Why the Predators had to move on from Peter Laviolette

Laviolette coached the Predators through the most successful years of the franchise, but it wasn’t working any more.

Everyone else has already given Peter Laviolette the thanks he deserves. He took a franchise whose previous peak was getting singlehandedly eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by Ryan Kesler and Mike Smith in consecutive years. He took the oft-mocked #grit incarnation of the Predators and put them in a Stark Industries capsule and injected them with offensive hockey serum. Finally, under Peter Laviolette, the Predators played hockey that was fun to watch. Heck, the reason Matt Duchene signed in Nashville instead of Montreal was because of how much he enjoyed talking about hockey offense with Laviolette during a trip to meet with the Predators.

However, as the old adage goes, hockey coaches are hired to be fired. Even Joel Quenneville and his three Stanley Cups could not save him from Stan Bowman’s sins in Chicago. Laviolette found himself meeting the same fate.

Now, unlike with other coaches, I think it’s hard to exactly pinpoint what went wrong with Peter Laviolette. The special teams have been a disaster this season, an extension of a terrible power play issue that started last season. It feels like we’re repeating it ad nauseum at this point, but the Predators’ power play of taking one-timers from the umbrella that oddly did work in their Stanley Cup Final run came back down to Earth. They consistently failed to work the puck in, force defenses to collapse inwards on themselves, and free up more high-danger ice—and the same struggles were occurring 5v5.

Remember when they had a whole period’s worth of power play time against the Jets and failed to score even once on the power play? How long were the Predators going to rely on 5’9” Viktor Arvidsson timing the perfect jump to screen a goalie? Fast-forward a year and a half to present date, and the power play remains an issue.

Complacency certainly appears to play a part in Peter Laviolette’s firing from the Predators. The issues on special teams, at their core, stem from an inability on Laviolette’s part to properly self-critique without bias.

Not only has the power play remained mostly static since the Predators’ Stanley Cup Final run, but their hyper-aggressive penalty kill hasn’t changed either. While it used to generate a plethora of short-handed goals, which somewhat justified its shortcomings, the Predators are 16th in the league in short-handed goals this season. Austin Watson’s game dropping off a cliff doesn’t help, but teams learned to just walk the puck around him or Arvidsson. Once they got past them, the Predators’ penalty kill constantly got pulled out of proper formation, as if they were not prepared for a Plan B.

Of course, getting a save once in a while would help these numbers, but so would preventing high-danger chances.

There have been further issues with complacency, but here the lines are more blurred when we question whether it’s Peter Laviolette’s fault, or that of the players.

On full display during the Winter Classic was how ineffective the Predators’ forecheck has been all season long. Rather than playing the body, the Predators typically will cede body position on a dump-and-chase to try and play the stick rather than the body. On its face this is simply lackadaisical hockey and a stubborn determination to not take a hit, but the Predators do it so often and in a way that makes it almost look strategic. Instead of having the first man in take the body and the second the puck, while the third heads into the slot, the first man appears to try and create a turnover while the other two stay high in the slot.

This is kind of a bad example because there’s still only one man (Nick Bonino) low, but it’s really the only goal that jumps to mind this season of a Predators player going in deep and taking a hit for the good of the team. If Colton Sissons moved low, the Predators could make the same play with significantly more ease. The forecheck is both lazy and passive, but Bonino makes a hell of a play.

Now, any time there’s complacency and apparent lazy or uninspired play, some of the blame needs to fall to the players. Sure, there are arguments that they are not responding to Laviolette, tuning him out, ignoring his messages. However, the Predators have looked utterly despondent whenever the going gets tough ever since Mike Fisher initially retired and James Neal was taken away by Vegas. P.K. Subban was always injecting fight into the roster and pumping up teammates on the bench, but he’s also gone.

While Roman Josi has evolved as a leader the last few years, is there anyone else in the leadership group being a spark-plug for the group? When it rains it pours for the Predators. Just look at the Stars’ run during the Winter Classic as the latest of countless examples of the Predators mentally collapsing. These players are professionals and should be mentally ready to play every single night.

Hopefully new hire John Hynes is going to fix the special teams disasters that the Predators are plagued with. However, with Peter Laviolette out of the picture, the leadership core is fully exposed. There are no more excuses for complacency. If the core still disappears when the going gets tough, we’ll know who was at fault for the constant vanishing acts.