The Flyers fired coach Peter Laviolette on Monday and replaced him with Craig Berube. Laviolette replaced John Stevens during the 2009-10 season. (USA Today Images)
Updated: 7:20 p.m.
On Sept. 13, Flyers chairman Ed Snider insisted Peter Laviolette's job was secure. What a difference three weeks makes.
On Monday, less than a week after the 2013-14 NHL season began -- and after the Flyers had played only three games -- Laviolette was fired. Longtime assistant coach Craig Berube was announced as his replacement, and received a two-year contract, a source confirmed with CSNPhilly.com.
It took all of three losses. Call them three strikes, perhaps.
“This is just a gut feeling on my part," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "Right now, we’re just not playing the way we have to play – we’re not playing the way we have to play to win in the National Hockey League, and that’s got to change. Whether it’s fresh ideas or a new voice, I’m not going to sit here and try to pinpoint that. That’s up to Craig, that’s his job. But I didn’t like the direction the team was heading and felt we needed a change."
Laviolette was under pressure at the end of last season, too, of course, leading a Flyers team that underachieved and missed the postseason for just the second time in 18 seasons. But Laviolette was kept around, Holmgren said, because the team chalked up last year's results as a fluke of the lockout-shortened season.
After making the high-profile offseason additions of Vinny Lecavalier, Mark Streit and Ray Emery, Holmgren felt Laviolette would be in a better position to succeed. That's why he remained as coach for the start of the 2013-14 campaign, although just barely.
"I liked Peter, I thought he deserved another opportunity," Holmgren said. "We made some changes in the summer that got us all excited. It was a fleeting thought. But at the end of the day, I just think, going back, I think [keeping Laviolette] was the right thing to do at the time. We started training camp, we started the year with Peter, and I just didn’t like what I was seeing."
Again, he emphasized, "It was a gut decision."
The 2013-14 season has gotten off to a very similar start to the lockout-shortened year that preceded it. For a second consecutive year -- and just the fourth time in franchise history -- the Flyers lost their first three games. They struggled in breakouts; they struggled in all elements of even-strength play; they struggled to score. Their defense, just like last season, looked out of sync.
They scored just three goals through their first three games. Key players like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell all remain without any points. And it wasn't just these first three games that alerted the Flyers' brass to the team's issues. Ignoring last season, even, both Snider and Holmgren were concerned about what they saw on the ice in preseason and in training camp last month.
"From my own point of view, I’m very disappointed with the start that we’ve had, and quite frankly, I was very disappointed with the preseason that we had," Snider said. "I’m hoping for better, we always try to make the team as good as we possibly can, sometimes we’re not right, but hopefully this time it will work out on our behalf."
The Flyers elected to fire assistant coach Kevin McCarthy along with Laviolette, as well. Joining Berube on the bench will be John Paddock and Ian Laperriere. Yes, all three are "from the inside," but no, Snider insisted emphatically at Monday's press conference, the Flyers don't need a culture change.
"We haven't won a championship. We've been in the Stanley Cup Finals a lot of times, and we've been in the playoffs a lot of times, and the culture is to win," Snider bristled. "Thirty teams are trying to win the cup, and we're doing our damnedest to do it. That's our culture. That's our culture."
Snider then rebuffed a followup question about the need for a fresh perspective.
"No, we don't need a fresh perspective," he said. "We have a pretty good culture and we know who we're dealing with."
Much does need to change, of course. And that goes for the players, too. While Laviolette suffered his fate because of the Flyers' struggles, there's only so much one coach can do when the men on the ice aren't executing.
"I think Peter worked his hardest to try to get things turned around," Holmgren said. "He’s as frustrated as all of us right now. When I met with him this morning, he expressed his frustration about trying everything. He gave it all he could to get things turned around."
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