Two of the top candidates for the head coach of the Washington Capitals are Peter Laviolette and Gerard Gallant. The veteran coaches fit the bill for an experienced head coach who can hold veteran players accountable and get solid post-season performances out of their teams.
Laviolette and Gallant were both relieved of their duties from their respective teams during the 2019-20 campaign. The two are currently hot commodities on the open market, but the Capitals are certainly a destination for a coach looking to contend for a Stanley Cup, sooner rather than later.
In this piece, we’ll take a look at Gallant and Laviolette’s teams’ statistics during their last coaching stint, and how they stack up when compared to each other. To be clear, both of these head coaches would be solid hires, but they are certainly different in terms of their playoff success and achievements.
First up, let’s take a look at Gallant. The 2017-18 Jack Adams Award winner was fired unceremoniously during the 2019-20 season after losing four straight games. Below may indicate some of the rationale for relieving Gallant of his duties. The graph represents the rolling expected goal differential over a 5-game average throughout the 2019-20 season, courtesy of Evolving Hockey:
Gallant was fired after Vegas got off to a mediocre 24-19-6 start. Their rolling expected goals for differential leading up to when Gallant was fired was trending in the wrong direction.
After starting off strong, there was a downturn in performance between games 20 and 30, followed by a slight improvement. After former San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer took over the helm in Vegas, their expected goals for differential normalized and spiked towards the end of the season.
As for possession metrics, it was a tale of two teams for the Vegas Golden Knights during the regular season. They started off the first quarter of the season decent, but not great. Vegas has been a consistently strong possession team, but after DeBoer took over, the team surged in Corsi For differential, catapulting themselves to the top of the Pacific Division standings.
Below are Vegas’ advanced statistics under Gallant. [statistics courtesy of Natural Stat Trick:]
These are strong metrics. Being above 50% in all of these metrics is generally a key to success in the NHL. Gallant’s iteration of the Golden Knights generated more scoring chances and high danger chances than they gave up, and that shows in the standings, posting a 60.1% points percentage in the two and a half seasons he spent in Vegas.
Unfortunately, outside of the immense success they had in their inaugural season, making the Stanley Cup and eventually losing in five games to the Capitals, their success in the playoffs has been limited.
After being released by Nashville last season, Laviolette is looking to start his fifth head coaching stint in the NHL. In his three previous coaching stints since leaving the New York Islanders in 2002-03, he has made it to the Stanley Cup Finals with each of the three teams he’s coached since.
Laviolette has the ability to get a team deep into the playoffs, but has relatively little success in the grand scheme of things. He has advanced passed the second round (the historical Capitals’ struggle) a total of three times in 11 postseason appearances as a head coach. Each time his teams have advanced past the second round, they’ve made a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, winning his sole Stanley Cup in 2005-06 in Carolina.
Laviolette was fired on January 6th, 2020 due to the team underperforming, ultimately falling to 19-15-7 record.
Below is the Nashville Predators rolling expected goals differential over the course of the 2019-20 regular season:
Laviolette was fired after game 41, as you can see the team’s struggles throughout the season above.
The team actually performed worse in regards to expected goals differential after Laviolette was fired and eventually transitioned to hiring John Hynes as head coach. This can be expected to an extent, since the team would have to learn a new system and adjust to a new head coach’s style.
Below is the Predators’ Corsi For differential over the 2019-20 season:
The Predators were certainly inconsistent in their possession performance all season, as you can see above in the dotted line on the chart. Since these are 5-game rolling averages, there’s pretty big swings in differential figures here, and eventually trails to the wrong side of the chart by the end of the season. The team’s Corsi For differential substantially dropped after Laviolette’s exit.
Below is Nashville’s overall team advanced analytical performance while Laviolette was at the helm. [statistics courtesy of Natural Stat Trick]
Overall, the biggest thing that stands out is the points percentage Nashville was able to achieve in the strong Central Division. A points percentage over 70% is spectacular. Solely, regular season success isn’t going to cut it in Washington, but three Stanley Cup appearances and winning a cup as a head coach puts Laviolette ahead in this head-to-head matchup.
Put that together with strong analytical performances, and success early in his stints as head coach map pretty well with the Capitals’ overall Stanley Cup window, and likely positions Laviolette highly on the Capitals’ coaching candidate list.
Laviolette is certainly a coach you don’t expect to stay around longer than 5 years. Gallant has lasted only two and a half years at each of his three NHL head coaching stints, which likely points to an abrasive figure who gets a lot out of his teams the first year to year and a half of his coaching stint, but quickly wears out the front office and players. If term is a real sticking point for the Capitals’ ownership, then Gallant might be the easier sell. Laviolette is going to want term and market value.
By Justin Trudel