Peter Laviolette

Nasreddine looking forward as Devils’ coaching search continues

The Devils know that if they NHL resumes play later this summer, they will not be part of the 24-team fun.

Sitting 13 points out of the last Eastern Conference wild card spot, New Jersey had very slim hopes they would be part of any season resumption that didn’t include playing out the remaining regular season schedule. Now they can look towards the 2020-21 season … whenever that will take place.

As the franchise looks forward, there are still two big decisions that need to be made: Who will be the full-time general manager and head coach?

Both Tom Fitzgerald and Alain Nasreddine have had “interim” in front of their titles since the in-season dismissals of Ray Shero and John Hynes. As the off-season begins, both remain in those roles as candidate conversations have continued.

“Right now it’s status quo,” said Nasreddine during a Tuesday media Zoom call. “I haven’t heard anything.”

“The organization’s been fantastic to me,” Fitzgerald said last month. “They allow me to be the general manager of this team, and that’s all I’m doing. Whether it has an intern tag on it or not, I wouldn’t be doing the job any differently, that’s for sure.”

Mike Gillis reportedly interviewed for the GM job in February.

The coaching search

In the head coach role, the Devils have been speaking to different candidates about the position. According to Pierre LeBrun, a list of 8-10 names has been narrowed down to four. Names like John Stevens, Peter Laviolette and Gerard Gallant have come up, but it’s unknown who made the final cut. Rikard Gronborg is another name that was discussed. The ZSC Lions coach confirmed he did have conversations but will honor the final year of his contract in Switzerland.

LeBrun added that the search, for now, is on pause.

After a forgettable start to the season, the second half saw some positive signs, like Mackenzie Blackwood in goal, and Nikita Gusev, Pavel Zacha, and Nico Hischier taking steps forward. There’s a potential to add three 2020 first-round picks to a burgeoning prospect pool, which will add to Nasreddine’s enthusiasm for his group, especially if he ends up getting the job.

“I think we’re very close [to being a playoff team],” he said. “I think at least competitive enough to be battling for a playoff spot … I’d say next year, for sure. You look at the progress of some of the young guys in the last two months of the season, and it’s very promising.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Biggest surprises, disappointments for 2019-20 Predators

Predators disappointments Rinne Duchene Johansen
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Nashville Predators.

Rinne ranked among biggest disappointments for Predators

After a midcareer hiccup, Pekka Rinne skyrocketed back up the goalie ranks in recent seasons. Rinne won the 2018 Vezina Trophy as the highlight of this rebound, but was quite strong (.918 save percentage or higher) from 2016-17 to 2018-19.

Things weren’t pretty in 2019-20 … at least beyond the goal Rinne scored.

After a splendid start (7-0-2, .920 save percentage in October), Rinne plummeted to a sub-backup level. In the 27 games since, Rinne went 11-14-2 with a dreadful .887 save percentage. (That ties Rinne with Carter Hutton for the fourth-worst save percentage among goalies with at least 10 games played during that span.)

Juuse Saros stumbled to start the season, too, suffering through a .895 save percentage before the All-Star break. Luckily for the Predators, Saros turned things around in a big way, managing a .936 save percentage in 17 games following that break.

If the 2019-20 season resumes, it might be a disappointment if John Hynes chooses Rinne over Saros — at least if the two goalies continue on opposite trajectories.

Top Nashville defensemen found another gear?

While goaltending failed Nashville in some unexpected ways, you could argue the Predators’ defense somehow got stronger. At least if you’re grading the top guys.

Roman Josi cannot be ignored as the most obvious standout. Josi easily topped all Predators scorers with almost a point per game (65 in 69 contests). He also cleaned up his defensive game quite a bit, which silenced many of his doubters.

You could argue that in some ways, Josi surged off the charts. I had to raise the y axis of his Evolving Hockey RAPM chart to four deviations to account for his Corsi For/60 in 2019-20. (Translation: Josi was fantastic in 2019-20, and didn’t just ride a hot hand.)

Roman Josi not among Predators disappointments Evolving Hockey

When you consider all-around play, Josi may just be a better choice for Norris than John Carlson. That’s a debate for another day, though.

Injuries limited Ryan Ellis to 49 games played in 2019-20, yet he still managed to place fourth in team scoring with 38 points. That sandwiches Ellis between two $8M centers (Matt Duchene at 42, Ryan Johansen at 36).

Mattias Ekholm completes the Predators’ tremendous trio, sitting at 33 points with sound all-around work.

Considering P.K. Subban‘s sad 2019-20 season, the Predators hit a lot of the right buttons on defense. That was huge, because you could argue that almost every other facet of this Predators team hovers over the “disappointments” category.

Forward group remains on list of disappointments for Predators

When it comes to investing in goalies and defensemen, the Predators have consistently received good to outright fantastic value. That’s part of what made Rinne’s 2019-20 slump one of their surprises.

But it seems like no matter how much money the Predators pump into adding forwards, they end up worthy of the same gestures: a shoulder shrug, if not a shoulder slump.

