by Clark Groome
After Peter Laviolette replaced John Stevens as the Flyers head coach on Dec. 4, 2009, the team’s next five games resulted in a 1-4 record. The season ended with the Flyers making the playoffs on the last day of the season. From there they went on to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Since Craig “Chief” Berube replaced Laviolette on Oct. 7, the team’s next five games resulted in a 1-4 record. Optimists will view that as history repeating itself and that there is a chance that this under-achieving squad can make the playoffs. Once a team is in the playoffs, as that 2009-2010 Flyers squad demonstrated, anything is possible.
But the initial records of the Laviolette and Berube starts is where the similarity ends.
The teams are quite different. Only five players – forwards Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, defensemen Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen and goalie Ray Emery – are on both teams.
The loss of Chris Pronger to a career-ending injury two years ago has removed the team’s real on- and off-ice leader from the mix.
And, significantly, the head coaches come from vastly different places: Laviolette from outside the organization with a Stanley Cup victory on his resume and Berube from a career as a player and coach spent mostly with the Flyers.
During the press conference at which Paul Holmgren announced Laviolette’s firing, Flyers owner Ed Snider was asked whether or not it would have made more sense for the team to go outside for a new coach rather than picking someone from within.
Perhaps a new face would help the team, which most everyone thinks has plenty of talent, turn their shaky start around. “Culture” was the word used to describe the Flyers attitudes toward the game, specifically “A culture that hasn’t won a championship.”
The question annoyed Snider.
“We haven’t won a championship [in 38 years] 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,” he said. “Thirty teams are trying to win the Cup, and we’re doing our damndest to do it. That’s our culture. That’s our culture.”
Asked if a “fresh perspective” might be helpful, the owner, increasingly angry, said, “No, we don’t need a fresh perspective. We have a pretty good culture, and we know who we’re dealing with.”
His remarks reflect his loyalty to those who have made the Flyers one of the most respected organizations in professional sports and one of the best places to play and to work.
He overlooked one thing in his remarks about the Flyers’ eight appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals: All but one of those teams were led by coaches who had no previous affiliation with the team.
Fred Shero led the 1974, 1975, and 1976 teams, and took the Orange and Black to its only two Cup victories (in ’74 and ’75). Pat Quinn led the team to the 1980 Finals. Mike Keenan was behind the bench for their 1985 and 1987 appearances. Terry Murray coached the 1997 team. The just-fired Laviolette took them to the Finals in 2010. Only Murray was a former Flyer.
This indicates that the team has been best served when the head coach is an outsider who has “a fresh perspective.”
So here we are with a long-term Flyer as the new head coach. He’s widely felt to be a strong leader. But he really only knows one way to do things: “the Flyers’ way.”
It’s not a coincidence that the best results the team has had over the years have come under the leadership of coaches who came from other programs with fresh views about how to move the team forward.
Bringing a new voice to the Flyers’ culture has worked before. It’s fair to wonder if that wouldn’t work this time as well.