Why The Flyers Don't Care What You Think About Them Changing Coaches
For those of you who have been asking the answer is yes. Yes, there is a reason I waited until now to put up my thoughts on the Flyers moving Peter Laviolette out and Craig Berube in after only three games of an 82 game season. I needed to get to the rink early last night and talk to people I knew could lend some perspective.
While I have been around this team in the press box for almost a decade, I really don’t know Craig Berube much beyond a passing “hello” in the halls of the Wells Fargo Center or in the elevator (by the way poor Frank the elevator operator was stuck in the press box elevator for an hour last evening! great guy, glad you are OK!).
So who is Craig Berube and why did the Flyers step away from a coach that took them to a Cup Final a few years ago to turn to him? This had to go beyond just losing three games, right? So last night when I arrived at the Wells Fargo Center I sat down to eat in the media dining area with the one person I usually sit with, the Flyers resident historian and all-around life sage Scoop Cooper. Before even asking a question Scoop shared a story...
“Back in the 70s I was standing next to Freddy (Shero) at the Flyers practice rink at the “Class of ’23 Rink” (on the University of Penn’s Campus) and there were only a few players still on the ice following the practice. One was Rick MacLeish (a highly skilled guy from the Broad Street Bullies Era) who was weaving magic and making these beautiful moves out on the ice. I turned to Freddy and he was just laughing.
‘What’s so funny,’ I asked
Shero responded, ‘Rick will never be a coach.’
‘Because he has no idea how the bleep he does what he can do.’”
Scoop continued by saying, “You know when Homer (Paul Holmgren) said Chief (Craig Berube) was one of the best hockey minds he has ever been around? He is 100% right.”
You need to know that Scoop Cooper has been around this team since 1967 and has seen everything and met everyone involved, so while I might not know what Berube can bring I trust Scoop.
There was little doubt in my mind that these players and Peter’s system had run their course. That was apparent to at least a small degree going back to even before the lockout. Were you to compare Laviolette’s system to an NFL system it would be somewhere between the the original 49ers “West Coast” offense and the St Louis Rams “Greatest Show on Turf.”
Lavy’s system is about quick short passes and in order to pull that off the quarterbacks need to be there and the receivers to be there. When a quarterback the likes of Chris Pronger goes down and when other puck moving guys fall victim to injury you almost have to try the running game.
While it may be true the Flyers defense and offense had stopped working as hard as is required to win in the NHL, the bigger factor was they had stopped working together. The Flyers became a bad defensive team more because the forwards stopped coming back and playing defense just as much as the Flyers became a bad offensive team because of bad outlets and transitional passes from the defense. The disconnect was as glaring as the gap between the forwards and defenders.
When I first covered Peter Laviolette it was during his Carolina Cup run and watching those pre-game skates were a thing of beauty when it came to speed and transitional games. The Canes played the system to perfection and had the right guys to pull it off. And it didn’t hurt that Cam Ward was playing phenomenal hockey of course....
So back to my title. “Why the Flyers Don't Care What You Think About Them Changing Coaches."
This concept was first brought up by Al Morganti on the Daily News Live Show on The Comcast Sports Network. Al has always had a gift for bringing huge situations into immediate focus. He said, “The Flyers know how this will be perceived. The Flyers know this is a PR nightmare. They just don’t care.”
And that is EXACTLY right. Ed Snider is all about winning. He is an 80 year old self made man with plenty of wealth and no need for your approval. If you aren’t from the Philly area or a Flyers fan you might be reading that last sentence as obnoxious or the opposite of “The Customer is Always Right”...but it isn’t.
Ed has earned that statement because there has never been a single year he didn’t live and die with every Flyers win or loss and Flyers fans know it. There has never been a single move he didn’t let happen or a single excuse he let be made. And while you can debate those moves all you want, and many of course will, you can’t debate the intent. And in this age of owners who see this as a bottom line business the Ed Snider’s of the world are in the smallest of minorities.
Ask yourself the last pro sports team stadium that was built by an owner without looking to a city or a state to put money in? Ed paid for the Wells Fargo Center by himself. The Eagles and Phillies took our taxes to build their palaces. This is the kind of thing that matters in this town.
This decision is not about three losses. It is not even about a lackluster pre-season. This goes back to a year that kind of felt like it wasn’t.
The 48 game season was very much lacking in any sense of drama and unless your team was really playing well the 48 games almost felt like an after thought/consolation prize to a group of die-hard fans who watched games being cancelled for months prior despite the obvious solution being a few good days of real negotiations away.
In my opinion this apathy found its way into the organization as well. Despite the team being so-so the mood around the rink was always essentially the same. I have been around long enough to feel the roller coaster of emotions felt by everyone from the guy who checks your bag and they door to the intern who hands out stat pages between periods. It just wasn’t there last year. For whatever reason. The Flyers had never accepted mediocre without extreme tension..but last year was more of a “meh.”
In the off-season when questioned about management and coaches people around the team kept saying, “Without a training camp last year, with all the injuries, and with only 48 games how can we make a safe evaluation?”
The problem came when the camp did happen and the true ramp up began and the team was healthy and.....the problems were still there and felt too familiar.
So enter Craig Berube. Not the safe move. Not the obvious move. The tough move.
They often say players get a fresh new start with a the firing of the old coach and the hiring of the new coach...that all the baggage goes away. Not the case with Berube. He has been here as an assistant for a while now. He knows these guys. He has already formulated opinions on these guys and he was very vocal about those opinions to many around the team. I can assure you there are players who are not thrilled by this move and if those players don’t pick it up they will be elsewhere very, very soon.
Last night was a humble beginning to it all. The Flyers got what they needed a win. An ugly win perhaps, but a win. Last night Steve Mason saved Craig Berube’s debut. Bottom line. The defense and offense are still somewhat unconnected. The giveaways are still blatant. The best players are still NOT playing like the best players. But habits don’t change overnight and if they do it is only adrenaline and they will return.
The Flyers are a work in progress. Last night they won a few more battles. Last night they went into a few more corners. Last night they played like they had a bigger chip on their shoulders. Last night they dumped more pucks in and went to war. Last night they found a way to win a game they should have lost.