After failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in consecutive seasons, the Nashville Predators decided it was time for a new voice behind the bench.
Enter Peter Laviolette, whose track record includes winning the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and three 40-win seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers. Known as an offensive-minded coach, Laviolette's teams have finished in the top 10 in goals in six of his eight full seasons as a coach and never lower than 13th.
In his first season in Carolina, Laviolette was runner-up in voting for the Jack Adams Award and it was the closest vote in award history. With the Predators at 14-5-2 and tied for first place in the Central Division, he is the early frontrunner to take home the award this season as the NHL's top coach.
Barry Trotz, the only coach the franchise had ever known, and who led the Predators to the second round of the postseason in 2011 and 2012, did not have his contract extended after 15 seasons. The offseason blueprint in Nashville called for generating more offense using an up-tempo attack.
The Predators have played fast and aggressive for Laviolette. Their 2.76 goals per game are 13th in the NHL after finishing tied for 19th (2.61) last season, while they remain stingy defensively by allowing 2.1 goals against per game (tied for second). A 9-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 18 in which eight different players scored tied a franchise record for most goals in a game.
Individual players are flourishing in Laviolette's system. Nashville hasn't had a player score 60 points since J.P. Dumont in 2008-09, the longest active drought in the League, but Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg are each on pace to top that number. Forsberg leads all rookies with 22 points and a plus-18 rating, and is tied for the lead with nine goals.
Goalie Pekka Rinne, owner of a 1.97 goals-against average and 14 wins, which is tied for the League lead, credits a new voice and new system, proof Laviolette has his finger on the pulse of the Predators.
"I feel like we play an active style of game where we are really aggressive on the puck on the forecheck," Rinne said. "It's nice to see. Obviously we now have the players to do that. I feel like this year we have a lot of speed and guys can play that type of game. It has been a lot of fun. We play fast, intense games."
Bob Hartley, Calgary Flames -- The Flames have been the surprise of the season. They lead the Western Conference with 3.04 goals per game, and a team that finished 27th in the NHL last season is 13-8-2.
Hartley, who won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2000-01, is resurrecting the Flames by commanding instant respect and accountability. Even with several key players on injured reserve, Hartley has found ways to win while driving his players beyond their potential.
"You know what?" Hartley told the Calgary Herald. "I'm going to run the table. I'm going to be all-in every game. I've never coached with the fear of making a decision. I'd rather make a bad decision than [be] sitting in my office after, [thinking], 'Maybe I should've made that decision.' Me, I'm a guy that coaches on my toes. I don't coach on my heels.
"I want [my] teams to have the same pattern: Go, and if we break something, we'll pick up the pieces after."
Claude Julien , Boston Bruins -- Injuries have been a common theme in Boston. On defense the Bruins are without Zdeno Chara (knee), Adam McQuaid (broken thumb) and David Warsofsky (groin). They have also missed forwards David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Chris Kelly and defenseman Kevan Miller with various ailments.
But Julien, who signed a multiyear contract extension Nov. 3, has kept the Bruins afloat. Boston is 13-9-1, 9-5-0 since Chara went down with a PCL tear in his left knee, and in the thick of the Atlantic Division race despite the roadblocks.
"You don't want to panic, and you shouldn't panic," Julien told Comcast SportsNet New England. "Players can read off management very easily, be it the coaching staff or upper management. As coaches, we feel we still have people we can put in place that are going to keep us competitive. I don't think we've been wrong so far."