Is Peter Laviolette The Right Coach For The Next Phase Of The Washington Capitals?

He’s dealt with a ton adversity during his stint as head coach of the Washington Capitals. A global pandemic and a rash of significant injuries has accompanied Peter Laviolette’s tenure in Washington, rendering it anything but typical. Unfortunately, the adversity has also clouded the ability to clearly assess his performance during his time in Washington. But there are “breadcrumbs” worth considering.

Laviolette, by most accounts, has been well received by the players, the Capitals front office, as well as fans. He’s been more than proficient, and with a coach of his pedigree, was the right play following Todd Reirden’s reign. But is it the right play moving forward?

The team has been quick first round exits in the postseason in Laviolette’s first two years as the Capitals bench boss, and is looking at very real possibility of missing the playoffs altogether in the final year of his deal. But again, there are plenty of injuries to prevent placing all the blame on Laviolette’s shoulders.

Regardless, Laviolette’s contract expires at the end of this season and the team is facing quite a bit of change coming between now and free agency this summer. The team will undoubtedly see plenty of new faces in training camp in September, as the organization attempts to reshape, as well as get younger.

The primary question, at least under the purview of this post, would Laviolette be the right head coach for the next phase of the Capitals?

Laviolette has consistently demonstrated a propensity for preferring the aged veteran over the developing youngster, even to the point of having young talent beg for a ticket on the first bus out of Washington. What would this Capitals team be with Jonas Siegenthaler, 25, now one of the league’s better defensemen, patrolling the blueline?

To Laviolette’s credit, he has guided the insertion of Capitals prospect Martin Fehervary into a full time role with the team, but in all reality, the inertia for that elevation was occurring well before Laviolette’s arrival. Aliaksei Protas could be another youngster credit for Laviolette, yet that has been anything but a full-time role.

Laviolette has demonstrated he prefers going with the same veteran players, night after night, rather than including any kind of revolving, periodic insertion of prospects, strictly for development purposes. He starts what he believes will give him the best chance at winning each and every night, which isn’t a crazy strategy. But unfortunately, philosophy has detrimental affects later down the line. When all is said and done, we just don’t have a good feel for Laviolette’s ability to coach and develop youth.

The ideal head coach for the next phase of the Capitals is probably someone better suited at motivating and managing young players, yet able to be successful at the NHL level. That sounds like a tall order, but maybe not.

Examples include Spencer Carbery and Todd Nelson, who have proven their ability to coach, develop and manage young players, both at the Junior and pro levels. A head coach of their make would be optimal in developing Capitals prospects, as well as coach and manage the remaining aging veterans on the team.

The safe play for Capitals’ General Manager Brian MacLellan would be to extend Laviolette for another two years, or the remaining term of Alex Ovechkin’s contract (three years). It would eliminate any chance of a big “swing-and-a-miss” in hiring the next coach, and squandering the remaining Ovechkin years.

But in this case, safe isn’t best move for long-term health of the organization. The Capitals have one final three-year stretch to reshape/retool/re-whatever-you-want-to-call-it, and make one or two serious runs for a Cup. It may seem risky but the best move would be to hire a young motivator to help build, develop and manage the team to the Ovechkin finish line.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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30 Responses to Is Peter Laviolette The Right Coach For The Next Phase Of The Washington Capitals?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I like Lavi, and he has dealt with a lot, but the needs are changing. Agree he was the right coach at the time. He’s not the right coach for the next phase.

  2. Brant says:


  3. novafyre says:

    As you say, he is not a teacher, not a developer. He is unwilling to try new things.

    I also feel that he wants all his players to be clones that he can plug into any line, any position. That might work for vets who have been around for 15 years and played on many teams in many systems. But especially for new players, that often puts them in situations that they cannot yet handle, cannot be successful at. He then views their lack of success as proof they aren’t ready.

    I could go with Carbs or Todd. Even Gabby.

    Prediction? Unless Lavi decides not to re-sign or the Caps really tank (or something wild happens like Ovi doesn’t or can’t come back), Lavi will remain coach.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Laviolette spent one year coaching in juniors/AHL. He’s been working with Pros ever since. Is that good or bad?

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Good point. He doesn’t have a lot of coaching experience with young players. One year in Wheeling (ECHL) and two years in Providence (AHL) in the late 90’s. It’s been NHL ever since.

      • novafyre says:

        And he might not have liked those three years, didn’t enjoy that experience.

