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FISCHLER: Flaws eventually doomed Laviolette

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Bright, articulate and amusing, Peter Laviolette seemed like the ideal coach for a young, galvanic team. And he was — for one invigorating season, 2001-2002. "Peter is a very good young coach," says Mike Milbury, "with an excellent future." So, why then did the Isles' general manager pull the chute on his protege after two straight playoff seasons? Answer: While Laviolette may have looked good, superficially, he betrayed flaws from the very beginning that ultimately would force his boss to make a change. One in particular comes to mind. Before Milbury had signed Laviolette, Mike — on the advice of assistant coach Greg Cronin — signed defenseman Ken Sutton, who had been an admirable swing-backliner for the . Sutton, who could have remained in New Jersey, had taken a gamble in the hopes of taking a regular turn on the ' blue line. But once Laviolette and assistant Jacques Laperriere were hired, Sutton became an appendage to the Isles' roster. He never got a fair shake from the rookie coach and seemed to have been pigeonholed as a failure, although Ken never got a fair shot at making the team. I remember one game in Ottawa when Sutton was thrown into the lineup because of injuries and played some 25 minutes, starring despite the fact that he had hardly been used before. Sutton should have been rewarded with more ice time. But, no, the next time around, he was relegated to a third pairing and eventually discarded — unfairly, I might add — as a failure. When I queried an insider about the move, I was told that since Sutton had preceded Laviolette to the Island, Ken was not considered one of Peter's clique and therefore given short shift. But Sutton really was a minor blip on the coach's screen. The major one was . Yashin and comprise the balance-wheels of the Isles' offense. If they're not in synch, the team doesn't produce. Obviously Yashin was a disaster this past season. And if you believe folks close to Alexei, the problem was Laviolette. Superstar and coach simply didn't see eye-to-eye. From what my sources tell me, this was a major problem and an ongoing one. Yashin was distressed with the manner in which he was being coached and — had this been possible, which it wasn't — wanted out of the Island. However, insiders tell me that Yashin was only part of the unhappiness. One player confided that when veteran players were sought for advice, they would provide feedback, but it generally was ignored. Milbury spoke with players following his club's disappointing playoff exit and clearly did not get enough positive feedback to return Laviolette behind the bench. "This was a very difficult decision," says Milbury. I agree. There were many positives about Laviolette and one might add that he was learning on the job. But the fact of the matter was that his second playoff season was one in which his club backed into a berth rather than gaining it on their own initiative. Whether new coach Steve Stirling is the man for the moment remains to be seen. His credentials are commendable. Coaching Bridgeport for the past two years, Stirling posted a record of 83-51-19-7. That's good hockey arithmetic, no matter how you shake it. Stirling knows many of the prospects, having spent six years in the organization. When all is said and done, his success — or failure — will be judged on his ability to extract more out of the club than Laviolette accomplished in 2002-2003. It's as simple as that. Known as "The Hockey Maven" in both local and national circles, Stan Fischler is one of the most outspoken authorities on the game of hockey. Fischler can be seen offering NHL analysis on "MSG SportsDesk" and on Fox Sports Net's "Regional Sports Report — New York Edition." Fischler also provides studio interviews and pre- and post-game features and reports for both the and on FSN. His columns appear regularly on MSGNetwork.com.
Tagged: Devils, Islanders, Alexei Yashin, Michael Peca

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