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OTF Roundtable: We React to the Preds’ Firings of Peter Laviolette & Kevin McCarthy

We bring you the staff’s reactions to the Nashville Predators’ decision to part ways with head coach Peter Laviolette and his associate Kevin McCarthy.

Kate: I don’t think they can go on a Blues-esque run unless they get much better goaltending, but I’m tired of seeing players like Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, Mikael Granlund, and Matt Duchene get acquired in trades only to see their production drop as they stop making plays. All of these guys are better than they’re playing, and when it’s that widespread I have to think it’s not on each of them as individuals. I don’t wish Laviolette or McCarthy ill, but they just didn’t seem to be doing their jobs effectively.

Sarah: To add to what Kate said, I’m not trying to be unrealistic or overly optimistic, but I think those issues can be solved with a new coaching staff. Part of the problem, in my opinion, was it seemed to be GMDP essentially gave up on the defense and decided that if they were high-scoring enough, a weaker defense wouldn’t matter. I don’t think you can count on high scoring to bail you out game after game. I think a lapse in defense contributed to the fact that this is Pekka Rinne’s worst season thus far. When you’re a goalie that’s consistently being hung out to dry, it can become a mental issue with frustration, which can lead to the yips.

We all know what Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, Mikael Granlund, and Matt Duchene are capable of, but with stale coaching and trying to play in a system that doesn’t fit your style and isn’t working, stats are low. It’s not just the Blues that have had a sort of miraculous turnaround with a coaching change. The Penguins fired Mike Johnston during the season, hired Mike Sullivan and won the cup in the 2015-2016 season. I’m not saying that’s what will happen here, but coaching changes largely spark a fire under the team, even if it’s only for a short while. GMDP has been in the game long enough have a good understanding of what kind of coach he needs to hire, based on the needs of his team.

When Laviolette was hired ahead of the 2014-2015 season, he was the right guy for the job, but things change. I think GMDP already has ‘the guy’ in mind for the future and isn’t going to waste the rest of the season on an interim. I think ‘his guy’ is a proven winner, will have huge name recognition, and will have a track record with offense-based teams.

Rachel: It needed to happen. This team has far too much talent to be underperforming on a regular basis, and even casual fans were upset with the overall performance. I have no idea who David Poile will tab as the third head coach of the Nashville Predators. Pete DeBoer is an interesting candidate and my preference. I’m probably also wrong.

Mike Fisher for coach?

Ann: I think the biggest shock for me is that GM David Poile pulled the trigger. It has been increasingly obvious that something needed to happen to jump start an inconsistent team, but I doubted Poile would be ready to make a coaching change mid-season. It’s obvious that the Predators haven’t played up to their roster potential with any consistency. This far into a struggling season the team had to make some significant adjustments, and that hasn’t happened under Laviolette’s leadership.

Laviolette runs a good system and isn’t a bad coach, but I don’t think his is the system best suited for the players he has had. The Predators need to play to their strengths (and there are plenty of them) and see if a different style suits the talent better. The team has needed a wake-up call. It will be interesting to see how the players react both on and off the ice.

Musa: I didn’t think Poile would fire Lavy in the middle of the season while we are still in the playoff hunt. While YOLO Poile can raise his head at any time, it’s never been Poile’s modus operandi to flip through coaches, especially after recent successes. Something tells me there is more going on than we are seeing… Perhaps ownership was feeling the heat from some fans and getting nervous. Or maybe there was a deep disagreement between Poile and Lavy.

I just hope that this move isn’t similar to what happened for the Sharks, where the real problem isn’t addressed or fixed and the team stays stuck in neutral.

Nick: First, let’s give Laviolette some credit.  He led Nashville to a Stanley Cup Final with a roster that, quite frankly, shouldn’t have come as close as they did to winning it all. He followed that up with two division titles and a Presidents’ Trophy.  The Predators never missed the playoffs under his watch. We can appreciate where he’s taken this franchise while still acknowledging it was time for a change. The system that helped the 2014 Predators excel just didn’t gel for the 2020 team.

Nothing about this is move is David Poile’s M.O., but I think he knew he was out of options.  After so many big moves over the past handful of seasons, there’s not much flexibility to fix this team on the fly. He essentially went “all in” with this core when he jettisoned P.K. Subban and locked in Matt Duchene. To hit on Kate’s point, I don’t know if there’s enough time to get the team back to Cup-contendership this season, but you at least get a head start on re-shaping the system for the rest of this group’s window.

Laura: First off, I’m with Nick. I thank Peter Laviolette for what he brought to the team, especially initially. He was strangely better at getting great performance from lower-tier players. It has seemed that the more talent was added to the team, the less his style fit, and he was unable or unwilling to adapt.

I actually had today’s D&C starting with what a slow news day it was and then this dropped. “Holy you-know-what!” was our reaction. It came a little unexpectedly in timing, but having attended the Winter Classic and watched that collapse on the national stage, I’m not so surprised that it did happen. I guess we’ll see now if coaching was the issue.

Many people want the AHL coach named, but isn’t he playing the same system? I’m not sure who I see as a candidate—maybe…well I was going to say someone, but I don’t want KY Shark to punch me in the face. I do find it odd they weren’t ready to go with an interim name… Holy you-know-what!

Eric: I understand the temptation to suggest this move wasn’t in David Poile’s wheelhouse, but I don’t completely buy that. While the loyalty to staff over the past two decades in Nashville is undeniable, Poile hasn’t been known to always do the expected—did any of you really anticipate him trading Shea Weber when he did?

