With the start of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators on Monday, the final stage is set for the 2016-17 NHL season. The series features an indirect math up of two of the leading architects of the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup Championship.
The sarcastic face comes from the testy times when Coach Peter Laviolette was being let go by General Manager Jim Rutherford during the 2008-09 season less than three years after hoisting the Stanley Cup at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina on Monday, June 19, 2006.
Jim Rutherford and Peter Laviolette parallels
Despite different roles and career paths, Jim Rutherford and Peter Laviolette’s careers have a couple interesting similarities.
Ups and downs
Both men have risen to the pinnacle of NHL hockey having won the Stanley Cup. And both men have either repeated or come very close thereby shedding the one-trick pony label. Rutherford built two significantly different teams in Raleigh that went to the Finals in 2002 and 2006. And he has now used the foundation of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to architect a Stanley Cup winner and now another Stanley Cup Finals participant in just three years in Pittsburgh.
Peter Laviolette has an even more varied success in different situations. He has now made Stanley Cup Finals appearances with three different teams – the 2006 Hurricanes, the 2010 Flyers and the 2017 Predators.
But to say that either has been a consistent winner would be incorrect. Laviolette actually carries a reasonable track record of modest success in non-magic years. He only coached the Hurricanes to the playoffs in one of his three full seasons in Raleigh, but he was a perfect two for two in making the playoffs with the Islanders despite early exits. He also went 3-for-4 with the Flyers and has built step-wise with a perfect 3-for-3 in Nashville with step-wise progress from a first round exit to a second round exit now to the Finals. But somehow along the way he has been fired by three teams in 14 years. There is a whole other article about how it is possible for a coach with Laviolette’s track record and success to have such short coaching tenures three times, but we will save that fascinating topic for another time.
Jim Rutherford’s success has been even more decidedly feast or famine. With the Hurricanes, he architected a Stanley Cup Champion and another finalist, but there were extended dry spells with nary a playoff appearance in between. His Hurricanes’ teams made the playoffs in 2001 and 2002 and then failed to make consecutive appearances for the next 12 years under his leadership, and the team had more than its share of turns near the bottom of the league. I would best describe Rutherford’s approach and intermittent success in Raleigh as an annual attempt to puzzle-piece together a lineup and find magic. When it worked, it looked brilliant. When it did not not work, it was often utterly abysmal. The truly elite core in Pittsburgh has thus far proven to be a good fit for his trial and error approach to filling out the rest of the lineup.
Both are arguably underrated in the bigger picture
Having done the majority of their work in smaller, non-traditional hockey markets and sort of gradually built their resumes, I think one could make a strong case that both are underrated relative to their peers.
Peter Laviolette is now the only coach in NHL history to lead three different teams to the Stanley Cup Finals. His is not a story of building something great and then riding it for an extended period of time. Rather, Laviolette’s is a story proving that he can take a different set of circumstances and players and build it up, usually pretty quickly. If his team upsets Pittsburgh and wins the Stanley Cup to give him two Cup wins that number by itself will not vault him above the fray. But when you add in another Finals appearance, I think his name should become part of the conversation today’s best NHL coaches are discussed. Important to note is that he is only 52 years old and his accomplishments span only 15 years since he first became a head coach. Consider that Ken Hitchcock has only one Stanley Cup win and only two appearances dating back to 1998-99 and 1999-00. Darryl Sutter’s coaching career spans 25 years with two Stanley Cup wins in a short 3-year burst with the Los Angeles Kings. His Finals appearance total only matches Laviolette’s three. For as much fuss is made about the legend of Mike Babcock, his coaching career which is the same duration as Laviolette’s and spanned 10 years coaching one of the best teams in the NHL in the Detroit Red Wings. Babcock’s accomplishments include only a single Stanley Cup win and an equal three appearances total. (So basically, Laviolette and Babcock are tied right now, but if the Preds win the 2017 Cup, Laviolette will be up a championship.) If you want to measure top line results, Joel Quenneville and his three Stanley Cup wins with the Blackhawks would probably be the current gold standard, but is he really that far ahead of Laviolette with three wins coaching basically the same elite roster and in 20 years of coaching?
Rutherford’s situation is interesting. He does not score well in terms of minor successes like playoff appearances, but what if he wins the 2017 Stanley Cup with the Penguins and then another at some point? For as much as Lou Lamoriello is lauded as hockey genius for his work with the New Jersey Devils, his total is three Stanley Cup wins and two Finals losses. With his appearance the Penguins’ appearance in 2017, Rutherford will finish the 2016-17 season either a single Stanley Cup win or loss short of Lamoriello’s total.
Both are currently in great situations to continue building their resumes
With the top of the Penguins’ roster (Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Letang) just hitting 30 years old and with Rutherford off to a quick start with two Finals appearances, could Rutherford ride his current situation up above Lamoriello?
And with a young team filled will elite talent in Nashville, could Laviolette sprint past even the older coaches in the next few years?
Both are definitely possible.
What say you Caniacs?
Are Peter Laviolette and Jim Rutherford who first won it all together in Raleigh in 2006 both underrated because so much of their success was achieved in small, non-traditional hockey markets?
Do one or both of them deserve to be discussed among the best currently active in their roles?
What might have happened had they waited out the downturn after the 2006 Stanley Cup win and gave it a longer go together with the Hurricanes?