The Flyers: At the Crossroads

Last spring when the Flyers were flirting with a losing season and finishing in last place in the Atlantic Division there was a lot of talk in Philly sports media circles by fans and press like about the need to fire Peter Laviolette.

I was not one of those voices. I thought Laviolette had been dealt a poor hand during last season; management’s failure to properly replace the injured Chris Pronger and the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma that was Ilya Bryzgalov between the pipes rendered the Flyers vulnerable; easy meat for more completely packaged teams.

My preference was for Flyer’s management to give Laviolette at least training camp and the first month of the 2013/14 NHL season before deciding on his future.

As it turned out the Flyers brain trust didn’t wait that long. Three games into the present season, the Flyers gave Peter Laviolette the ax; thus ending what had been a brilliant revival of the team’s fortunes (and Laviolette’s own coaching career) that has now dissolved into one of the biggest crashes and burns in Flyers franchise history.

Truth told: the Flyers in firing Peter Laviolette didn’t go far enough. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren needs to be fired as well since he is even more responsible for this present debacle than Peter Laviolette was.

Right now the Flyers are on a pace to finish dead last in the Metropolitan Division (the weakest division thus far in the newly realigned NHL). According to my rating system, Holmgren stands to lose ten points off his managerial value and will surely lose his present rank among the top 50 NHL GMs of all time—and deservedly so when you consider the way he has allowed this once proud franchise to disintegrate.

For the first time in six years the Flyers are at a crossroads as a franchise. The team’s long-standing penchant of finding coaching and managerial talent from within the Flyers family has backfired. The fact that the team chose former long-time Flyer Craig Berube to replace Peter Laviolette merely reinforces the team’s image of cronyism.

Metaphorically speaking, the Flyers are flailing about wildly; totally at odds with the entire hockey world (the brawling that took place during their 7-0 shellacking at the hands of the Washington Capitals has earned the team enormous censure); trying to find unity from the fact that the entire NHL is against right now. But can they translate that unity into positive effort on the ice? Can they unlock Claude Giroux’s forgotten point-generating skills which have mysteriously disappeared throughout this forlorn season thus far? Can they provide goalie Chris Mason the defensive support he needs to complement his yeoman work guarding the nets?

They might do as they did last season, escape last place and reach .500 (or above) but can they regain the playoff potential they once possessed? (And in my view should possess).

Much can be said in praise of the Flyer’s long-standing tradition of family inside the organization but sometimes tradition can get in the way of genuine hockey progress. The team needs to clean the Augean stables and find managerial and coaching talent from without instead of from within.

One possibility is right under the team’s Assistant GM (and Director of Hockey Operations) Ron Hextall. Hextall had been the Kings Assistant GM and his name has been bandied about as potential GM material. But even if Hextall isn’t chosen then the Flyers need to reach out and find potential managerial talent from solid, winning franchises like Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Chicago.

And coaching talent needs to be found as well? Is Craig Berube the coming man? Personally, I have my doubts. I would prefer the Flyers comb the coaching ranks of the AHL for a rising talent (like Willie Desjardins, head coach of the Texas Stars—the Dallas Stars AHL affiliate) or finding a bright talent from the assistant coaching ranks in the NHL?

As for Peter Laviolette his NHL coaching career is not over nor should it be. Despite the vicissitudes he faced behind the bench (and off the ice as well: Laviolette and his wife are presently taking legal action against their bank for alleged mishandling of their personal finances through poor investment counseling) he remains one of the game’s great coaches. Although if the Flyers decline further in the standings that will cause Laviolette to lose points from his coaching value and cause his Average Season Rating to decline further, he still has a future as an NHL coach. He still has a lot to offer to the game of hockey.

I suspect Peter Laviolette will get some badly needed rest, tend to his legal affairs, maybe do some broadcasting work, and come next spring (or sooner) make himself available to those teams needing to make coaching changes (did anyone say Buffalo Sabres?)


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