Poile rarely tips his hand in interviews, and while his comments on the Midday 180 post-Winter Classic were naturally frustrating, it would be foolish to suggest there wasn’t rarely-exposed emotion in his remarks.

This won’t be a universal remedy for the team, but it’s been obvious for months how detrimental Peter Laviolette has been to this roster.

If you combine on-ice struggles with relatively hostile engagement with the media and, in turn, fans who support the team financially, there’s no way to suggest this move was a mistake.

I’m not certain Karl Taylor is the right option for the interim or permanent position; he’s certainly been handling things well in Milwaukee this year but that club has sorely needed his stability to coalesce other helpful factors: goaltending, familiar defense pairings and a healthy mix of veterans and prospects.

Shaun: It was time to move on. I think the evidence that Laviolette “lost the room” had spilled over to the on-ice product and it was starting to look bad. Fans were going into game with the expectation of losing instead of having any chance. I saw many people mentioning that they were going to skip watching the game because they didn’t want to see uninspiring play. I know I sat on media row at Bridgestone a few nights where I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on the ice. And, after the Kyle Turris saga, it was abundantly clear that strange things were afoot in the locker room and the episodes of Road to the 2020 Winter Classic did nothing to demonstrate to me that the guys on the team seemed to put any stock into what the coach was telling them. It needed to happen over last summer, but it didn’t.

So, I’m glad this is where we are now instead of riding out a wave of terrible play to limp into the summer with the team blown apart because of loyalty or whatever you want to call it. I hope whoever they get—and based on the non-naming of an interim, it seems like they will announce a new head coach today—realizes that the team has skilled forwards that can do more than dump-in or enter the zone only to shoot from the blue line. The roster is too talented to be this close to last place.

Dan: It had to happen. Peter Laviolette was the best coach this franchise ever had based on achievements, but everyone has a shelf life at their role.

Looking back, we should be grateful for his time here.

Also with that said, screwing over Kyle Turris was the turning point. That wasn’t kind to him, the fans, the team…it was an embarrassment. When your intense style can be a bit abrasive, refusing to play one of the better forwards on the team for whatever reason can weigh on the team that’s already showing signs of fatigue with the message.

The league has figured out the game plan. The Preds don’t crash the net, they don’t defend the front of the net well, and their overload style of play goes kaput if they can’t keep up their demanding style of play. This team isn’t physical enough and they’ve been shown to be pushed around by teams they should beat. Frustration is visible, and with the amount of talent on the roster…it was time.

Whoever takes the helm next has to figure out a way to protect the goaltenders better, and stabilize a defense that’s far too leaky. The Preds are talented enough to win anything they want, even with their lack of net-clearing defenders. They need better goaltending and better defensive coverage.

Bold take: I don’t think Jacques Lemaire is coming to Nashville.

Bryan:  There’s not much else for me to say that everyone hasn’t else said before.  The first sentiment I have is this, because I don’t want to be completely overjoyed by someone’s loss of employment.

That said: it was time.  The numbers, the sudden disappearing talent when free agents or players acquired in trades arrived, and the insistence on doing the same thing over and over even if it didn’t work all support it. And the thing that pains me personally to admit—it happened not because of any of that, but because Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros have had a bad year.

In years past, these type of systematic issues were covered up by sky-high shooting percentages and Pekka Rinne standing on his head for the majority of his 50-60 starts a year.  Pure talent of the skaters and superhuman goaltending allowed the team to cruise through regular seasons, but when playoff time arrived, and opposing coaching staffs had time to gameplan for the Nashville Predators, they knew exactly what to do to beat them.  Colorado two years ago got outplayed due to a pure mismatch of talent. Winnipeg was the better team, but Nashville’s skaters outperformed, until they didn’t. Then Dallas last season exposed just how predictable the team had gotten, and continued to show it a few weeks ago, and then again on a national stage during the Winter Classic.

I’ve made my feelings clear on wanting a new voice, rather than a veteran retread.  The Old Boys’ Club of NHL head coaches is a carousel I would rather not ride, but it looks like it may be the only option with Milwaukee head coach Karl Taylor seemingly off the board, per Adam Vingan:

I just hope it happens in the offseason, and David Poile allows an interim to finish this year out with a team he already knows.

Tucker: I have nothing but the utmost respect for Peter Laviolette, and I want to thank him for pushing this team to heights it had never seen under Trotz, but similar to the end of Trotz’s tenure here, it became increasingly apparent that a change was needed. Whatever ‘magic’ the team had over the past couple of seasons, that is obviously gone now.

I don’t know if I necessarily agree with firing Lavi mid-season, unless the plan is to hand over the reigns to Lambert or Muse for the rest of the year. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s what Poile is going to do, and I just hope we don’t rush into a hire that doesn’t fit.

As for potential hires, I would advise all of the Predators fan base to not shout down any candidate that has recently been fired. We hired Laviolette after he had just been fired in Philadelphia, and we all know what he did here. Before winning the cup with Washington, Trotz was dumped after 15 years here. Gerard Gallant was infamously canned in Florida before taking the reins in Vegas and leading them to the Stanley Cup Final. Craig Berube flamed out in Philly before having the St. Louis job (and the Stanley Cup) fall right in his lap. So I wouldn’t turn my nose up if it’s a guy like John Hynes, who was fired earlier this year in New Jersey.

Talking Points