Peter Laviolette was one of two head coaching candidates Alan May had in mind as ideal hires for the Capitals.
Laviolette was announced by the Capitals as their next head coach on Tuesday, becoming their 19th in franchise history, replacing Todd Reirden, who was fired in August after his second straight first-round playoff exit.
"He was one of the two guys that I would prefer to be the head coach of the Capitals," May told The Sports Junkies on Tuesday. "It was (Mike) Babcock or Laviolette."
"Laviolette's coached about 18 years, been to the Finals three times, went into Carolina in '06 a year after they had some really good hockey teams and went in and immediately won a Stanley Cup," he said.
May views Laviolette so favorably because of his reputation for pushing players' buttons, a critical ingredient, he says, that was missing these past few seasons under Reirden.
"He pushes buttons," said May. "He coaches the game with fire, he's a presence behind the bench and he commands instant respect from guys like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie, Carlson — you name all the Capitals' older players — and he pushes buttons, and I think that's critically important.
"And I think those players that I mentioned also deserve to have a veteran coach again and a guy with a winning pedigree. The fancy stats people, the laptop people won't like Laviolette, but you know what? He wins hockey games."
"He's got a good presence. He doesn't have a lot of baggage with him as far as confrontations, conflict with players or anyone, and finds a way to get it done," May went on to say. "And usually what he does is the first year or two with a new team, he does extraordinary things and gets them to the Finals."
Getting back into Stanley Cup contention will be mission critical for Laviolette, who's now tasked with getting the most out of aging stars Ovechkin and Backstrom as their championship window begins to close.
Laviolette is exactly the type of coach Washington needs, May contends.
"Twitter would tell you yes, that you're not allowed to raise your voice or be honest with anyone," he said. "But the players do appreciate when coaches, they want give-and-take from coaches, and players also believe and trust in a coach that will go after one of their teammates, and even if it's them, that confronts them on this."
"John Tortorella, who I absolutely love as a head coach, is huge on the confrontations," May went on to say. "He doesn't have a problem going back and forth with a player, but they're trying to get to the same place and you'll notice, the teams that do do that, the players do it to each other as well so the coach doesn't have to do it as much. So I'm big on the tough love environment within a team."
"Believe me, all these guys know how to speak to the players and it's not just a one-way thing," said May. "And everyone thinks that a direct coach, it's all negative all the time, but really they communicate and they let the players know exactly what they want them to do and they'll confront them when they don't do it."
"When you have a player making the same mistake over and over," he said, "as a teammate you want the coach to confront that guy, the players will start to confront that guy, because you've got to eliminate that behavior from the game.
"And then the good coaches, in my opinion, when that player – if he continues to make the same mistake – you take his ice time, and I don't think we saw enough of that the last couple of years. So to me, it's critically important that you have a coach that pushes buttons, and you can't just stand there, you can't sit on the bench and not do anything and just continue to roll four lines."