Peter Laviolette sees the Washington Capitals as another opportunity to take a team to the Stanley Cup Final and try to win it all again.
The Capitals see Laviolette as the experienced, steady hand who can help them contend for another title in what could be the final few years of their championship window.
Washington made Laviolette the first Stanley Cup-winning coach hired in the franchise’s 46-year history on Tuesday — and only the second with previous NHL head coaching experience during the Alex Ovechkin era.
Each side considers this a perfect fit.
“You have a terrific cast of talent that’s big and strong and can play the game aggressive and has a chance to be successful on a nightly basis,” Laviolette said. “I’m excited to go in and be here and be a part of this and add any layer that I can as a coach to try and help get to that next step.”
Laviolette, 55, takes over for Todd Reirden, a first-time head coach who was fired following a back-to-back first-round playoff exits. Reirden was the top assistant under Barry Trotz when the Capitals won their lone title in 2018.
Getting Laviolette in the fold is an acknowledgment that this older, veteran team could use a coach with the same qualities and experience.
“We feel very fortunate to be able to hire someone of Peter’s caliber and to have him available at a time of need for our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “His track record with different organizations, he’s been challenged a number of times of having teams that have different personalities in the locker room and on the ice and he’s been able to adapt to different groups and be successful in the league.”
Laviolette coached the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006 and took the Philadelphia Flyers to the final in 2010 and the Nashville Predators in 2017. In Nashville, he succeeded Trotz, who joined the Capitals in 2014 and left in a contract dispute after coaching them to the Cup.
Fired by the Predators in January after 5½ seasons, Laviolette plans to adapt his system and techniques to his new players.
“I think when you take over a team, you come in with an open mind and a blank slate on the team and the players and the individual personnel,” Laviolette said. “And then from there it’s about building your identity on the ice, setting a standard of what you expect on a daily basis and working together throughout the course of the year to try and prepare yourself for the playoffs.”
Laviolette’s task will not just be getting the Capitals to the playoffs but trying to put them in a position to contend for the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin will be 35 when next season starts, has one year left on his contract and will be on his seventh coach since he entered the league in 2005.
Ovechkin could sign an extension that lines him up with center Nicklas Backstrom’s new contract. Wingers T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson, center Evgeny Kuznetsov and defenseman John Carlson are all signed long term, while goaltender Braden Holtby is set to become a free agent, handing Ilya Samsonov the starting job.
“Yeah, I would expect him to go to free agency,” MacLellan said of Holtby. “The goalie market is probably a little unusually deep this year. I talked to his agent last week briefly about where he’s at and the kind of opportunities he’s looking for. I would assume he goes to free agency and we’ll keep in contact with him throughout the free agency period to see if he’s getting what he wants.”
Laviolette is the taskmaster coach the Capitals haven’t had since Dale Hunter in 2011-12. Hunter helped Washington reach Game 7 of the second round, a hump they couldn’t get over until Trotz coached them to the Cup two years ago.
“Coming to Washington, that’s my priority is to try and build something where when the players take the ice the truly feel like they’re invincible,” Laviolette said.
Laviolette, whose first head job was with the New York Islanders, ranks 16th in all-time coaching wins with a career record of 637-425-123. He also has coached the U.S. at the world championships several times and was an assistant at the 2010 Olympics.
“Peter has a track record of establishing a culture, and it’s one of his priorities,” MacLellan said. “Both me, and I assume the players, (know) that’s a big strength of his moving forward and it’s a big reason why we hired him.”