In the immediate wake of the Peter Laviolette firing yesterday morning, just hours after the team looked like garbage against a team that is itself primed for a truly awful season, a lot of people just kind of shrugged and said, “Well, sure.”
Yeah the Flyers are bad and yeah they’re 0-3-0 to start the year, having conceded far more goals than they’ve scored and probably no one is all that surprised by the occurrence. But with that having been said there are so many questions that emerge in the immediate wake of the decision that spring to mind.
“Why?” is the first question that should come up, for sure. Three games is a comically short period of time in which to consider a coaching change and it is in fact the fastest any bench boss has ever been fired in the entire history of the league. This was a team, though, that always looked on the poise of putrid. There was always something there, of course, enough that you’d say to yourself, “Okay this could possibly be a good team if things break for them.” After all, before last year’s thunderously bad performance, they posted better-than-100-point seasons, and that was after making the Stanley Cup Final in a streak of luck eclipsed only by the Devils’ accomplishment of two years ago.
This is a team that considered, for example, Scott Hartnell to be something other than a reliable 20-25 goalscorer who was at least somewhat defensibly responsible. They pay him like a skill guy, giving him more money against the cap than any other forward on the team this year, based solely on the fact that he scored a complete-aberration 37 goals playing with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr. They consider 68-year Kimmo Timonen to likewise be a No. 1 defenseman and both pay and play him commensurately, but largely due to the fact that other, better options simply do not exist.
That Laviolette had to cobble together any success from this roster, given what was being spent on it, is absurd. That he did so successfully for two seasons is a credit to his prowess behind the bench.
Here’s another “Why?” for everyone to consider: Why was Laviolette asked to go and not the guy who built that super-expensive roster given how bereft it is of talent? Obviously all eyes and an executioner’s axe now turn to Paul Holmgren, but this should be viewed as a worrying organizational decision first and foremost.
Can’t fire the players and all that, but Ed Snider saying the team looked “lost” against Carolina doesn’t seem a fair criticism. Amerigo Vespucci couldn’t draw this team a map to success, and that’s the GM’s fault. Mark Streit and Vinny Lecavalier should be no one’s lifeline for returning to Eastern Conference dominance. It’s a poor workman who blames his tools, sure, but being asked to build a contender when your newest tools in the last six months were Streit, Lecavalier, and Steve Mason, it’s like being asked to build a house with a Fisher-Price workbench. They all look like they’d work in theory, but in actual practice anyone outside the Emperor’s New Clothes-style government in the “Flyers culture” had to see that they’d be a failure in actual practice.
But that Flyers culture, and the institutional need to stick to it until Ed Snider shuffles out of the picture, is what’s dooming everything. They make the playoffs a lot, yes, but those who point to their having done so in all but two of the last 18 years or whatever ignore that two of those have been since 2007. That revolving door of goaltenders in the last few years has been like making photocopies of photocopies: every season or two there’s a paler and worse-defined imitation of an NHL netminder between the pipes, and resorting to Mason and Ray Emery as your No. 1 seems the logical bottom of that particular brand of drain-circling.
Another why: Why Craig Berube? When he was named as Laviolette’a replacement, it was reasonable, perhaps even wise, to guess that his position came with the prefix “interim” attached, but no, that’s bizarrely absent from his job title. Berube is yet another Flyers old-timer who is tough and demands accountability and blah blah blah, but he’s also a first-time NHL head coach with 86 games of running a professional or even amateur team (which he did for Philly’s AHL affiliate, most recently in 2008). The list of times anyone has seen Berube’s name appear on one of those “Here’s who we think is a likely future NHL head coach” lists is zero.
Also: Why now? If you thought Laviolette wasn’t going to be your coach much longer, it wasn’t these last three punchless games that convinced you. If you thought he was, you have to hold out longer than three measly games. The number of replacements available in the offseason was, as many have pointed out, a lot richer than “Craig Berube and an undampened sponge,” which is what they had to choose from this morning.
The last question, and maybe the best one, doesn’t start with a why. Rather, it’s, “What does this get you that sticking with Laviolette doesn’t?” Maybe guys get their feet held to the fire a little more than they did before, but all that happens eventually is a bunch of not-very-good hockey players get their toes burned off. This isn’t and never was a playoff team, and swapping out coaches, especially now, isn’t going to change that.
This is all on Holmgren, obviously. All of it. Everyone knows he’s next. So you wonder, at some point, the lengths to which he will go to save his job. How desperate does he get? That’s another question, I guess, but it’s one to which we will soon have all the answers. The rest, we can only guess at.