      • GRin430 says:

        There are good reasons why Laviolette doesn’t like to play kids. Very few kids know how to play a full 200-ft game, which Lavi demands. The forwards don’t play like that in juniors — you want to get drafted/signed, you’d better score, defense be damned. Most college forwards are better trained, but don’t have the high-end skill he wants.

        Young defenders make mistakes. It takes time to learn the right decisions in the multiple situations they face in a fast, fluid game like hockey. That’s why they often stay in the minors for longer than forwards do. Lavi’s system places even more burden on the D to play offense than some systems do, which makes their job even tougher. He clearly has no patience for kids’ mistakes, or willingness to let them grow into their jobs. He’d rather play a reliable vet, even one like Irwin who has a very limited tool set.

        Developing kids takes patience, teaching ability, and a willingness to adapt and change as the kids figure it all out. Laviolette apparently doesn’t have those skills. That was fine for the veteran team he inherited 3 years ago. They need to change direction now and bring in kids… and a coach well-suited to developing them.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think that’s right. He was the right coach at the time, but not moving forward.

  6. franky619 says:

    Can’t say the last 3 years were a success. So no!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Add Jeff Halpern to the list of possibles

  8. Bryan Hailey says:

    I like Lavi, but he has done an awful disservice to the youngsters in the system. When he was forced to play them (first half of last season) the team was one of the best in the East.
    I say go get Jeff Halpern. Has a rep of developing young players and would immediately earn some goodwill with the fan base. I think he could bridge the rest of the Ovi era and beyond.I really don’t want another retread coach.

  9. Anonymous says:


  10. HOI says:

    The Caps haven’t decided yet whether they will be sellers of older veterans at the March 3 trade deadline — or buyers of older veterans from other NHL teams. If the Caps buy more veterans, keeping Laviolette as coach would make sense. But if the Caps choose to sell several of their current veterans by March 3 in exchange for younger players and/or draft picks, that would be a much different direction for this team — one that would require a new coach who is better suited to work with younger players.

  11. GRin430 says:

    I never felt that the players on the Caps’ roster fit what Laviolette wanted to do, or at least he has been unable to get them to do it consistently enough to make his systems work. He preaches 5-man units that work together seamlessly/interchangeably in all 3 zones. When the Caps play that way they do win. But they don’t play that way often enough, either because they aren’t naturally good at that style, or they just don’t enjoy playing that way, or both.

    Those integrated 5-man units require mobile D-men with offensive skills, and forwards who are willing to work hard on defense. That doesn’t really describe much of the Caps’ current roster, particularly the forwards. It is interesting that the team won when they had younger forwards more involved both last year and this… Maybe that’s because the kids were willing to work together all 200 feet because they knew it was the only way they had any chance (if slim) of getting in the lineup and on the ice. The vets… not so much.

    I would note also that many of the D-men the Caps are currently icing tend to be good skaters but less physical (Fehervary and Orlov being the exceptions on the “less physical” part). It is hard to find physical D-men who can also seamlessly jump into the play offensively, but the compromise on the current roster with multiple guys who are better skaters than defenders has hurt overall performance, in my view. Gustaffson is a perfect example of a guy who can jump into the offensive play but is a pretty poor defender overall. Jensen also has his problems defensively, and he was particularly awful last night.

    Bottom line, I just don’t think this roster fits what Laviolette wants or needs for him to be successful. They could remake the roster this summer to give him his type of players, or they could bring in a different coach that better fits the players they have… Or they could remake the roster AND bring in a different coach. I vote for doing the latter!

  12. RKD says:

    Jon – Jeff Halpern could well be Adam Oates 2.0, but he could be our guy. All those years with TBL, winning 3 Cups and mentored by one of the best in the business – add his history with the Caps, Potomac MD = think the time is now!

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      You are not the only one that has mentioned Halpern. He was brought up on our other social media pages and agree, he could be a good fit. Certainly has the right experience on his resume.

      • novafyre says:

        Jon, what experience are you seeing? I see a good player, team captain, assistant in Syracuse, assistant in Tampa. I don’t see any head coaching experience. I like Jeff, but no head coach at any level to me would be a big hole on that resume.

  13. Scottlew73 says:

    Hum,believe if you look back to his hiring,I said he’d only be 1 to 1 1/2 years & need to change!!