After chasing Matt Duchene for quite some time, the Predators got what they wished for. Paying Matt Duchene $8M per year doesn’t automatically make him anything more than Matt Duchene.

And, hey, Duchene is … fine.

Yes, managing a modest 42 points in 66 games is underwhelming. Especially when you attach the phrase “for an $8M center,” which some understandably can’t resist.

Duchene checks out reasonably well in underlying stats, providing some of the better numbers of his career in that area. That $8M price tag will only look worse as he ages, yet Duchene really isn’t the problem. He just doesn’t solve many of your other problems.

Because, honestly, Duchene isn’t even the Predators’ most disappointing $8M center. That goes to Ryan Johansen. Johansen isn’t a bad player by any stretch — like Duchene, his underlying stats are respectable — but he can be frustrating. It’s one thing to be a playmaker. It’s another to become one-dimensional, which feels like a fair way to describe Johansen. Johansen averaged just 1.49 shots on goal per game this season, basically falling in line with his career-low from 2011-12, when he was 19.

An expensive committee

That “fine … but expensive” feeling hangs over others. Kyle Turris, Nick Bonino, and Mikael Granlund pitched in 30+ points each, helping the Predators score by committee .. but a very expensive committee.

It was a relatively tough season for Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, too. They both still rank as big bargains, mind you, but it was that kind of season for Nashville’s forward group.

Such widespread disappointments make you wonder if there’s something systemic going on for the Predators. While they addressed that by firing Peter Laviolette, I’m not so sure John Hynes will end up being the answer.

All things considered, it might be a pleasant surprise that this team entered the pause in playoff position. Maybe the Predators could generate bigger surprises if those disappointments turn around?

MORE ON THE PREDATORS

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Laviolette wants another chance to coach in NHL

Peter Laviolette
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Few NHL coaches have a resume that compares to the one Peter Laviolette has compiled during his 18 years as a head coach.

His teams have won 637 regular season games, while he his one of just four coaches in NHL history (Dick Irvin, Mike Keenan, and Scotty Bowman being the others) to coach three different teams to the Stanley Cup Final, having done so with Carolina, Philadelphia, and Nashville.

With a resume like that it’s only a matter of when, and not if, he ends up back behind another NHL team’s bench.

As he said this past week to NHL,com, he is eager for that opportunity and using the ongoing NHL stoppage to prepare for what could happen when he gets his next opportunity.

“Right now, I think I’m just focused on going back to what I found has worked for me as a coach and go back to that,” said Laviolette, via NHL.com. “I don’t have a team, I don’t have any players, but what I can focus on is what happens when I can go to a team and I can start to get involved with the players and the identity of the team and building that team, building the organization.”

More, via NHL.com:

“I think sometimes in coaching when you’re watching, always watching and always learning, sometimes you can forget what it is that you brought to the table in the beginning,” he said. “What’s important to you? For me, what I’ve been doing right now is I’ve been going back and getting what’s important to me as a coach, systemically, identity, team building, player personnel, and thinking about that and wherever that may take me.

“Right now, it’s just a plan. I think you’re constantly learning about the game; there’s been so many changes in the way the game’s played. … In the same sense, I don’t want to get off of what I know works for me. That may not work for somebody else, but I know it works for me, so I want to make sure that next time I’m ready to go in looking for that.”

Laviolette was supposed to coach team USA at the 2020 World Championships in Switzerland, but that tournament was cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

He had been coaching the Nashville Predators until he was fired in early January in his sixth season with the team. In the previous five seasons the Predators had never missed the playoffs, won a Western Conference championship, as well as a Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record.

At the time of his firing they were on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture following what had been a disappointing, yet also frustrating, first half. It was disappointing because the team had not met expectations. What made it frustrating is the manner in which they got there. While the Predators’ 5-on-5 play has been as good as any other team in the league, and at a level that is usually reserved for Stanley Cup contenders, their special teams and goaltending had been failing them.

He was replaced by former New Jersey Devils coach John Hynes.

The only question for Laviolette now is where he ends up, and that is a question that can not even begin to get answered given the current situation in the league. We still do not know when the 2019-20 season will resume and what will happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, something that would significantly dictate what the NHL’s coaching market looks like.

Minnesota and San Jose both have interim coaching situations with Dean Evason and Bob Boughner respectively, while it also seems to just be a matter of time until the Detroit Red Wings go in a different direction behind their bench. Another postseason disappointment for the Tampa Bay Lightning could also really turn up the heat on Jon Cooper.

The other wild card option, of course, is the situation in Seattle which will eventually need to name its first coach.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Should Sharks stick with Boughner, who’s ‘planning on being back’ as head coach?

Should Sharks keep Bob Boughner as head coach?
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The “pause” to the 2019-20 NHL season leaves a destroyed sweater’s worth of loose threads, and one of them involves whether the Sharks will keep Bob Boughner around as head coach.

One of the few obvious answers is that … yes, Boughner is hoping he can keep the gig. He told The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz as much in a piece that’s absolutely worth your time (sub required).

