PHILADELPHIA -- Don't bother asking coach Peter Laviolette to assess his first season as coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.
He'd prefer you wait until the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It's been far too short," a stern-faced Laviolette said. "I can tell you Philadelphia is a great place to be. We're in a great sports market, they expect success and want a Stanley Cup. What better spot to be in?"
After winning a Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes, it's no wonder Laviolette is mum on summing up a season that hasn't even gotten beyond the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Round. He never expected to be in this position. Laviolette was working as a television analyst with TSN when he got the call from Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren in December to replace John Stevens.
At the time he was hired, the Flyers were in a tailspin. They were coming off their sixth loss in seven games, were ninth in the Eastern Conference at 13-11-1 and had been victimized by consecutive shutouts for the first time since February, 2003. Still, Laviolette's objective, as always, was to instill his brand of up-tempo hockey.
"His passion and honesty are what make him such a special coach. He doesn't hold anything back and lets them know where they stand; players like that. Everyone is held accountable whether you're on the first line or fourth line, on the first defensive pair or sixth defensive pair." -- Kevin McCarthy on Flyers coach, Peter LavioletteThe Flyers would struggle making the adjustment, too, going 2-7-1 in Laviolette's first 10 games on the job.
"It was a little bit of an adjustment in the cardiovascular department because with (former coach) John Stevens, we played a different system that was a little more passive where we'd wait a little more," Flyers forward Danny Briere said. "With Pete, we had to go-go-go, so that in itself was an adjustment.
"I remember him showing clips of a lot of the guys over the first couple of weeks," Briere continued. "As soon as the puck would turn, our first instinct would be to sit back and wait for the other team. Pete didn't want that. He wanted us to be on the go all the time. I think, mentally, it was adjustment to just get on the same page he was of having us go on the forecheck all the time."
Flyers assistant coach Kevin McCarthy spent 12 seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes coaching staff and was part of that '06 Cup run under Laviolette.
"His passion and honesty are what make him such a special coach," McCarthy told NHL.com. "He doesn't hold anything back and lets them know where they stand; players like that. Everyone is held accountable whether you're on the first line or fourth line, on the first defensive pair or sixth defensive pair."
One reason McCarthy feels Carolina went 16-9 in the '06 Playoffs on the way to a seven-game triumph in the Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers was Laviolette's ability to work on the fly.
"He has a vision for thinking outside the box," McCarthy said. "A lot of times, when everyone would think he's going to do one thing, you'd do something completely different. Maybe he'll call off a practice or decide not to go on the ice that day and, instead, have a video meeting where we'd sit down and talk about things. He has the ability to bring guys back to earth no matter if it's after a win or a loss. You have to have that in the playoffs."
Laviolette led the Flyers to a 28-24-5 record in 57 regular-season games to end the season, but expects even more this time of year. And he's now two wins away from advancing in the playoffs since his team holds a 2-1 lead over the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Round.
Flyers goalie Michael Leighton was a backup to Carolina's Cam Ward when Laviolette was coach in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
"He's a great coach with great systems and he speaks well," Leighton said. "When it comes down to business, he's really serious, but off the ice you can go into his room and talk to him -- he's very approachable. He's the kind of guy who will ask how the family is doing and players appreciate that. Some coaches will stay away from that and just stick to hockey; he's more sociable with the guys."
"I think he's very aggressive in a sense that, when you look at his teams over the years, he's had very offensive teams strong on the forecheck," Briere said. "They don't really sit back. To be honest, with the team we have, you would think that's a good thing because we have big bodies in front and guys who can get in on the forecheck and be physical."
Scott Hartnell, who scored 14 goals and 44 points under Laviolette this season, said the team feeds off the coach's intensity.
"He's got his beliefs in his systems and I think everyone feeds off of his passion for the game," Hartnell said. "It's different than any other coach that I've had but it's a good thing that he has that energy because it's contagious. You don't want to let a new coach down; you're sad to see (John Stevens) go and it was a little bit of an awkward feeling for a while. It was the first time for myself to see someone fired and hired, but the adjustment's been good -- it got us into the playoffs."
Flyers' captain Mike Richards was one player who really took the release of Stevens to heart. But he feels the players are as comfortable in Laviolette's scheme, right now, as they've been all season.
"I think it's second nature now instead of having to think," Richards said. "I think after the Olympics, we kind of lost it a bit and almost had to get right back into it and try to relearn. But then at the end of March and April, it became second nature again."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com