  14. jonicap says:

    I don’t think the problem with Lavy is strictly playing vets over youth. That seems an oversimplification of the problem. Look at Decembers record when we were world beaters, and now. What’s the difference? It’s not just a youth issue. It’s a failure at a consistent lineup. From the outside in, it looks like a systemic change. It’s also a preference of vets over vets. Backy doesn’t belong on the ice. Love him, but he’s not helping the team and hasn’t for awhile. For contractual reasons I assume, the fans have talked about trading Lars Eller, but he’s part of the solution, not the problem and his line had a great December. Because of the extra centers on the team now, players have been playing out of position; a clicking pp is no longer clicking since Backy came back. We need a more traditional 4C, and Protas would do a great job there. Lars at 3C, with Kuzy and Strome at 1/2. Sit Backy. Either he’s not ready, or we need to move on. This is the immediate concern. Long term? That’s more about playing the youth. I want to fix the now at the moment. They can be dominant again.

  15. Missy says:

    I got an idea re Lavi not playing youngsters.

    Fehervary being an exception has a clear reason based on many things what were said here ( still doesn’t explain Trading Jonas though)

    1. Someone mentioned him prefering veterans over Youth due to potential mistakes

    Marty made it because he had years of playing man under his belt even at the age of 21. In addition to that his strenghts always were quick decision making together with his skating. So if he made some mistakes he quickly knew how to and had speed to recover. Because of that, he barely did ( or does) costly mistakes even at this age after Little more than 100 games> something quite typical for veterans, right ?

    2. He is Exactly that type of D into this system
    Fast and agile, physical, very good in both hits and blocks, good decisions and reading of game( knows when to gO forward and when stay in D), able to quickly come back or recover lost pucks, strong first pass and good shot from blue line , always focused and reliable in D -zone and when given an oportunity can also Support O ( was visible mostly next to John but also recent few games hw was ofensively very good and created few Nice chances). His help for O is sometimes hidden but in fact His reliabilily gives forwards chance to produce, because he is there always ready to kill potential turnovers.

    It has been 2 years of him in line up and that is definitely one of best decisions made by this organization in that time. He has been impressive ever since day one, despite not being that visible this Year His overal impact on team increaded and having in mind he Now has much more D-role and still produced more points than this time last Year>>> I am impressed and have no doubt he can be the future of our blue line and one of leagues best D-man of His type.

    So resume is that Lavi is simply Demanding and expect high level from them since day one > what makes that incredibly dificult.

    Alexyev is great example > he was drafted higher but Fehervary proved to be more ready, better to system and I think even better D of duo.

    MF is our most underrated player in my opinion.

  16. Chris Schweitzer says:

    A lot has been said about Lavy here and elsewhere and his coaching style. His style fits a certain type of player so IMO it’s up to the GM to MANAGE the overall team and to get players that fit the coaches style.

    I think BMac has failed on so many levels with this team. He should never have traded Siegs. He was a young asset that, to me, clearly had a place and role on the team. BMac failed miserably with this.

    Another example is with Connor Mac. This kid clearly wasn’t ready for the NHL but he was kept around when he should’ve been sent to the minors early in the season. I don’t care if Connor Mac wanted to be with the big club, it’s up to the GM to make the smart and responsible decision. BMac failed miserably with this.

    I love Backstrom and Oshie but it’s up to the GM to responsibly plan for the future. I would love to keep them both but not at their current salaries which BMac should’ve managed better. And don’t even get me started on the Mantha/Vrana trade.

    Lucas Johansen and Alexander Alexeyev deserve legitimate shots at making the club. They get a cup of coffee at the NHL level and then are sent packing. I’d like to see them get minimum 10 games straight to see if they adapt.

    This is not Lavy’s style.

    BMac hired Lavy. He should’ve known what he was getting as a coach and put together a plan to maximize the team players to fit the coaching style. If you don’t like the coaches style, then replace him.

    A lot of the failures for the past 3+ years falls at the feet of the GM.

    • lelkesZoltan says:

      The answer for this question (Is Peter Laviolette The Right Coach For The Next Phase Of The Washington Capitals?) can be found in the standing. Washington has the worst performance in the last 10 (3-7-0). We are at the very end 🙁

  17. novafyre says:

    “it’ll be all ˌright on the ˈnight”, a saying used to mean that a performance, an event, etc. will be successful even if the preparations for it have not gone well.

    Caps kept saying, just wait until (injured vet) returns, instead of changing schemes to adapt to the change in plans. How many times have we heard just wait until the gang’s back together?