“I feel good about it,” Boughner said. “I think that given a fair chance, that I’m the guy for this team. And I think Doug believes that, from what I know. I don’t want to speak for him, but I’m planning on being back, I’m planning on putting a plan in place for next year, and trying to look forward.”

Grading Boughner as interim head coach

If you look at pure standings results, the impact has been negligible.

The Sharks languished with a 15-16-2 record over 33 games when they fired Peter DeBoer in December. In 37 games under Boughner, the Sharks remain mediocre (14-20-3), and actually saw their points percentage drop (.485 to .419).

Naturally, this is where it’s fair to repeat Boughner’s phrase of a “fair chance.”

For one thing, the Sharks had to feel bummed out that they played poorly enough to get DeBoer fired. Some might have believed that this season was over, which already stacks the deck a bit against an interim head coach.

Boughner also suffered through some personnel challenges. Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl both suffered significant injuries in January, while the Sharks had to pull the plug on Erik Karlsson‘s season in February. Subtract more players from the mix during the trade deadline, and you could argue Boughner never had a “full deck.”

If you look at Natural Stat Trick, you can see improvements in advanced stats under Boughner. The Sharks look more formidable from expected goals standpoints, for example. Boughner mentioned that during his interview with Kurz, actually.

“We did a really good job of bringing the high-end scoring chances down, not giving up as much and creating more at the other end,” Boughner said. “I’m not saying that’s related to more goals scored or anything like that, but the chances that we were producing, our possession time, we were better defending off the rush. Things like that. So, analytically, I thought there were a lot of improvements made. Those are really your foundations of your system and what’s working and what’s not. There were some good things happening behind the scenes.”

Context counts

Still, not every sign was positive.

It’s understandable that Boughner would lean more on Brent Burns. After all, he was a) coaching for a job and b) dealing with injuries to the team’s defense.

Even so, it’s tough to stomach the Sharks handing a heavier burden to a 33-year-old who they were better off keeping fresh. That’s what happened with Burns, who averaged 24:31 TOI under DeBoer, and then 26:12 per night with Boughner.

My general takeaway is that Boughner getting another “fair” crack at an NHL head coaching job is understandable. The Sharks just don’t seem like that right opportunity, because their window is closing — and that’s assuming 2019-20 was a bump in the road, not the window already being shut.

If this is your last real shot, does Boughner have the steadiest aim? Maybe in a shallower pond than the Sharks will be swimming in.

Sharks have rich group of coaches to choose from

For all we know, Boughner is the best option for the Sharks. That said, the job market presents Wilson with a wealth of unusually strong alternatives.

  • Bruce Boudreau strikes me as the best choice of all.

To start, it would just be thematic fun. Boudreau is the “coach who couldn’t win the big one” who would take on a team that’s been a regular contender but couldn’t get over the hump. C’mon, that’s already pretty fun.

He’s also versatile. Boudreau went from the high-flying Capitals to adjusting on the fly in Anaheim to clamping down to helping the Wild suffocate opponents on defense. The Sharks’ roster presents a challenge between risk and reserve in a defense-focused league, but if anyone can find the balance, it’s Boudreau.

  • Gerard Gallant would obviously be fun, too.

How surreal and yet hockey would it be if the two coaches in that wild Game 7 ended up swapping teams? Peter DeBoer is already on the Golden Knights’ bench, so what about Gallant in San Jose?

  • Peter Laviolette might be a decent fit.
  • Wilson is bold enough to hire Mike Babcock, too.

The more you look at that list, the more you wonder if Boughner … well, has a “fair chance” to keep his gig as Sharks head coach.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Laviolette to coach Team USA at world hockey championships

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Peter Laviolette is returning to the bench after being selected as the coach of the United States men’s national team competing at the world hockey championships in May.

The move was announced by USA Hockey on Wednesday, and comes seven weeks after Laviolette was fired by the Nashville Predators.

Laviolette ranks 16th in NHL wins with 637 covering four teams over 18 seasons, including the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes. He also coached the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers.

From Massachusetts, the 55-year-old Laviolette also has extensive experience representing the U.S. as a coach and player on the international stage.

The tournament being held in Switzerland will mark the fourth time Laviolette has coached the U.S. at the world championships, and first since 2014, when the Americans lost to Czech Republic in the quarterfinals in Belarus. He was also U.S. coach in 2004, when the team won a bronze medal, and ’05.

Laviolette also coached the national team to an eighth-place finish at the 2006 Olympics.

As a player, Laviolette was a two-time Olympian in representing the U.S. in 1988 and 1994, when he served as team captain.

”Peter is a terrific coach and someone who has had success wherever he’s been,” said USA Hockey’s John Vanbiesbrouck. ”We’re thrilled to have him back as head coach of our men’s national team.”

Team USA’s roster will begin being stocked once the NHL’s regular season concludes during the first weekend in April. The Americans have been limited to winning just six bronze medals since a silver-medal finish in 1950.

The world championships are scheduled to run from May 8 to 24.