Snider: 'We don't need a fresh perspective'
Ed Snider: “I thought our training camp, quite frankly, was one of the worst training camps I had ever seen." (AP)
Peter Laviolette knew he had a short leash with the Flyers this season after the club failed to make the playoffs coming out of the lockout last year.
How short? Three games short. Three losses short.
Laviolette, who celebrated a coaching milestone last April with his 750th career game behind the bench, was fired early Monday morning after back-to-back weekend losses in Montreal and Carolina (see story).
Craig Berube, whose only previous professional head coaching experience was with the Phantoms, takes over.
Laviolette needed just 48 more games to pass Mike Keenan (320 games) for the second-most games coached with the Flyers all time. His final record was 145-98-29.
The Flyers were a mess in the preseason (1-5-1) and things didn’t look much better once the real games began this month.
“I thought our training camp, quite frankly, was one of the worst training camps I had ever seen,” club chairman Ed Snider said.
“Not talking about wins or losses. There was nothing exciting. Nobody shined. Nobody looked good. I couldn’t point to one thing as a positive and I was personally worried. Unfortunately, my worries were realized in the first three games.”
Snider said the team looked “disorganized.”
Despite adding Mark Streit to the defense, the club appeared sluggish on the breakout. Veteran goalie Ray Emery was added, but along with Steve Mason, neither could handle the defensive breakdowns in front of the net.
The Flyers seemed to lack their skating legs and energy, being out-forechecked by opponents and lacking any sustained offense in their own zone.
One-and-done shots with pucks coming back up ice seemed to mark the Flyers' “attack” in the first three games in which they were outscored, 9-3, and went 143:01 without an even-strength goal, even though the club added veteran scoring centerman Vinny Lecavalier in the offseason.
How much of Laviolette’s fall is directly tied to general manager Paul Holmgren’s moves the past two seasons is up for debate, but it’s hard to not accept the fact that the team made good offseason moves that should have shown immediate results.
“I’ve had concerns for a while, and you kind of hope things are going to turn around and I didn’t feel like we were in a position to hope any longer,” Holmgren said. “I felt like I needed to make a change.”
Laviolette’s high point during his tenure came in 2009-10 when he took over for John Stevens in early December. The Flyers dropped to 14th in the Eastern Conference and, despite having lost eight of their final 12 games, rallied on the final day of the regular season to make the playoffs.
Once the 2010 postseason began, the Flyers made a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks.
It was the farthest the Flyers would go during Laviolette’s tenure. And it was a factor in why the club gave him a two-year contract extension in August 2012.
Two springs ago, the club stunned Pittsburgh in the first round only to be systematically ripped apart in five games against New Jersey. The only other Flyers coaches to win at least one playoff round in three consecutive years were Fred Shero and Terry Murray.
Laviolette vastly overachieved with the club he inherited in 2009-10 but underachieved last season.
From the outset last January when the lockout ended, the Flyers were ill-prepared on defense to pose any serious threat to either Pittsburgh, Boston or the Rangers, let alone be considered a Stanley Cup contender.
The lack of mobility and skill on the back end was plainly evident, especially given that Chris Pronger wasn’t coming back from post-concussion syndrome and the club carelessly allowed Matt Carle to walk in free agency.
Holmgren attempted to snag Shea Weber and Ryan Suter in the offseason but wasted precious time waiting for a Suter response before ultimately losing out to Nashville, which matched an RFA offer sheet to Weber. When that failed, Holmgren did not have any viable backup plan.
Hence, the Flyers went into the season with Andrej Meszaros coming off Achilles' tendon surgery, and their only answers to losing Pronger and Carle were the additions of three right-handed D-men: Luke Schenn, Bruno Gervais and Kurtis Foster.
Holmgren thought right-handed shots on defense would help them of the breakout against forecheck pressure, such as that employed by the Devils. But the fact remained, the Flyers' personnel simply wasn’t talented enough to defend.
The threesome didn’t come close to equaling what Pronger and Carle brought to the ice, and the club used 13 defensemen to compensate for lost bodies that season.
To worsen the matter, both Meszaros and Braydon Coburn had very poor seasons, even when healthy.
When the season arrived, the Flyers were already wrecked with injuries and uncertainty. Soon-to-be-named team captain Claude Giroux was recovering from a neck injury sustained while playing in Germany, not to mention dual wrist surgery from the offseason.
Fellow center Danny Briere missed the first four games recovering from a chip fracture in his left wrist, also sustained while playing in Germany during the lockout. Along with Scott Hartnell, his offensive production this season sagged, though both were injured.
Young, mobile defenseman Erik Gustafsson sustained a leg fracture playing with the Phantoms and wouldn’t join the Flyers until mid-February.
Four games into the season, Zac Rinaldo (skate cut), Hartnell (left foot fracture) and Meszaros (left shoulder surgery) were all on injured reserve as the Flyers went 1-3 out of the gate.
It seemed every time an injured player came back, another left.
Meanwhile, Laviolette had to juggle lines and his defense to find chemistry without key players in the lineup.
Ironically, he had a complete healthy defense this season, but the lack of cohesion among them on the ice didn’t present itself.
The biggest fear -- a lack of scoring since Jaromir Jagr had left in free agency -- became a reality that carried on the entire way, and their five-on-five play was atrocious until the very end of the season.
Special teams began the season buried in the bottom third but eventually rose to the top third only to be thwarted by across-the-board scoring production five-on-five.
The scoring drought was one reason why the team, even when it played well, never won more than two games in succession until April, when it rattled off four in a row.
Sophomore players such as Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Matt Read took steps backwards while only one young player blossomed -- Jakub Voracek. It’s entirely likely management blames the lack of development on Laviolette, but to do so again dismisses the entirety of outside influences, such as injury and personnel.
The one tangible thing Laviolette could be blamed for was his resistance to adjust his offensive attack to make up for holes on the blue line, often leading to continual odd-man rushes and alarming defensive gaffes that continually resulted in goals against.
Although Laviolette had scaled back his attack system a bit, it wasn’t nearly enough given the problems on the blue line that only worsened as last season progressed.
To make things worse, Laviolette was forced to run goalie Ilya Bryzgalov into the ground because Holmgren opted to re-sign Michael Leighton in offseason, and Leighton soon proved incapable of giving the Flyers any chance to win as a backup.
Laviolette had his supporters and detractors in the dressing room, but none disliked him more than Bryzgalov, the goalie for whom club chairman Ed Snider pushed hard in free agency a few summers ago.
On the bench, the club had what seemed to be a disproportionate number of penalties, both last year and even this fall. In Montreal this past weekend, the club committed 13 penalties.
Ironically, if you look at the Flyers' history, most of their long-term coaches lasted no more than three-plus seasons.
Ken Hitchcock coached 254 games; Pat Quinn 262; John Stevens 263; and Holmgren 264. Laviolette outlasted them all at 272.