It likely won’t take long to know whether or not the Nashville Predators picked the right guy to be their second head coach.
With Peter Laviolette, it rarely does.
The 49-year-old has a history of early success as a head coach. At the same time, though, teams have been nearly as quick to decide that he no longer was the guy. Look no further than the start of this season when the Philadelphia Flyers fired him after three games (0-3-0) — the NHL’s earliest coaching change in more than 40 years.
A well-traveled bench boss who has directed teams in the minor leagues and the NHL — he also will be head coach for Team USA at the 2014 World Championships, which kick off next week in Belarus — he almost always has made a good first impression.
His first job was as head coach of the ECHL’s Wheeling Whalers in 1997-98 and he took that team to the third round of the playoffs. The following season, he took over the Providence Bruins in the AHL and immediately won a league championship.
At first glance, his two-year stint as coach of the New York Islanders seems less impressive given that he did not win a postseason series there. Consider, though, that the Islanders reached the playoffs each of those two seasons following a seven-year absence. They made it back just twice in eight years after he left.
He got the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010, his first season there. He led Carolina to a Stanley Cup championship in 2006, his second year with that franchise.
If General Manager David Poile, therefore, wanted someone who could provide the sort of jolt that immediately pushes the Predators farther than they’ve gone, it’s tough to imagine he could have done any better.
Laviolette gets results and he gets them quickly. The problem is that he fails to sustain those results and can’t measure up to the expectations he establishes for himself. Usually, it doesn’t take long before his team is looking for someone else.
Carolina gave up on him less than one-third of the way into the 2008-09 season, a little more than two years after he led that team to the Cup. The Islanders had seen enough after just two seasons, even though they were playoff seasons. He endured rumors of his firing throughout most of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign only to be shown the door a week into the following season after what chairman Ed Snider called “one of the worst training camps I’ve ever seen.”
“I’m not talking about strictly the results,” former Islanders GM Mike Milbury said when he fired Laviolette more than a decade ago. “I’m talking about the methodology in coaching and communication with players. If you don’t have it, it’s pretty tough to succeed. And it looked to me as if it had been lost.”
In terms of style and substance, he does not represent business as usual. Laviolette is the sort of all-or-nothing personality and performer the Predators traditionally have shied away from at all levels of the organization.
His history suggests that his addition will yield positive results beginning with the 2014-15 season. Likewise, however, there is absolutely no reason to think he’ll ever threaten Barry Trotz’s franchise record for the number of games coached.
With Laviolette, nothing lasts long.