The Flyers have fired coach Peter Laviolette. Can former tough guy Craig Berube turn the ship around? Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun have an idea.
Scott Burnside: Well, my friend, that didn't take long. You confirmed Monday morning through sources that the Philadelphia Flyers fired Peter Laviolette as head coach after the team lurched to an 0-3-0 start, scoring just three goals over that span. I watched some of the Flyers' 2-1 loss to Carolina on Sunday and they were not really a factor, dominated in the first period and managing just three shots on goal in the third when they needed a goal to tie. Overall, they had just 18 shots on goal.
So, is that a function of coaching? No question a team with Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Jakub Voracek, and newcomers Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit should be generating more than this. But the firing, for me, also illustrates the fact this is a team that has been in an almost perpetual state of upheaval since going to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010.
Top players such as former captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have been traded. The Flyers signed a big-name free agent netminder in Ilya Bryzgalov, which fell to pieces with the team buying the netminder out in the offseason, and now they've fired their head coach after just three games. Lots of questions about whether longtime Flyers assistant Craig Berube is the right guy to get Philadelphia back where it needs to be, but the bigger question is what comes next, especially if the team continues to struggle?
Pierre LeBrun: I do know Berube is beloved by the players and I think that's where it has to start: re-establishing a trusting relationship between the players and the coach. A source told me Monday morning that Laviolette and the players were no longer on the same page, and that's not shocking when you saw how they played in the opening three games. The players seemed to be waiting for the coach to be fired. It makes you wonder why the Flyers didn't make this change last spring, after the Flyers missed the playoffs.
In my conversations with GM Paul Holmgren during the offseason, Holmgren was wary, generally speaking, of overreacting to a lockout-shortened 2013 season. But it was clear Laviolette would be on a short leash to begin this season, and now we see Holmgren meant it.
Burnside: Listening in on the Monday press conference to announce the change, it was clear Holmgren felt the team was not truly a team at this stage. We've seen this kind of change go both ways. Joel Quenneville came on for the popular Denis Savard four games into the 2008-09 season, and the Chicago Blackhawks went to the Western Conference finals the following spring before winning the Cup in 2010. In 2007, the Atlanta Thrashers fired Bob Hartley after an 0-6-0 start and the Thrashers stumbled to a 14th-place finish in the Eastern Conference with Don Waddell behind the bench.
Are the Flyers more Thrashers than Blackhawks? Probably not. But how good are they, really? The goaltending has been OK, but there needs to be more from the offense. Is this about structure and scheme or is it about personnel? If it's about personnel and the team continues to struggle, does it not stand to reason that Holmgren is next out the door?
The dominoes were in place for such a move the moment owner Ed Snider brought in longtime fan favorite and assistant GM Ron Hextall from Los Angeles. Holmgren said he made the decision to fire Laviolette on the flight home from Carolina on Sunday night, and a testy Snider said the GM made the decision and the owner approved it. But one has to imagine that the team is going to have to show immediate improvement or the pressure will continue to mount to remove Holmgren, even though it’s unusual to see a GM replaced in-season.
LeBrun: I believe one factor in Laviolette’s firing was an organizational concern that some young players on the team -- namely Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn -- were not developing properly, or as rapidly as anticipated. The Flyers traded away Carter and Richards because they truly believed Couturier and Schenn were capable of supporting star center Giroux as the team redeveloped its core. It just hasn't worked out that way so far.
Moving Berube into the head coaching role will be interesting, not only because the players really like him, but also front-office men Ian Laperriere and John Paddock move behind the bench to Berube's staff. Laperriere will also be well-liked by the players, and Paddock is a key with his loads of coaching experience. His voice will be important for Berube in helping reshape the team's identity. His addition to the staff is the move I like most.
As for Holmgren, it's pretty obvious with Hextall in place that if the team doesn't turn this thing around, it's only a matter of time before a GM switch happens. But a GM change usually is best left for the offseason or when the season is obviously lost, and it's still early in this season.
Burnside: OK, so now what? Yes, the players say they love Berube. And Holmgren went on glowingly about what a smart hockey man the former NHL tough guy is, but is he ready to be an NHL head coach in a market that is starved for a winner? I agree with your assessment of the changes to the staff, but if Holmgren had strong misgivings about Laviolette after missing the playoffs last spring, he did a disservice to the coach and the franchise by not acting in the offseason when candidates John Tortorella, Alain Vigneault, Dallas Eakins and Lindy Ruff were available.
Berube's the man now, though, and everything falls on him. As for Laviolette, I always feel a bit bad for a coach who gets axed because of an underachieving team, because the stink of failure rarely adheres to the players who are, for the most part, responsible. Laviolette, who is an assistant to Dan Bylsma with the U.S. Olympic team, is a good coach and will get another job. And now that he's available, it ups the ante for other teams off to rocky starts, as was the case when Bruce Boudreau was let go early in Washington a couple of years back and quickly took Randy Carlyle's job in Anaheim.
LeBrun: The biggest challenge now for this team is to re-establish an identity. Coaches talk about that all the time, and it's true. You have to establish who and what you are as a team. The Flyers have been lost for more than a year. There is no swagger and there hasn't been for a long time. Berube's task it to make this a team that's hard to play against, and a team that uses its speed to create turnovers. We've seen very little of that from this squad for a long time.
Never a dull moment in Philadelphia, right?