- The Washington Times
Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Washington Capitals hired Peter Laviolette to be their next coach Tuesday on a three-year contract, giving them an experienced coach with championship pedigree.

Laviolette, who most recently coached the Nashville Predators for five-plus seasons, has made the Stanley Cup Final three times with three different teams — leading the Predators there in 2017, the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. Of those trips, Laviolette, 55, won it all with the Hurricanes. With 18 years of coaching experience for four different teams, Laviolette has a career .588 winning percentage (637-425-25-123).

The Capitals were in search of a new coach after firing Todd Reirden last month following another disappointing first-round playoff exit. When speaking to reporters, general manager Brian MacLellan said he was looking for an experienced leader who could “push buttons” in order to extend Washington’s closing championship window.

MacLellan said Washington needed the “skillset” that Laviolette brings.

“Peter has a track record of establishing a culture, and it’s one of his priorities,” MacLellan said. “And part of that culture is getting guys to play the right way and holding them accountable to play the right way. I think it’s a big priority when you talk to him, so I have confidence, because he’s done it in the past, and it’s a priority the way he speaks about it, the way he communicates about it. … It’s a big reason why we hired him.”

Last month, MacLellan said Washington’s culture “started to slip” under Reirden. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2018, the Capitals failed to advance out of the first round in back-to-back seasons. This past season, Washington was notably inconsistent as it struggled to play at a high level on a nightly basis.

Laviolette will be expected to make a difference fast. Next year figures to be pivotal for the Capitals as captain Alex Ovechkin enters the last year of his contract. Washington could also see a change at goaltender as Braden Holtby is set to hit free agency.

Laviolette said he hasn’t had a chance yet to speak with Ovechkin, but said he was excited about the core that he is inheriting.He called Washington an “incredible opportunity.”

As for his track record, Laviolette’s teams tend to start strong. Carolina’s Stanley Cup win in 2006 was Laviolette’s first full year at the helm, having taken over the previous season in December.

When the New York Islanders hired him in 2002 — his first head coaching job in the NHL — the Islanders saw a 21-win jump. Laviolette also had a major impact in his first year with the Flyers, leading them to the Stanley Cup Final where the team lost to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Laviolette is known for his no-nonsense approach.

“I do believe in honesty,” Laviolette said. “I do believe in directness. I can be firm and I can be compassionate. I think that you have to be in today’s game. But more often than not, you’ve got to be honest.

“When I was talking with Mac about this, for me, before you get to accountability, there’s a chance to motivate. There’s a chance to push players to take the ice and think that the night is going to be successful and that there’s going to be great things that happen and you’ll find success.”

Laviolette was one of several experienced coaches on the market. He was available after the Predators fired him in January for a sluggish first half of the season. But in general, Laviolette’s time in Nashville was seen as a success — the Predators made the playoffs in all five of his seasons.

The Capitals also reportedly interviewed former Leafs coach Mike Babcock and former Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant for the job. But MacLellan decided on Laviolette, meeting with him face to face at the team’s facility in Arlington.

The Athletic reported Washington will pay Laviolette north of $4 million annually, making him one of the highest-paid coaches in the league. MacLellan said last month that ownership was “open” to spending on a coach.

The Capitals, of course, faced criticism for letting Barry Trotz leave off the heels of winning the Cup in 2018 after the two sides couldn’t agree to a contract extension. MacLellan said the Capitals and Trotz couldn’t agree on the length of the deal. Instead, the Islanders hired Trotz — whose team knocked the Capitals out of the playoffs last month.

Laviolette, coincidentally, replaced Trotz in Nashville in 2014-15. While he’s technically replacing Reirden now, he’ll be expected to do the same thing as Trotz did for the Capitals: Win a Stanley Cup.

“I don’t look at it that way and say, ‘Well, it’s next year or nothing,’” Laviolette said. “I look at it and say, ‘This is just a great opportunity and I can’t wait to get started.’”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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