Peter Laviolette and the Washington Capitals announced on April 14 that they decided to mutually part ways after a three-year spell with Laviolette as the team’s head coach. Two weeks later, Laviolette spoke with The Athletic and NHL.com about his departure.
One of the topics covered in that discussion was Laviolette’s apparent reluctance to give younger players more games at the NHL level. The veteran bench boss downplayed that suggestion and instead shifted the blame onto the players themselves.
“This job, for me, was to try and get this group of guys that had experienced success in the past and, in any way that I can try to help influence them to get back to that while integrating some of the young players,” Laviolette told The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir.
“But, the young players have to come up and take and earn those minutes and outplay somebody,” he added. “A guy like Marty Fehervary, for instance, comes in and he plays extremely well, and eventually he bumps up and he’s playing with John Carlson, but he certainly warranted that and earned that. So there’s gotta be an accountability with that. You can’t just throw players in there and start sitting the veteran players that you’re here to coach.”
After several Laviolette-inspired trades and lineup decisions, the Capitals played the 2022-23 campaign with the oldest roster in the NHL and consequently ended up being one of the teams most hampered by injury. They finished their year clinching the franchise’s worst full, 82-game season in 16 years.
Because of that, Laviolette earned a reputation from Capitals fans that he does not like giving young players or prospects meaningful ice time and is unwilling to put time into developing them. El-Bashir added that Laviolette “scoffed a bit” at the line of questioning but there is a mountain of evidence that backs up the claim.
The most obvious examples come in the form of Jakub Vrana and Jonas Siegenthaler who both left the team in 2021 with separate gripes regarding playing time and certain expectations. Siegenthaler almost immediately became one of the best defensemen on a New Jersey Devils team that looks primed to win a playoff series this postseason, which Laviolette never did in DC. Vrana has definitely had some struggles post-move to the Detroit Red Wings but looks to have found his feet again with the St. Louis Blues, scoring 10 goals in his first 20 games with his new team.
Meanwhile, Anthony Mantha, the big winger brought in, in exchange for Vrana from Detroit, ended up being a healthy scratch by Laviolette off and on during the 2022-23 season, and hired a “mental coach” to be able to better deal with not consistently being in the lineup.
The Capitals’ former young goalie tandem made up of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek didn’t pan out as expected and were also moved under Laviolette. Their failures perhaps had nothing to do with a playing time issue but both shouldered the bulk of the load this past season for two playoff teams. The Devils are one win away from moving to the second round and Toronto just advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 19 years.
During this past season, Laviolette essentially forced top center prospect Connor McMichael to Hershey in November after refusing to play him despite him making the Opening Night roster and needing consistent game time for development purposes. Later in the season, defense prospect Alex Alexeyev found himself benched in favor of names like Matt Irwin and Dylan McIlrath. Aliaksei Protas suffered a similar fate as a healthy scratch for almost 30 percent of the schedule despite being one of the team’s best process players at five-on-five.
The latter two players only started to get into gameday lineups on a consistent basis when the team was swamped by injuries at the end of the season. And, they excelled. So much so in Alexeyev’s case, that veteran defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who had been traded to the Boston Bruins at this point, spoke about being confused why Alexeyev wasn’t given a real chance sooner.
“I’m glad that they started to let Alexeyev play,” Orlov said in late March. “It took a long time to happen. I was against keeping him in reserve.”
Among all forwards to play at least one game with the Caps this season, the bottom four in terms of time on ice per game were the following: Henrik Borgstrom (8:10), Connor McMichael (8:52), Beck Malenstyn (9:55), Aliaksei Protas (11:31). Borgstrom is the oldest of that group at 25.
It was a similar story with defensemen as the bottom half there was full of younger players: Dylan McIlrath (11:41), Lucas Johansen (12:40), Matt Irwin (13:02), Gabriel Carlsson (13:46), Vincent Iorio (14:21), Alex Alexeyev (16:27).
Now, with Laviolette gone the Caps seem to be looking more towards the future which is likely not just a happy accident. General manager Brian MacLellan outlined in his Breakdown Day media availability that the team is more open to hiring a younger, less experienced head coach this time around.
“Our group is changing,” MacLellan said. “We’re trying to get younger. It’s going to be different in that you want a coach that can work with young guys and we’re going to have a veteran group at the top that kinda needs a veteran coach. It’s going to be challenging to find the right guy for that.”
Two names that fit that billing include current Toronto Maple Leafs assistant Spencer Carbery and current Tampa Bay Lightning assistant Jeff Halpern. Carbery, formerly head coach of the Caps’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears, has been rumored to be on the Capitals’ radar to replace Laviolette before there was even an opening to be filled.
It is very likely neither of those potential hires, especially Carbery given his time coaching in Hershey, will have the same methods as Laviolette when it comes to playing less experienced members of the Capitals’ organization.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.