The Philadelphia Flyers fired Peter Laviolette on Monday after an 0-3-0 start and a 1-8-1 record overall if you include the preseason, replacing him with assistant coach Craig Berube. The Flyers missed the playoffs last season for the first time in his five-season tenure as head coach.
All of this proves two things in the National Hockey League: a coach is only as good as his goaltending and his team's health; and a vote of confidence in Philadelphia is a kiss of death.
The decline for the Flyers began with Chris Pronger’s career-ending injury in Oct. 2011, but the failure of Ilya Bryzgalov as a No. 1 netminder for the Flyers expedited it.
Chairman Ed Snider signed him to a 9-year, $51-million contract in 2011. He was an inconsistent head case, only winning a playoff series by not being as abjectly terrible as Marc-Andre Fleury. The Flyers’ heavy investment in him led GM Paul Holmgren to trade Sergei Bobrovsky – a goalie whose comparative mental stability led the Flyers to start him in the Winter Classic over Bryzgalov – and watched him blossom into a Vezina Trophy winner. The following season saw Bryzgalov post a 2.72 GAA and a .900 save percentage, the Flyers acquire Blue Jackets bust Steve Mason and then buy out Bryzgalov.
This season, Philly entered with one of the most perilous goaltending tandems in the NHL in Mason and Ray Emery. Three games in, and Laviolette paid the price for the team giving up nine goals in three losses.
Oh, but shouldn’t the leash have been longer? What about the immortal words of Ed Snider after last season:
“As far as Peter [Laviolette] is concerned, last year was an anomaly. He’s been a very good coach for us. A good coach in this league. We’re thrilled to have him.”
Last year was an anomaly. The goaltending was problematic. Injuries to Braydon Coburn, Nick Grossmann, Andrej Meszaros and Kimmo Timonen decimated the blue line in front of the crease; an injury to Scott Hartnell and the failure to replace Jaromir Jagr cut the heart out of the Flyers’ top line, their offensive engine. The young players like Sean Couturier took a step back.
It was a disastrous season, but not necessarily Laviolette’s fault.
In fact, how much of this is Laviolette’s fault? He didn’t sign Bryzgalov to a lifetime contract. He didn’t mandate the trade of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter from a Stanley Cup finalist due to the Flyers’ locker room dynamic. He didn’t whiff on Shea Weber, and subsequently fail to improve a suspect defense.
Then again, how much of this is GM Paul Holmgren’s fault? Not necessarily Carter and Richards, depending on what you hear, and certainly not Bryzgalov, a move he seemed to embrace with the warmth of Lou Lamoriello embracing a $100 million contract.
Yes, the overall construction of this Flyers team is Holmgren’s mess – from the personnel to the cap mismanagement – but its downward trajectory tracks back to one guy: The Chairman of the Board.
But Ed Snider isn’t going to fire himself. He’s going to fire Paul Holmgren and replace him with Ron Hextall, because hooboy the Hextall/Berube tandem is the greatest bit of fan service since JJ Abrams added Khan to “Star Trek Into Darkness.”
So the only thing Holmgren can do is delay the inevitable, which means firing Laviolette three games into the season.
To paraphrase the departed coach: “Philadelphia typical.”