At one time, just a few years ago, Peter Laviolette was two agonizing wins away from being a sports icon in the City of Brotherly Love. On Monday morning, he became just another name in an ever growing list of discarded coaches unable to deliver the Stanley Cup to the Flyers Faithful.
Maybe he lost the locker room. It happens in sports. That’s why coaches don’t last forever. Was Peter Laviolette really the reason, last year, for the Flyers failure to reach the postseason for just the second time in eighteen seasons? More importantly, was he the reason for their 0-3 lackluster start this season? The answer is yes and no. If the front office had any inkling that he was losing his players, he should have been let go at the end of last season. His firing, just three games into the season, shows that there is a much more serious problem in the Flyers organizational hierarchy.
In 1967, Ed Snider brought NHL hockey to Philadelphia. Seven years later, the Flyers were parading down Broad Street with the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups, and Flyers fans have been paying for those championships ever since.
Those teams created a culture known as The Broad Street Bullies. Reviled by the league and beloved by the blue collar city for which they played, the Flyers created a legacy that would be passed down from one generation to the next. Ed Snider is a fiercely loyal man. The Broad Street Bullies live on because he has recycled that ethos by hiring people who played on those teams. Snider allowed those former players to mold newer incarnations in the image and likeness of those mid-seventies teams.
It worked, sort of. In a city that is starved for sustained sports success, the Flyers are the measuring stick. They may be the youngest of Philadelphia’s four resident sports teams, but they have the winningest track record. The football team has yet to win a Super Bowl. The Basketball team is a virtual yo-yo of winning and losing. The baseball team has amassed as many championships in 130 years, two, as the Flyers have in 48 seasons.
Since the 1967 expansion, the Flyers are second only to the heralded Montreal Canadiens in Conference Finals appearances and winning percentage. They have appeared in eight Stanley Cup Finals. No other team in Philly comes close to that kind of sustained success. The problem is that one really shouldn’t define that as success. The success is relative. Flyers fans recall all of those near misses, not as a knock on the organization for failing to get over the hump, rather they look outward for blame. “Bobby Nystrom was off-side in 1980.” “If only Tim Kerr was healthy in 1987.” “What bad karma caused Jeff Carter to miss a wide open net in the closing minutes of Game 6 in 2010?”
Flyers fans have bought into the ethos all this time because this team has gotten them closer to the promised land more than any other team playing on the corner of Broad and Pattison. In 2013 the long rope of good will has finally run out. In the press conference to introduce Craig Berube as the new head coach, the Flyers top brass was asked why the team has now been through 11 coaches in 20 years. The room immediately became tense. The elephant in the room was finally being addressed. It isn’t that Laviolette was being made a scapegoat, because clearly he was. What really happened today was that the Flyers tenet and Ed Snider’s misplaced loyalties were finally called into question.
The game has changed. It’s not 1975. No longer does the game resemble what was the inspiration for the Paul Newman Classic, “Slap Shot”. Nowhere, that is, except in the front office of the Philadelphia Flyers. While the rest of the league has gotten smaller, faster, and more skilled, the Flyers have relied on finding bigger, slower, more intimidating players that adhere to the ways of “Flyers Hockey”. The Flyers were still fighting the Cold War as Detroit’s Eastern European stars were skating circles around them in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals. Their refusal to accept change has relegated them to a dinosaur of sorts in the modern NHL.
It was there on display this past Monday Morning. One more coach out and another former Flyer who embodied the archaic beliefs of the old guard during his career has taken the helm. It’s probably not fair to judge Craig Berube before he has even coached in an NHL game, but to Flyers fans it just looks like more of the same.
It is clear that there is a need for a new philosophy. How long will ownership allow incompetent General Managers to continue to make costly mistakes and have the coach pay the price? Paul Holmgren turned out to be no different than his predecessor, Bobby Clarke. Overpaying for veteran talent on the backside of their careers while giving up on solid, talented youth. Holmgren, like Clarke, represents the glory days of the organization. Bobby Clarke and his toothless grin are the face of the franchise. It’s time for the franchise to receive a face lift, or it might be another 38 years before there’s another Stanley Cup Parade down Broad Street.