By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — Peter Laviolette wore the pallor of a man in the crosshairs the first month of the season. The Flyers’ coach knew the situation, he could feel the swirling pressure around him if the Flyers didn’t get off to a good start.
The Flyers announced at a Monday press conference that they sacked Laviolette and assistant coach Kevin McCarthy after just three games. The Flyers are 0-3 this season, and have been outscored 9-3 in those three losses. Claude Giroux, Matt Read, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, Scott Hartnell and Jake Voracek have yet to score a point this season.
Craig Berube will now be charged with turning the Flyers around as the team’s 18th head coach in franchise history (and 11th in the last 20 years). Berube is not the “interim” coach, and it will be “his team for the foreseeable future” according to the Flyers website.
Flyers chairman Ed Snider deferred the decision to fire Laviolette to general manager Paul Holmgren. But said he was disappointed with the Flyer’s 1-5-1 preseason that the team had.
When challenged about breaking free of the “Flyers culture” by choosing Berube, someone steeped in the Flyers’ culture which hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 38 years, Snider bristled, “We’ve been in the Stanley Cup finals a lot of times, and we’ve been to the playoffs a lot of times, and the culture is to win. 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 beamed sabers at the gathered media, “No, we don’t need a fresh perspective, we have a pretty good culture and we know who we’re dealing with.”
As for the timing so early, “I’m making this change at such an early point in the season, I can go back a little bit to last year and my concerns for how the team played,” Holmgren said. “I was looking back you think lock-out shortened year, we didn’t have a training camp; we had a lot of injuries. I thought it was important Peter had another shot with our training camp.
“I think some of the additions we have this summer were good additions, Ray Emery, Vinny Lecavalier and Mark Streit. I thought there was some excitement about our team going into training camp. Right from Day One at training I was concerned with how the team looked. Obviously, 0-3 is 0-3, and we still have a long way to go in the season, but it was more about how we played and it was unacceptable. We don’t look like a team at all and I felt I needed to make the decision. I made the decision last night on the plane when we came back from Carolina. I didn’t like the direction the team was heading and I felt we needed a change.”
Holmgren said he didn’t consult with any of the players about making the change. He also admitted that when he met with Laviolette Monday morning that Laviolette was as frustrated as Holmgren, and that “he tried everything” to turn the Flyers around.
Holmgren opened up speculation that the players possibly tuned Laviolette out, saying “maybe, sometimes that happens in all sports. Sometimes teams need fresh ideas and a new voice.”
Holmgren did say he’s excited about Berube taking over the Flyers, and called him “one of the smartest hockey guys I’ve ever been around. He’s learned the coaching business over the last nine years and he demands respects and he holds people accountable. He’s a no BS kind of guy. I’m not going to let our players off the hook. Things have to get better and they will.”
It ends a three-year tenure for Laviolette, after steering Philadelphia to the playoffs in his first two years before failing to reach the postseason for the ninth time in franchise history in 2012-13 in the NHL’s truncated season.
He departs with a 145-98-29 record behind the bench for the Flyers.
Laviolette replaced John Stevens on December 4, 2009, leading the Flyers to the playoffs on a shootout against the New York Rangers in 2010.
It began a wondrous ride that saw the Flyers become the third team in NHL history to recover from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 to reach the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. It led to the Flyers going to the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
But in recent years, the Flyers have been flagging. Injuries led to a 23-22-2 season in 2012-13 and there were rumors swirling that Laviolette’s job was in jeopardy this season if the Flyers didn’t get off a good start.
The early portion of the schedule seemed to favor the Flyers, but an anemic powerplay that’s 2-for-14 hasn’t helped, and losing to Toronto, Montreal and Carolina by a combined 9-3 contributed, too.
Laviolette’s dismissal now makes Chip Kelly the longest tenured coach of the four major Philadelphia sports teams. It’s among the quickest firings in Philadelphia sports history. Early in the 1977-78 season, the 76ers, a year after reaching the NBA Finals, fired Gene Shue, when the Sixers began the season 2-4.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.