The Washington Capitals and head coach Peter Laviolette have mutually agreed to part ways, per a team announcement. Laviolette’s contract was set to expire on June 30th.
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan issued the following statement regarding Laviolette’s departure:
We are grateful for Peter’s leadership and dedication to our organization for the last three seasons. Peter is a first-class individual who has represented our club with integrity and guided our team through many difficult circumstances in his tenure as our head coach. We wish him all the best moving forward.
Laviolette, 58, has guided the Capitals for the last three seasons, posting a 115-78-27 record along the way. Laviolette was hired by the Capitals after former coach Todd Reirden’s two-year tenure. The Capitals had declined since their 2018 Stanley Cup championship under Reirden, and the organization wanted to go with a bench boss with more experience to lead a resurgence.
The 2020-21 season went relatively well for Laviolette. He helped the Capitals navigate the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and led them to a 36-15-5 record, which ranked them second in the MassMutual East Division.
His Capitals fell in the first round of the playoffs, though, and the main culprit responsible for the team’s demise was largely considered to be unreliable goaltending.
An inability to get reliable play in the crease plagued Laviolette’s second year in Washington to an even greater degree than his first. The player who started the most games for that Capitals team, Ilya Samsonov, posted a .896 save percentage and ultimately did not receive a qualifying offer in the summer. The other, Vitek Vanecek, posted a .908 save percentage but only played twice in the team’s first-round loss to the Florida Panthers, and ended up shipped to the New Jersey Devils in the offseason.
This year, significant injuries to key contributors such as John Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson presented a significant challenge for Laviolette, and the Capitals ultimately did not have the organizational depth to cope with the extended absences of those franchise pillars.
With Alex Ovechkin chasing down Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record and the club desperately seeking a first and now second Stanley Cup championship, the Capitals’ front office has been operating with a win-now mentality for quite a while. While that win-now mentality ultimately fueled the team’s eight-year playoff streak, most understood that the bill would eventually need to be paid.
Eventually, it was believed, the lack of high-end prospects and the depleting pipeline of talent between Washington and their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, would come back to bite the Capitals. This season was the year where the cracks in the foundation of the Capitals’ organization seemed to finally show, and prompted MacLellan and the team’s front office to make a pivot in terms of priorities.
As long as Ovechkin is chasing Gretzky’s record, a traditional rebuild is surely off the table. But what MacLellan did this season showed that the organization would prioritize acquiring NHL-ready young talent. He flipped the first-rounder he acquired from Dmitry Orlov to acquire Rasmus Sandin, a 23-year-old blueliner who had an impressive 15 points in 19 games after the deal.
It seems the Capitals’ priority is now infusing the team with younger players, and affording those young players the types of on-ice opportunities that might be reserved for veterans in seasons of true Stanley Cup contention.
For Laviolette, that new organizational priority is likely not what he signed up for, and as a veteran head coach who happens to be the winningest American bench boss in NHL history, it’s unlikely that he’d be the best fit for a developmentally-minded Capitals organization moving forward.
So with his contract set to expire and the Capitals headed in a new, more youth-focused direction, Laviolette’s exit from Washington is far from a surprise. The 2006 Stanley Cup champion ultimately didn’t accomplish what he was brought into Washington to do — deliver more playoff success than the team had under Reirden — but he nonetheless deserves commendation for leading the franchise through some significant challenges. He’s likely to be a top name on the offseason coaching market, should he want to immediately jump back into a new job.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
Hockey needs to get younger at leadership.
Florida should fire Maurice and hire Laviolette right now.
I don’t get why we still have this narrative that the injuries were too much to overcome when they played the best hockey of the season with all those injuries in December. What’s too much to overcome is that most of the core group on this team are no longer capable of being core players. As soon as those guys came back from injuries, the team’s performance tanked and never recovered. They had all these players down the stretch and could barely even win a single game to fight for a playoff spot. The injuries were a blessing, the team played better and won more games and showed this reality loud and clear. If not for their performance in December, they would have been a bottom 5 team in the league and out of the playoffs in February.
I also do not believe this team will have any more success next season, they’re done and won’t be a playoff team again until there is a full rebuild top to bottom. Farm system, player development/drafting philosophy and even MacLennan who has let this situation get to this point and probably still thinks this team is one or two players away from being competitive. They’re not and I can’t understand the logic at all.
Laviolette didn’t do a good job with lines at times, but it wasn’t all him. The fact of the matter is this team is not interested in team oriented goals anymore, but they are interested in giving the appearance that they are. This is the Ovechkin team now and that’s all anyone cares about. The team will suffer in the long term and it has started this season. Their play in the last two months are what this team is. It was the same last year in the last month. What is this team’s identity right now? Do they have one? I don’t see Kuemper seeing a single playoff game during his time here. This team isn’t interested in winning. They only care about keeping the band together no matter how bad the results are for Ovechkin.
