Just yesterday it was reported that the New Jersey Devils had trimmed the list of candidates for their vacant head coach position to just four names. Given the long off-season awaiting the club, it seemed curious that they were moving quickly on the search, especially as they have yet to finalize their GM position as well. Yet, the Devils don’t seem to be slowing down. Only 24 hours later, a four-man list that included interim head coach Alain Nasreddine and three unknowns has now produced a favorite. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Peter Laviolette has emerged as the favorite for the position.
Laviolette, 55, should not come as surprise as the top candidate on the Devils’ list, as he is arguably the best coach on the open market right now. Laviolette was most recently the head coach of the Nashville Predators, fired to the surprise of many back in January despite a winning record on the year and having led the Predators to the playoffs in each of his five full seasons with the team. Should Laviolette be the selection for New Jersey, it would become the fifth NHL franchise that he has led, joining the Predators, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, and Philadelphia Flyers. Laviolette has been a head coach in the league in 18 seasons dating all the way back to 2001-02, when he was the youngest bench boss in the league at 36. Laviolette has totaled more than 1200 games in his NHL coaching career and holds a .588 regular season points percentage, a Stanley Cup title with the Hurricanes in 2005-06, three Finals appearances, and 11 playoff appearances. The Boston native also won a Calder Cup and AHL Coach of the Year honors with the Providence Bruins, which ignited his NHL career.
Beyond the accolades, Laviolette’s style may also explain his top position among the Devils’ candidates. An intense personality, it shows in Laviolette’s fast-paced style and aggressive offensive game plans. Meanwhile, New Jersey has a young, skilled roster of players who can keep up with the taxing style that Laviolette prefers. The problem is that they have looked slow, disorganized, and unmotivated too often over the past few years. Former Predator P.K. Subban especially would likely enjoy being back in Laviolette’s system. Laviolette could help to turn the team around in a hurry, especially if his presence can also help the cap-comfortable Devils recruit some top free agents this summer.
Laviolette’s hiring is not set in stone. Dreger even admits that the uncertain status of interim GM Tom Fitzgerald could keep an official hire from happening soon. However, Laviolette certainly makes sense as the Devils’ top pick and would be an exciting addition to a franchise that desperately needs to take a step forward next season.