December 04, 2009
"In the end, a lifeless offense and a lifeless team made a hockey game seem like a funeral. And for the Philadelphia tenure of one coach, that metaphor could quickly become the truth if his team can't snap out of this funk." -- Broad Street Hockey, after last night's 3-0 loss by the Flyers to the Vancouver Canucks.
If there's funk snapping, it's not on John Stevens's watch. He was fired today by the Flyers, after weeks of circling vultures and mediocre hockey from a team that's damn well better than mediocre on paper.
According to TSN and XM Home Ice, the funk could be Peter Laviolette's to inherit, as the Flyers have received permission from the Carolina Hurricanes to speak with him. TSN went as far as to say that Laviolette could debut against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night.
(UPDATE: In case you haven't heard, it's Laviolette officially.)
The tipping point for Stevens comes as the Philadelphia Flyers are 10th in the conference and have gone eight periods without a goal, plummeting to ninth in average goals-scored per game (2.96). They're on a 3-7 skid whose latest lowlight was that putrid effort against the Canucks described above. Mike Richards(notes) hosted a closed-door team meeting last night -- conveniently, just as Chris Pronger's(notes) been talking about stomping on his toes as a leader -- and now the coach is gone. How very Chicago Blackhawks, circa 2008 of them.
Why the timing is right for Stevens to go, beyond the statistical evidence.
The Flyers have 10 games in the next 17 days; all of them in the Eastern Conference, and all but two of them against teams that are ahead of them or tied with them in points. It's an absolutely critical time for the team to snap out of its slump; or, at the very least, for GM Paul Holmgren to get a sense of what changes need to be made beyond the coach to get this team in a higher gear.
If (or when) he's hired, (UPDATE: It's official) Laviolette's a smart choice. Not only because he's a winner, not only because he knows how to manage rosters that balance speed with gritty, and not because he's a bit of a Ray Emery fan; but because it'll put a quick end to any silly notion that Mike Keenan should end up in Philly again. And thank god for that.
Laviolette might command a little more respect in the room. He can be fiery enough, or at least more fiery than Stevens. That, in the end, was probably his downfall: Too timid to lead this roster in a pressure-cooker city, no matter how much better a coach he had become tactically since he took over from Ken Hitchcock in Oct. 2006.
(This Lavy vs. Stevens thing was a point of debate for Flyers fans ... in October.)
But if you can't beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs and you don't have a team with roughly $54 million against the cap in a playoff seed come Dec. 4, then you're going to lose your job. And Stevens did.
It's a move that many felt was going to be made. It's a move that had to be made. It's a move that gives this Flyers team a better chance at winning the Cup than they had this morning. Now it comes down to the players in that locker room and, increasingly with every misstep for this franchise, the general manager that put them there.