Laviolette, Predators ready for new season and system
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — New coach Peter Laviolette figures it will take time for the Predators to learn his new system but knows for sure when he wants to start implementing it.
That would be from the get-go of training camp, which started Thursday with meetings, greetings and player physicals at Bridgestone Arena. Friday, the Predators hit the ice for the first time at Centennial Sportsplex. Four days later, the Predators open the preseason at Tampa Bay.
"We really want to try and push speed and push tempo," said Laviolette, who replaces Barry Trotz , the only coach the Predators have had in 15 seasons and who’s now coaching the Capitals. "We want to start to implement our system and things we are looking for on the ice and how we play the game. I don’t expect it to be perfect. There’s going to be a lot of figuring it out."
One thing for sure, the emphasis on offense will be paramount, especially for a team historically challenged scoring-wise. Under Trotz, the Predators made the playoffs seven times in eight seasons before falling short a second-straight time last year. His teams were built on team strengths of a defense led by star Shea Weber, Roman Josi, and 2013 first-round draft pick Seth Jones, plus the world-class goaltending of Pekka Rinne.
Enter Laviolette, the former coach of the Islanders (2001-03), Hurricanes (2003-09) and Flyers (2009-14), who’s offensive wizardry has always had a team coached for a full season finish in the upper half of the league in scoring. He led Carolina to the Stanley Cup title in 2006.
"Usually when a new system comes into place," Laviolette said, "there is a pause before you step on the gas. We’ve got to work our way through camp to eliminate that pause. I think that’s just through time and repetition of doing things. So, we’ll get to that, but (Friday) is the beginning of trying to implement what we want to do."
Jettisoned the past season or during the off-season were veteran forwards David Legwand, the team’s all-time leading scorer and goals maker; Patric Hornqvist, a four-time 20-plus goal scorer; and Nick Spaling.
Enter a quartet of veteran forwards ready to exhibit offensive prowess, including Derek Roy, Mike Ribeiro, Olli Jokinen and James Neal. They hope to blend with front-line returnees Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, Viktor Stalberg, Paul Gaustad, Matt Cullen and Mike Fisher, who is out until possibly January while recovering from an Achilles tendon injury suffered while training during the offseason.
Neal brings the most offensive promise, having scored 88 goals the past three seasons â fifth in the NHL during the stretch — for the Penguins and has had six-straight 20-plus goals seasons. Young forwards Filip Forsberg, the 2012 first-round draft pick of the Capitals, and Calle Jarnkrok exude scoring potential ready to be realized.
"Yeah, it’s going to be different, definitely, a lot of new guys that we are going to have to make feel comfortable and fit them in right away," said Weber, team captain and three-time Norris Trophy finalist as the league’s top defenseman. "It’s a great time of year being back here and finally getting on the ice and try to put last year behind us."
According to Weber, that is across the board â and not just on offense — for a team that missed the playoffs by only three points last season.
"You can sit here and talk about our offensive struggles last year," Weber said, "but we also gave up too many goals. There are a lot of areas we need to improve in. Obviously, we would like it to be offensively, but we can’t just sit back as a defensive unit. We have to be play solid there and, hopefully, make our overall game a lot better. It’s a wake-up call for all of us in the locker room that we need to be better."
It also helps to have a healthy Rinne, who missed 51 games last season, first while recovering from hip surgery and then a subsequent virus. The two-time Vezina Trophy finalist for the NHL’s top goaltender has fully recovered, as evidenced by being named most valuable player in the World Championships this spring for silver medalist Finland.
"It’s really exciting to have a kind of new start here," Rinne said. "It’s interesting to see what is going to happen now. I’m sure we are going to start really fast and hard practices and all that kind of stuff. So, I’m actually really looking forward to get it going.
"Pretty soon, we will start playing exhibition games. Everything happens always so fast. You condition for the whole summer, and then all of a sudden, it’s on."
Young defenseman Ryan Ellis, the team’s 2009 first-round draft pick, did not report to training camp Thursday. The offensive-minded blueliner is negotiating a new deal with the Predators after playing out the final season of his entry contract in 2013-14.
But that won’t deter Laviolette from hitting the ground running â uh, make that hit the ice skating â on Friday while not only implementing a new system, but a way for the team to go about business on and off the ice.
"Every team has to figure out who they are and how they are going to perform and, ultimately, go to battle with each other in hockey games and find their success as a group," Laviolette said. "(Friday) is the first day where you can start to build toward that and start to develop that with your team. From day one, we have to find our own way and make our own way.
"Eventually, you hope to find the chemistry and who fits with who and where does that piece seem to go and fit in nicely."