He got the New York Islanders to the playoffs in both seasons he coached the team. But that wasn’t enough, as Mike Milbury fired Peter Laviolette 16 years ago today.
He won the Stanley Cup in 2004 with the Carolina Hurricanes and has been to the Stanley Cup finals another two-time with the Philadelphia Flyers and the Nashville Predators. Peter Laviolette is an outstanding NHL coach, and he used to be behind the bench for the New York Islanders.
Sixteen years ago today, New York Islanders GM Mike Milbury fired Peter Laviolette. According to Milbury, the reason for the firing was because the Isles “came up short in the end”.
To be fair, the Islanders finished the 2002-03 seasons with a whimper and not a roar. In their last 12 games, they won only five times. But looking back at Laviolette’s career and the chaotic coaching situation over the last 16 years it’s clear the Islanders made the wrong choice.
What Could Have Been
Laviolette was with the New York Islanders for two seasons and in both seasons, they made the playoffs. In year one, the Islanders finished second in the Atlantic division and lost a seven-game series to the Maple Leafs.
Before hiring Laviolette, the Islanders hadn’t been to the playoffs for seven straight seasons. Seven. And he got them to within a game of the second round.
The following season they finished eighth in the conference and had to play the President’s Trophy winning Ottawa Senators who beat the Isles in five games in round one.
In the time he was with the Islanders he accumulated a 0.546 win ratio. Second only to Al Arbour.
Since being let go by the Islanders Laviolette has coached for the Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers, and now the Nashville Predators. He’s missed the playoffs four times in his coaching career, won the Stanley Cup in 2006, and accumulated a 541-348-6-10 record in the regular season and a 71-60 playoff record.
Milbury and Laviolette just didn’t get along. When looking back at the reporting from that period it’s clear that Milbury thought Laviolette was “his guy”. Milbury brought him in because he thought he was a guy that would give him some success.
"But Milbury took his time to hire a coach, and he thinks he has found his man in Laviolette. He signed Laviolette to a four-year contract, with the last two years as option years, and Milbury has loaded the contract with performance incentives."
Leading up to the firing, the Islanders had even picked up that two-year option on Laviolette’s deal. But fired him just under two months later because “they came up short”.
"The first-round loss this season came after the team had picked up Laviolette’s contract option for next season."
Since Laviolette’s departure and the arrival of Barry Trotz, the glut of Islanders coaches went a combined 498-472-143 in the regular season and a whopping 12-22 in the post-season.
Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s clear that the Islanders made the wrong choice in firing Peter Laviolette. Not only because he’d win a cup three years later with the Hurricanes, but because the carousel of coaches they brought in after him weren’t any better (except for Trotz of course).
It’s sad to think back and know the New York Islanders had a good coach, but let him go for no good reason at all. Milbury said he lost the room, but captain Mike Peca remained surprised when he found out. He just fell out with a terrible GM. What could have been, right?