Well that certainly didn’t take long. The Flyers announced this morning the firing of Peter Laviolette after just three regular season games of the 2013-2014 NHL season. After a poor preseason and just three goals in three games, Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren decided to get rid of Laviolette and his once high-octane offensive attack system. We’ll have to wait and see how Craig Berube’s tenure as head coach turns out, but one thing is clear: the Philadelphia Flyers organization from top to bottom lacks any semblance of a clear-cut, long-term organizational strategy to win the Stanley Cup.
While the Flyers brass consistently proclaim that winning is their top priority, their moves over the last three seasons demonstrate a startling propensity for living in the past. The championship teams of the 70′s were built on physical dominance and tough guy attitude. The league has changed dramatically since then but the Flyers’ organizational mentality hasn’t. When asked about the need for a new perspective, Snider barked:
“We haven’t won a championship, but we’ve been in the Stanley Cup Final a lot of times, and we’ve been in the playoffs a lot of times, and the culture is to win. 30 teams are trying to win the Cup, and we’re doing our damnedest to do it. That’s our culture. That’s our culture.”
Guess what, Mr. Snider? More than half of the teams in the National Hockey League make the playoffs. Simply making the playoffs a lot isn’t something to brag about anymore. The culture is to win? We all know the Flyers haven’t won the Cup since 1975. Since then 16 teams have won the Stanley Cup. So in the last 38 years, 53% of the current NHL teams have won the Cup and the Flyers aren’t one of them. The Flyers have made the finals at a high rate of six times over of the last 38 season (more than 15%). While that seems impressive, their record in those six Stanley Cup Finals is 8-24 for an embarrassing .250 winning percentage. So sure, the Flyers make the playoffs a lot, but that hasn’t meant much for 38 years.
Let’s go back to the Laviolette firing. Clearly the team’s preseason and first three games showed massive under-performances by the players and lack of preparation by their head coach. Laviolette’s up-tempo offensive system worked well a few years ago when a healthy Chris Pronger was available to settle things down in the defensive zone and make brilliant stretch passes leading to offensive chances. No one on the defensive unit can do that now and instead their breakouts look like a game of hot potato. Offensively, the Flyers have become streaky as opposing teams learned to keep them to the outside and let the Flyers fall in love with their own cycling. The Flyers averaged 3.09 goals per game from the 2009-10 through 2011-12 seasons. In the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season that number dropped to 2.77. Firing Laviolette was the right move but it should’ve been done in the off-season so the new coach could use training camp and preseason to implement his system. Instead, Craig Berube will try to teach his players a different system, likely focusing more on team defense and responsibility without the puck. The problem is the season has already started and the team needs wins now because these games count towards making the playoffs.
It is important to understand that the reasons for the Flyers steep decline since making the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010 doesn’t fall solely on Peter Laviolette. Paul Holmgren is equally, if not more, culpable. Holmgren did an outstanding job of turning the 2006-07 debacle into a playoff team in just one season. But again, simply making the playoffs and winning a round or two is not enough in this town. Over the last few years, Holmgren traded away Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Sergei Bobrovsky and signed Ilya Bryzgalov. None of these major moves brought the Flyers any closer to winning the Cup than they were in 2010. Instead, the team has regressed and once again Holmgren has handed out too much money to older players with a fraction of their previous impact (i.e. Mark Streit and Kimmo Timonen making more than 17% of the team’s salary cap with a combined age of 73). There appears to be no clear philosophy when it comes to Holmgren’s decisions. He (and Ed Snider) may think these moves are helping the team but the Flyers’ on-ice results are trending the wrong way.
The Flyers organizational lack of patience starts with Ed Snider and culminates in Holmgren making (or trying to make) major moves every off-season, constantly resetting the Flyers on-ice talent and putting them farther and farther from winning the Stanley Cup. They were building a young, strong core around Richards and Carter only to jettison them off before the no-trade clauses kicked in on their long-term contracts. They see a prized free agent and abandon any sort of long-term plan just to make the big splash. Their personnel and coaching system didn’t match last season under Laviolette and a big part of that is Holmgren’s responsibility.
If the Flyers don’t turn things around very quickly, it’s very possible that the Flyers G.M. and coach combination would be Ron Hextall and Craig Berube. Who would’ve thought that 15 years ago?