    Well, it’s now the night and it’s too late to adapt. The understudies were not prepped, they are not ready. Things essential to their success were not made or changed. Lavi refused to deal with the hand he was dealt and he is now out of time and options.

    I do not believe the leopard can change his spots. If life occurs again next year, Lavi will be no more prepared and willing than he was this. If Lavi remains as coach (and I fear that unless he opts to leave he will be), GMBM has to give him a team of aged veteran Swiss Army Knives, interchangeable pieces that he can plug and play in all positions as his starters leave the board for one reason or another. If that is how the Caps decide to support Ovi’s quest for Gretsky and another Cup, then they need to go all in. I think it’s the wrong decision, but it is a decision I can see them making. Keeping Lavi and a team of rookies will fail.

    • hockeydruid says:

      Sad to say but as long as the main goal of this team, management and the owner is to get Ovie a record there will be NO Cup here. Isnt the main goal of a team suppose to be a team goal and in hockey that would be winning the Cup. You are right that the HC has NO ability to change or be flexible and the GM is to afraid to make a change like fire him and bring in a HC who is flexible because the owner would fire him for deviating from his quest for a scoring title. This is a very mediocre team that is complacent and knows that the goal of the owner is to get Ovie the scoring title and that hurts them as they are constantly playing for Ovie not the team. The Gm has been here a decade no and with this team descending from where it once was a proud organization to where it is on the low end of mediocre and only looking downward isnt it time to get rid of the GM and HC and start with new ideas and have the owner stop being like Steinbrenner or Snyder and meld into the background like a good owner?

  18. hockeydruid says:

    This team, despite what the owner or GM say or think is ready for a rebuild. Unless they put themselves up against the wall and stay there for the next several years they cannot resign all the UFA and RFA players on the roster. SO unless the owner and GM are going to go with the same mediocre team that may or may not make the playoffs and if they do exit in the first round; just like the last 4 years, there needs to be a new HC, a new GM and an owner who does not meddle and bask in the glory of the players. Jon, you asked “Is Peter Laviolette The Right Coach For The Next Phase Of The Washington Capitals?” Unless you want more of the same; a slow, tired, old team that breaks down a lot (injuries) then keep him and the older players and stay what this team has become no longer a serious threat or even a small threat to challenge for the Cup; which in the end is the reason you play the game not scoring titles or assist titles or any other individual record that the owner holds so high! With older players that this HC likes and they come with higher salaries; if they are top players or due to length of time in the league; the threat of constant injuries and a team that is getting slower. The GM and owner knew what type of coach they were getting when they hired him so they have to accept responsibility. So if you stay the course and keep the HC by resigning him you have already seen what you are going to get. If that is what you want that is truly a shame. I say fire the HC NOW and replace him with Scott Allen for the rest of the season. Yes not doing Allen any favors but with the firing of the HC a lot of the UFA or RFA should then be heading out the door via trade and getting back either younger players or picks, Then after the season but well before the draft fire the GM and replace him with: Eric Tulsky from Carolina or Scott Nicole from Nashville or Rob DiMaio from St Louis or Mathieu Darche from TB or Chris Macafland from Colorado and lastly the dark horse but I think if he wanted the job would excel at it Kevin Weeks. Now for HC: Jeff is a good choice and maybe a future GM, Kirk Mueller late of Montreal, maybe bringing back Bruce, Todd Nelson as he already knows the players in Hershey, Spencer Carbery would be excellent, Tossing in a few others: Jay Leach, Patrick Roy and Louis Robitaille and finally Kris Knoblauch. the problem is the owner has to realize that after 10 years maybe it is time to move on from the GM and take a step back from a business that, although he has owned the team for some time, is NOT his pool ok knowledge other than that of a fan. Frankly if he is willing to let this team flounder in mediocrity just to get one player a record that I have lost all respect for him as a business man and owner of this team.

  19. James says:

    Bring back Bruce! It’s perfect! At least we’ll be exciting.

  20. Anonymous says:

    My short list would be (in no particular order)
    Scott Allen
    Todd Nelson
    Spencer Carbury
    Andrew Brunette
    Jeff Halpern
    Craig Berube (if St Louis tears down)
    John Stevens
    Joe Sacco

  21. Roberto says:

    We need a coach willing to play younger guys. Last year we also had injuries. we played young guys and did well. We lose so many great young players. Jonas. Don’t forget Sephenson. Of course Forsberg. We stick t=with Backstrom who clearly should be bought out. We dumped our coach who won the Cup. We need an entirely fresh front office

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