The Nashville Predators made the biggest change in franchise history during the offseason. Now it’s time for the Peter Laviolette coaching era to kick into high gear.
The Predators reported Thursday for training camp with Laviolette in charge after being hired in May to replace the only coach Nashville ever had in Barry Trotz, now with Washington. They also have four new players in James Neal, Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy and Ollie Jokinen.
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Captain Shea Weber says they have to make the new people feel comfortable and help fit in right away. Trotz was fired in April after 15 seasons with the former expansion franchise and was the only head coach Weber has ever had in the NHL. Weber said the change is exciting.
”It’s a wake-up call for all of us in the locker room that we need to be better, and it comes down to us,” Weber said.
The Predators have missed the playoffs the past two seasons, missing out on the Western Conference’s final spot by three points. Goaltender Pekka Rinne played in only 24 games last season after developing an infection in his surgically-repaired hip. Rinne recovered well enough that he played in the World Championships where he was named the MVP and posted a tournament-high three shutouts.
Rinne said he wishes Trotz nothing but the best in Washington.
”At the same time, it’s really exciting to kind of have a new start here,” Rinne said.
The Predators went through physicals and testing Thursday along with meetings. They hit the ice for the first time Friday with the first exhibition game Tuesday at Tampa Bay.
Laviolette has a proven resume having won a Stanley Cup with Carolina and also coaching the Islanders and Philadelphia. He was fired last October by the Flyers after losing the first three games of the season. Laviolette was coaching the U.S. team at the World Championships when hired by Nashville, and he has tried to meet his new players through the summer either on the telephone or in quick meetings.
Now Laviolette says the relationships start forming now.
”They’ll see more of me than they want to and end up spending every day together in practices and games and the hotels,” Laviolette said. ”Now you really start to connect with players. I’m looking forward to that. Some great guys here. I knew that coming in just being on the outside.”
The Predators start work knowing full well that general manager David Poile has made it very clear that missing the playoffs is unacceptable.
That’s why Poile got rid of the only man he had trusted to coach this franchise. The general manager followed that by trading Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling to Pittsburg for Neal and signed Jokinen. Poile followed that up by agreeing to one-year deals with Ribeiro and Roy, trying to boost an offense that scored just 2.6 goals a game last season.
Laviolette has never coached a team for a full season that finished ranked below 13th in goals. Weber said scoring wasn’t the Predators’ only woes last season.
”We weren’t good in shootouts,” Weber said. ”There’s a lot of other areas we need to improve in. Obviously, we’d like to be better offensively. We just can’t abandon the defensive end. We have to play solid there, and hopefully make our overall game better.”
Notes: The Predators added defensemen Brian Lee and Mike Little and forwards Matthew Campagna and Jon Puskar on tryout agreements for training camp.