Peter Laviolette no longer possessed the ability to get this team to play hard on a regular, consistent basis. It’s also possible that wasn’t his fault.
He wasn’t given the most talented roster in the NHL to start with, and injuries and poor performances left him with a shell of even that. It’s entirely possible no coach could have been able — or will be able — to get more out of this roster.
But in the end, Laviolette paid the price for a string of home losses — three in a row, and a 6-7-0 home record — that highlighted this team’s most critical failing:
Whether to start games (the Hurricanes have given up the first goal in 10 straight games) or to end them (the late collapses against Los Angeles, Edmonton and Washington), there was no way of telling how hard the Canes were willing to play on any particular night.
Looking at Laviolette’s performance after leaving the Canes, it’s easy to say that the Canes gave up too early on their championship-winning coach. But given what was said each of the three times he’s been let go in the NHL, the Canes may in fact have been on the cutting edge.
Put another way: there’s a reason Laviolette is taking his third different team to the Stanley Cup Final, but there’s also a reason that he was in the position of being able to take three teams there in the first place.
What do you think: did the Canes make the right move in firing Laviolette?
You make the call: was firing Peter Laviolette the right move for the Hurricanes?
This poll is closed
Yes, he had worn out his welcome
No, he deserved a chance to make it work
It was inevitable, but the Canes reacted too early
Other (comment below)