Philadelphia Flyers: 5 Reasons Peter Laviolette Deserves the Jack Adams Award
Sure, a strong case can be made for a few head coaches deserving recognition this year. Ken Hitchcock has his St. Louis Blues leading the Western Conference standings and the race for the Presidents' Trophy.
The Nashville Predators' Barry Trotz has also done well in coaching his team to the playoffs in the Central Division, one of hockey's two toughest divisions.
But no coach and team have performed under the unique circumstances of Laviolette's Flyers, and, with few exceptions, no coach or team has to do their job under such a scrupulous microscope as the Philadelphia Media Market.
In a year of unknowns the man fans affectionately refer to as "Lavy" has exemplified all the qualities of a great coach: Leadership, teaching and knowing how to manage his team as a whole as well as each individual player.
Need more reasoning before handing the Jack Adams to Peter Laviolette? You know what to do, and be sure to argue with me in the comments, there's nothing better than end-of-season award debates.
Managing Ilya Bryzgalov
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Peter Laviolette received criticism for his handling of his enigmatic Russian goalie earlier in the season.
Whether the complaints from fans and media were Bryz was not getting enough ice time or too much ice time or the organization needs to sit down and talk to their $51 million investment about reigning in his personality or he's not being allowed to "be himself" it has been hard for Laviolette to "win" when concerning the Bryzgalov situation this season.
I would compare Laviolette's handling of Ilya to the way the Philadelphia Phillies' Charlie Manuel managed Brad Lidge in 2009. He nursed him along, never let his player totally lose his game by pulling him and hiding him for an extended period of time, even at the height of his struggles.
Now, this strategy seems to be paying off.
Bryz has completely transformed his game of late, giving up two or fewer goals in each of his last ten starts.
Beyond actually managing the individual, Lavy was able to bring his team together and continue to win and play solid hockey despite a goaltender who, admittedly, couldn't stop a beach ball at one point this season.
Rookies and New Faces
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The Flyers front office, as we all know by now, made quite a few bold moves in the 2011 offseason and handed Peter Laviolette what was basically a brand new dressing room.
Gone were Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Ville Leino, Nik Zherdev, Darroll Powe, Kris Versteeg, Dan Carcillo and Brian Boucher.
Replacing them were unfamiliar youngsters with little-to-no big market experience, as well as one guy who took a three-year hiatus from the National Hockey League to enjoy the splendor of Russia's KHL.
Sean Couturier, Jaromir Jagr, Matt Read, Zac Rinaldo (two playoff games in 2011 but I'm counting him anyway), Tom Sestito, Wayne Simmonds, Max Talbot (no, he doesn't fit the description above, but he is a new face), and Jake Voracek.
Still, in a season of big changes Laviolette was able to install his system, get a whole mess of rookies up to speed and have the Flyers on pace for a second straight 100-point season.
In Philly, every season is "championship or bust."
While I'm counting on a lengthy playoff run to at least bridge the gap until baseball season, fans (and management) will have to take a step back when the hockey is over and realize how unique a season this was and what a spectacular coaching job it took to get a team like this to compete for a top seed in the Eastern Conference for the entire season.
Hockey is the ultimate team game and the best teams are usually the ones that have been together the longest- just look at the NY Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins... the list could go on.
But, somehow, Laviolette got his team on the same page fairly quickly and now they're playing very good hockey heading into the second season.
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The Flyers have had an impressive season thus far and they have done it all without a team captain.
After trading Captain Morgan to the Los Angeles Kings for Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn the "C" was passed to Chris Pronger, who donned the letter on his sweater for all of 13 games this season before concussion symptoms shut down his season.
Sure, the Flyers have a core group of veteran leaders in Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Jaromir Jagr and Claude Giroux, but the fact remains the captaincy has been a huge point of contention for this franchise in the past and Laviolette has avoided all distractions concerning the leadership role this season (remember the Primeau-Hatcher fiasco?).
How many teams with this many rookies could contend for the top seed in the conference without a captain? Laviolette, as both a leader and a teacher, has done a masterful job of getting this team to respond to his message and executing it on the ice.
Under-Performers and Injuries
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Bryzgalov's early-to-mid-season struggles have been well-documented this year and nobody has underestimated what the loss of Chris Pronger has meant to the Flyers' blueline. But there are quite a few other players the Flyers were counting on who have not lived up to expectations in 2011-12.
Danny Briere, the highest paid player on the team, is having the least productive season of his post-lock-out career, having amassed only 40 points (14G/25A) in 65 games this year.
Briere missed nine games after suffering a concussion earlier in the season, and his scoring touch seems to have been the part of the brain directly impacted, having scored only once, an empty-netter, in the past 29 games.
James van Riemsdyk signed a six-year, $25.5 million dollar extension following his "strong" (seven goals, 0 assists, -3 in 11 games) playoff performance, and the hope was for JvR to grow into a top-line forward with budding superstar Claude Giroux.
JvR has suffered a rash of injuries this season, and when he has played he hasn't been all that great, posting 24 points (11G/13A) in 43 games after losing his spot on the top line to Scott Hartnell.
Andrej Meszaros, last season's Barry Ashbee Trophy winner, was not having a bad season before his back injury forced him out of the lineup, but he just hasn't been passing the eye test, having looked so much better last year. Fans I've talked to had all said the same thing before Meszaros got hurt, he seemed pre-occupied with joining the rush and playing offense rather than being the hard-hitting defenseman fans were dying for before Nick Grossmann came to town.
Yet Laviolette has kept things together by instilling confidence and getting career-high production out of players like Wayne Simmonds and Max Talbot, while also getting unexpected production at both ends of the ice out of rookies Matt Read, Sean Couturier, Eric Wellwood and Erik Gustafsson by putting them in positions to succeed.
Laviolette Was Made for Philadelphia
Just watch the video and tell me Lavy's not "one of us."
He expects hard work and professionalism from each one of his players every night, no matter their contractual status or level of experience.
But at the end of the day Laviolette always makes the story about how well or poorly his team played, and he does not turns his emotions into whining the way other "great" coaches do, like John Tortorella or Lindy Ruff.
Obviously, I'm biased when it comes to Laviolette, I am, after all, a Flyers fan.
But under any objective examination of the events leading into 2011-12 and what has occurred since the beginning of the year it is hard to, at the very least, not consider Peter Laviolette a top contender for the Coach of the Year Award.