The Philadelphia Flyers made big changes this past offseason. Everybody knows the names of the departed and acquired.
But perhaps the most surprising change of all was of the organization's philosophy.
For too long the players have held all the power over the coach—play hard when we like him, tank to get him fired.
Blaming the voice in the room, whether it be Terry Murray, Bill Barber, Ken Hitchcock or John Stevens, has been a time-honored tradition in the City of Brotherly Love.
But not this year. No, finally, the immature captain, over-paid "sniper" and several other frustrating under-achievers were given the boot while the head coach was given a vow of confidence.
Do you agree? Here's my attempt to persuade you, the readers. Let me know what you think.
Coach is dressed down but still looking Fly.
Peter Laviolette won a Calder Cup championship and AHL Coach of the Year honors in 1998-99 heading up the Providence Bruins.
After a stint as an assistant with the Boston Bruins, Laviolette took the head job with the New York Islanders in 2001-02 before settling down for five seasons as the lead man behind the bench with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003-04.
Peter Laviolette sat at home in 2004-05, as did the rest of the National Hockey League during the lockout.
Unlike many teams, however, Laviolette was prepared for the "new" NHL.
His Hurricanes won the Southeast Division in 2005-06 with 112 regular-season points. Laviolette's team continued its roll through the playoffs, winning the Stanley Cup on the back of rookie goaltender Cam Ward.
Winning the Stanley Cup coming out of the lockout proves Laviolette has a firm grasp on 21st century hockey, and what constitutes a "winning style" under the post-lockout rules.
Furthermore, the ring on his finger earned him instant respect when he took over the Flyers in December 2009. He implemented an entirely new system and navigated a quickly-spiraling Philadelphia team out of the gutter to the doorstep of the franchise's first championship since the Ford administration.
Drawing up some sort of genius
Call it coach's intuition or a profound sense of "the moment," but Peter Laviolette has an uncanny ability to sense a lull in his own team's game or a weakness in his opponent's, use his timeout, no matter what point in the game, deliver a message or specific play and watch his team execute.
How many times since Lavy took over has he called a timeout and seen it pay off fairly quickly with a goal on the board for the orange and black?
Laviolette's great timing was never more evident in the 2010 comeback in the semifinals against the Boston Bruins.
What Flyers fan could forget trailing Boston 3-0 in the first period, the same deficit Philly had to overcome to force the game seven, before Coach Lavy called a timeout, composed the troops and oversaw a 4-3 comeback victory?
Laviolette knows when to push and when to nurture his players.
But when it comes down to telling his players exactly what needs to be done, Laviolette's sense of when and how to deliver his message is unmatched.
Flyers broadcasters, and the national guys, too, often reference Laviolette's "unconventional" use of the timeout—often choosing to use it early rather than save it for a key moment late in the game (it's funny—the exact same comment can be used to criticize another coach in town...).
Laviolette's recognition that games are often won and lost before desperation time late in the third period demonstrates he trusts his players to be able to execute within his system, given they are prepared with the proper game plan and adjustments.
His 192 points in 159 regular-season games as Flyers coach (.604 points percentage) is a strong indication his message is getting across, as well.
Lavy explaining hockey to a zebra
Whether it be of his own players, the other team's or league officials, Peter Laviolette is not afraid to let his feelings be known.
If Laviolette sees it necessary to bench James van Riemsdyk because he is not playing "inspired hockey," he does it.
When the coach sees a leadership issue in the locker room, he suggests to management a change in the captaincy may be in order, and management respects his opinion so much they say, "Screw it, let's just trade him."
But do not think of Laviolette as a "unify-around-hating-me" type of coach, as he has proven himself very loyal in other regards.
When a player like Andreas Nodl is doing everything he is being asked to do as hard as he can, Lavy finds a spot in the lineup for him—even if it means not dressing a more talented but less motivated scorer, say Nik Zherdev, for instance.
And Laviolette is never afraid to give it to the referees, either.
While Lavy bemoans his team's penchant for inopportune penalties, he will always take up for a player headed to the box for playing clean, aggressive hockey, even when the officials do not see it that way.
Nor does Laviolette fear letting his players be themselves.
For example, Zac Rinaldo is a tough instigator, so he lets him instigate. But not without first coming to respect his coach's idea of what exactly constitutes "crossing the line."
More than anything, Laviolette's players respect and respond to their coach's desire to win.
When players see how a coach trusts his players to make plays, sticks up for them, mixes things up to inspire the them, the players want to win for their coach, because he is doing everything he can to put his team in position to win.
Last year, 22-year-old rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky took Philadelphia by storm, starting on opening night and not looking back, posting 28 wins and a .915 save percentage in his 54-game rookie campaign.
Following his tremendous regular season, coach Laviolette named the first-year Russian phenom the Flyers' playoff starter.
While Bob faltered in the playoffs, Laviolette's trust in rookies clearly has not waned, as his Flyers lineup consists of regulars Sean Couturier (18) and Matt Read (25), two first-year players logging big minutes in all phases of the game.
Furthermore, Zac Rinaldo (21) has been counted on, as he was twice in last season's playoffs, to bring a physical and emotional edge to the ice without putting his team in constant penalty jeopardy.
Forwards Harry Zolnierczyk (24), Eric Wellwood (21), as well as defensemen Kevin Marshall (22), Marc-Andre Bourdon (22) and Erik Gustafsson (22), have all played a role so far.
Keep in mind also that Brayden Schenn (20), the supposed prize of the summer blockbusters, has yet to have an impact due to injuries and salary cap constraints.
Laviolette's trust in rookies demonstrates two things:
1) Winning takes precedent over anything else. The best and hardest-working players get to wear the orange and black, no matter the player's individual standing with the team.
2) Laviolette's players trust him enough to buy into his philosophy, and they trust his coaching will prepare the younger players to make plays and contribute rather than look like deer in headlights.
No, Peter Laviolette is not from Philadelphia.
Despite his New England up-bringing, Lavy fits in rather well in the Philadelphia hockey scene.
His arrival in 2009 brought a more aggressive tone to Flyers games, a hallmark of hockey in this city that was sorely missed under John Stevens.
Laviolette's attacking style on both sides of the ice have accounted for a Flyers team with much higher energy.
Many opponents can find it difficult to match the intensity Philly brings for 60 minutes, especially in the doldrums between the exciting start of the new season and the mad dash to the playoffs, and a few points here and there can be the difference between hockey in the summer and an early start to Phillies season.
Lavy's aggressive style, honesty and success have endeared him to the Philly Phaithful.
Not to mention the theory that Laviolette, having won the Stanley Cup in 2006 with Rod Brind'Amour, is here to reverse the wrong of Brindy bringing a Cup to Carolina when he should have never been shipped out of town. Trading Jeff Carter and keeping Scott Hartnell around are indications Laviolette is committed to righting said wrong.
But I digress.
While Peter Laviolette's standing amongst the Philadelphia populous is not necessarily a sign of genius, delivering the brand of hockey the fans pay to see is a smart way to keep public sentiment on his side.
At this point, it is hard to imagine fans clamoring for the firing of their hockey coach.
And as long as Laviolette has that leeway, he will continue to be free to put the team together in his own image, that is, to continue to take advantage of the aforementioned qualities that make him a certified hockey genius.
That's it folks, now let me hear from you!