Yesterday, the Washington Capitals announced that they’ve hired Peter Laviolette to be the team’s new head coach. They fired now-former head coach Todd Reirdan just three days after they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs this season. Laviolette was most recently the head coach of the Nashville Predators, but he was fired by the team back in January. He had one year left on his contract at $2.5 million at the time of his firing. The Capitals are expected to cover the salary as part of his new deal with them, which is reported to be for three years. But, the biggest question now is, can he fix what ails the Capitals?
Starting With the Good, He’s a Great, Experienced Coach
Peter Laviolette is an excellent head coach. He’s been one for 18 seasons, and hold a 637-425-123 record, which ranks 16th all time. He won the Cup back in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes and has since brought the Flyers to the Cup Final in 2010 and the Predators to it in 2017. So, he’s certainly got experience winning in both the regular-season and the playoffs, which is huge for the Capitals.
He’s also known for being a stricter coach who demands consistency and accountability from his players. That’s what the Capitals need. All of this is a stark contrast to the fired Todd Reirdan, who had no head coaching experience and had no idea how to push guys’ buttons. He was not a good choice at all for the Caps, and they wasted two years of the aging veteran core because of it. So, at the very least, Laviolette will be an improvement on that.
However, Coaching is Not the Capitals’ Biggest Problem
Contrary to what many Caps fans want to believe, Washington Capitals are not a close team. It is extremely cliquey in that room. It’s pretty common knowledge that all the Russian guys are extremely close, and if I remember correctly, it’s been said they’re usually speaking Russian to each other, even in the locker room. That’s far from a good thing, as it means they’re excluding the others. This is particularly bad given that their captain, Alex Ovechkin, is part of that group. The others are probably far worse about it than he is. But, he needs to put a stop to it entirely for the Caps to improve. You can have success in the regular season without being a close-knit team, but not in the playoffs.
However, as I said, Caps fans don’t want to believe this, and so they just blame the coach. I mean, I’ve seen some actually say they didn’t think Trotz was a good coach (but that’s a different article for a different time). It’s true Reirdan was a bad fit for the team. But coaching has always been far from their biggest problem, so the blame should not all fall on him.
Can Laviolette Handle the Capitals Locker Room?
So, the biggest question that it comes down to for me is this: is Laviolette capable of handling the Capitals locker room? He’s dealt with a lot of strong personalities that cause issues in the room in the past (looking at you, Chris Pronger and P.K. Subban). But, even though those teams had success at various points, they weren’t known for being tight-knit groups. I just don’t think he’s the kind of coach who’s able to get room to come together as a whole team and not just in cliques. You can’t fault him too much for it either, as that’s an extremely difficult thing to do. But, it can certainly be said the Caps should’ve looked for a coach that can do that.
Moving on From Trotz Was the Worst Decision They’ve Made
Unfortunately for the Caps though, the one guy who can do that is the one they refused to pay. Barry Trotz is easily one of the best coaches of all-time, let alone just in the league currently. He is somehow able to take a team and rally them together to form a tight-knit group that is consistent and extremely good. If you don’t believe me, look at the Islanders. They should not be a good team on paper. But they’re actually excellent, and that all started when Trotz came aboard. He is the reason behind their success, and he’s a huge reason why the Caps won the Cup in 2018.
But, for some reason, the Capitals management refused to pay the man. I’ve been seeing some say he didn’t want to stay. But that is so false. He wanted to stay up until he was completely disrespected by the team. They should’ve signed him to an extension during the 2017-18 season. But, they didn’t because they didn’t want to pay him. Then, even after he brought them a Cup, they still lowballed him with contract offers that were far below his worth. So, of course, he’s no longer going to want to stay. He knows his worth, and he deserved way more respect than that.
Moving on from Barry Trotz is the worst decision the Capitals have made in a long time. He is the coach this team needs. There’s no one else out there who can do what he does. Moving on from him likely shut their Cup window a lot sooner than it would’ve closed otherwise.
Trotz Rant Aside, Laviolette Is an Improvement But Won’t Solve the Caps Biggest Issues
Moving on from my Trotz rant, as good of a coach as Peter Laviolette is, I don’t think he can solve all of their issues. At a certain point, the Caps upper management has to stop blaming coaches and everyone else and realize that the true problem lies in the culture of the locker room. Trotz was able to manage it well enough to win one Cup, but that’s it. Every other year the team has been inconsistent and eliminated from the playoffs no later than the second round. I honestly don’t know how anyone can look at that and think coaching is the biggest issue there.
Don’t get me wrong, Laviolette is a massive improvement on Todd Reirdan. But he is a big downgrade from Trotz, and if Trotz couldn’t handle them all the time, Laviolette probably can’t either. However, that being said, the Caps should be far more consistent this year since they’ll have a coach who demands it and will hold them accountable. But, their biggest issue will still be there. Trades have to be made or the players have to realize what the real issue is, and make a conscious effort to fix it. Until then, the Capitals will not win another Stanley Cup.
-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)
Featured image courtesy of Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
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