The Philadelphia Flyers dominated the Monday NHL news cycle with the surprise announcement that head coach Peter Laviolette had been fired just three games into the 2013-14 season. Rather than bring in new blood, general manager Paul Holmgren elected to promote assistant coach Craig Berube.
An ex-Flyer himself, Berube has spent his entire coaching career with the Flyers organization as an assistant with the big club and in both assistant and head coaching roles with the AHL Philadelphia (now Adirondack) Phantoms.
Will an early change behind the bench cure what ails the Flyers?
Building a true team identity is a constant challenge with Philadelphia's ever-changing roster. If you don't count injured Chris Pronger, just four players remain from the 2010 team that went to the Stanley Cup Final in Laviolette's first year: Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn.
Ray Emery was also part of the 2009-10 regular-season lineup but suffered a season-ending injury that December, right as Laviolette took over. He's now back for a second tour of duty.
Working with the group he has now, the first order of business for Berube will likely be tightening the defensive systems. The Flyers employ one of the most expensive defenses in the league, but its performance does not justify its payroll. Injuries on the blue line were a big issue last year.
But even when healthy, the group is far from elite.
For that reason, the team also needs to find its scoring touch—fast. After three games, Philadelphia ranks 28th in the NHL with an average of 24.3 shots per game and has scored just three goals.
Within the small sample, new arrivals Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit have done their bit with two points each. But the list of Flyers forwards without points is basically a list of the team's top talent: Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier. This group needs to produce like it did a couple of years ago.
Berube's leadership will bring about a shift in team chemistry, and that's a positive. Pierre LeBrun of ESPN says the players love him. "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."
Once the forwards are motivated, they'll start shooting more and the goals will eventually come.
But the good times likely won't last. The Flyers remain an older group that's not as talented as the top teams in the Metropolitan Division. Their cap constraints will make it difficult to alter the team's identity. Even much of next summer's likely cap increase has already been allocated to Giroux's $8.2 million-a-season contract extension.
Bringing in a coach from outside the current organization might have provided a fresh viewpoint that could help break the cycle of player churn, but that's not the Flyer way.
When asked if the team's hiring approach was too insular after 38 years without a Stanley Cup, chairman Ed Snider bristled, according to this transcript of Monday's press conference by Tim Panaccio, from HockeyBuzz.com.
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...We don't need a fresh perspective. We have a pretty good culture, and we know who we're dealing with.
The Flyers appear to have backed themselves into a corner with the culture they have, but sometimes those who are closest to it are the last to see it. Unless Craig Berube can execute a miraculous turnaround with a challenging lineup, more heads will roll and things will get worse before they get better in Philly.
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