They have a great goalie in Braden Holtby. They have a great coach in Barry Trotz (Trotz Trotz Trotz! As Tony Kornheiser is fond of saying). They have one of the greatest goal scorers in the history of hockey in Alex Ovechkin. The Washington Capitals are the class of the NHL’s Eastern Conference and should be the the favorite to reach the Stanley Cup Final, if not win it, yet in the Ovechkin Era, they have never gotten out of the second round. It’s at the point where you have to ask about the Caps: if they can’t do it this year, will they ever?
This has been the history of the Washington Capitals for some 40 years. They are often good, occasionally great in the regular season, but that greatness almost never translates for more than a round in the playoffs, with the exception of the 1997-98 season when they made the Final, but lost to the defending champion Detroit Red Wings. They are the “choking dogs,” as Kornheiser likes to call them, of the NHL. Some of it is bad luck, some of it in recent years has been running into Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington’s personal kryptonite.
Jokes are often made that the San Jose Sharks are the Capitals of the Western Conference, or that the Caps are the Sharks of the East, but even San Jose broke through and made the Final last season. If the last 12 months have taught us nothing else, we have certainly learned that the unexpected can and will happen, and sports curses are made to be broken. The Sharks broke through the same year as the Cubs, and the Caps could be next.
That is why they are one of the biggest winners of the NHL trade deadline, acquiring defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the St. Louis Blues without having to give up anyone from their NHL roster. Shattenkirk not only bolsters their strength at the blue line, he is perhaps better prepared for what the Washington Capitals need than anyone on the trade market. Shattenkirk made a name for himself as a power-play quarterback in St. Louis, being the guy to set up Russian-born sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, so it should be an easy transition dishing the puck to Russian-born sniper Alex Ovechkin in D.C.
Best of all for the Capitals, Kevin Shattenkirk is the opposite of a choking dog: he is a prevailing Terrier. Shattenkirk was a member of the Boston University Terriers team that won the NCAA National Championship in 2009, and he assisted Colby Cohen on the overtime game-winner in the National Championship Game against Miami University. That game, it should be noted, was played at Verizon Center in Washington D.C., so Shattenkirk may have experienced better postseason success at Verizon Center, albeit in college, than anyone on the Capitals’ roster.
Nothing is guaranteed in hockey. Nothing is guaranteed in any sport, but that is especially true in hockey because it is on ice, and everything that happens is based on another mistake. That being said, on paper, the Caps should be the best team at the end, and that was true before adding Shattenkirk. Bur history also tells us the team that should win and the team that does win are often not the same. This trade helps their chances of a better outcome, though. We will see how it plays out.
A couple weeks ago, when the Nashville Predators parted ways with head coach Barry Trotz, the longest tenured coach in the NHL and the only head coach the Predators franchise had ever employed, it marked the end of an era. Trotz transformed Nashville from a city with no hockey heritage, to one of the up-and-coming markets in the NHL. Nashville became Smashville. Trotz’ teams were likable, and hard working. They were never prolific scoring teams, but played some of the best defense in the league. Trotz helped build the Preds into a contender, but they struggled in the seasons after the 2012 NHL Lockout. Trotz should be proud of what he accomplished and the Music City, and he will always be remembered fondly by Preds fans. He will surely have another head coaching job soon. For the Predators it is time to turn the page, and take another step forward.
There are a few interesting coaching prospects out there including recently fire Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates, as well as Kevin Dineen, who was fired by the Florida Panthers earlier this season, but coached the Canadian women’s hockey team to Olympic Gold in Sochi in February. Both are qualified, and deserve serious consideration for vacant head coaching jobs, but to me, the obvious choice for Nashville is Peter Laviolette.
At the NHL level, Laviolette has previously coached the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, and Philadelphia Flyers. In the one season that the Canes made the playoffs during his tenure, the won the Stanley Cup in 2006. In his first year as the Flyers’ head coach, Lavi got them to a sixth game of the Stanley Cup before bowing out to the Chicago Blackhawks. On their way there, Philly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport when they defeated the Boston Bruins in seven games after trailing three games to none in the series, like the Los Angeles Kings have a chance to do against the San Jose Sharks this week. He’s a good experienced coach who has been in plenty of big games before.
Laviolette would be the perfect coach to turn Nashville’s offensive fortunes around. He plays a very aggressive up-and-down the ice system that puts defenses on their heels. Laviolette’s downfall in Philly was a lock of solid goaltending and defense, but that should not be a problem with goalie Pekka Rinne and Norris Trophy finalist and team captain Shea Weber on the roster to keep scoring down. When highly paid goalie Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t experience the same success in Philly that he had in Phoenix, and when superstar defensive defenseman Chris Pronger wen down with a career ending concussion, the Flyers’ offense could no longer support the patchwork defense, and the Flyers missed the playoffs. It’s also worth noting that Laviolette served as an assistant coach for Team USA in Sochi and that Nashville GM David Poile served as the GM for Team USA.
Peter Laviolette going to Nashville makes all the sense in the world. It’s just a matter of time to see if the Preds feel the same way.