There is also something really wrong with the way we develop young players. We’ve waited years for Samsonov to get it together and he does that the first year with his new team. Granted, it’s a much better team than the one he left. Same with Vanecek, he goes to the Devils and has his best year so far. Vrana’s issues were off the ice, but he’s a pure goal scorer and the Blues are going to benefit greatly if he can solve his off ice issues which I guess the Caps didn’t think was worth doing.
Sorry for the long post.
@sessh – Good stuff there & job well done. No apology necessary, AFAIC.
No, no, you had a lot to say, and what you said was sensible.
And even Ovechkin’s chase is sorta meaningless. He’s already the greatest goal scorer of the post-merger era; Gretzky racked up most of his goals in the highest scoring era there’s ever been, while most of Ovechkin’s goals were in one of the lowest scoring times in the post-Original Six era.
Well said and couldn’t agree more.
I agree with your viewpoint and all season was trying to figure out what happened after December. I felt the defense fell apart once John Carlson was out. If I’m remembering right, milano caught fire in December too. The only veterans who’s play is in question is Backstrom and Kuzy. Oshie is valuable on the pp if he can stay on the ice. It took until game 72 to have Wilson, Backstrom, and Carlson to all be on the ice at the same time. Get the gang back together with guys like sheary being replaced with a more offensive minded ability. Shoot, maybe we get a top 2 pick. That’s my prayer. I do think this team is a playoff team next year though. There was a stat I saw in mid March saying the capitals would’ve had the 2nd best record in the east if you calculated the points lost due to injury. Have no clue how that wa calculated or how you can even do that, but I do think there was never really a stretch where the entire team was playing together for more than 2 weeks.
Yeah, I’m not sure how you can even predict such a thing, but seems kinda silly. I’d be more willing to believe that if this team went from a top 4 team to the bottom 8 team they were this season, but the Caps have been in a steady decline pretty much since the year after they won the cup. The only reason they got in last year was a lack of competition for the second WC. The natural progression of this trend was to miss the playoffs this year. I can’t see how they could have ever been second in the east this season.
With teams like Buffalo, Ottawa and perhaps Detroit on the rise in addition to the other nine teams that finished ahead of them (well, the Penguins may fall further), I just don’t see this team, which will be another year older next season, being a top 8 team in the east next year. There are just too many good teams on the rise and generally in the east. I just don’t see it, but will be interesting to see who comes in as head coach.
Yearly edition of a decent coach hired after a tean has a bad season. Laviolette’s certainly one of the 32 best people on the planet to coach a NHL team right now.
Lavi is a good coach and hopefully can land with a team that has a roster that can play his style of hockey.
Caps are but around a few star players, and when those players miss significant time due to injuries, there goes your season.
The thing is though, that the team did well in December, when still missing Backstrom and Wilson. And then when everyone got healthy, towards the end of the season, they completely tanked. It kind of seems those players quit on Laviolette. I think there’s a cancer in that locker room, and he wears #92 (Kuznetsov). Lavi isn’t the right coach for thatteam. They need to get rid of Kuz, get younger and get a coach with fresh ideas.
Considering the injury Carlson came back from (Backstrom as well), you weren’t getting those players back at the top of their games. Add in the players they traded away and you end up with the end of the season they had.
All DC Sports College and Pro are a mess. Listening to all the negativity wears off on players and fans. I think the Caps need to get more speed. A completely new offensive system and just play defense. The defense was mixed up on coverage over the season it was well over 100s. The easy term to use is mark (guard) your man. The rest is relatively easy. Just play because you need to win for 60 minutes.
Culture change needed. The Caps need more youth and speed in the lineup like the article mentioned (Sandin) but can use it up front. Laviolette just wasn’t interested in developing the young guys and several such as Iorio looked very good when they did come up.
I agree that it is time for Kuznetsov to find another team. While he is a great talent it kind of reminds me of when Jagr played for DC, he goes at 80-90% and we haven’t seen that last 10% since the Stanley Cup run. When he turns it on he is absolutely a top 10-20 player in the league but he doesn’t, so the Caps are limited to a 60 point guy. Surely they can find a trade partner who thinks they can turn that last 10% on.
Backstrom also looks like he has absolutely no burst left but I don’t think they’d be able to trade him, and the defense fell apart in the 2nd half of the year. Obviously a best case scenario would be to win the draft lottery but outside of that, more speed needed up front especially in the middle.