After the Flyers lost to the Hurricanes on Sunday, I texted a hockey-loving friend: “Think Lavy’s in trouble?” There had been so much talk about the team needing a fast start this season, along with whispers of a short leash for the coach if they faltered early. But after just three games? Even for Ed Snider, who changes coaches like Hugh Hefner rotates girlfriends, that seemed like a stretch. My pal thought oh-for-five would spell Laviolette’s end. I still figured the coach get a full season to right the ship, but ended my thoughts with this: “You never know with Snider.”
Leave it to the chairman to up the ante even further—not only did Laviolette get the boot, but the team named Craig Berube its new leader and handed Chief a multi-year contract. (Leave that “interim” hokum to the Phillies!) As for what to expect in the Berube era, we’ll get some clues tonight when the team faces the very beatable Florida Panthers on home ice. But why not speculate? Some predictions for the rest of this season:
1. Enough Drama To Fill A Bravo Reality Show
Is this hockey or The Real Housewives of Pattison Avenue? Hard to tell with all the shade being thrown. If you didn’t see Berube’s introductory press conference, Snider was in a particularly chippy mood with the media. When asked—rather reasonably—why the team promoted from within rather than bring in new blood, Snider gave his best “no you didn’t” face and responded curtly, “We don’t need a fresh perspective.” That begged the obvious question: How’s that old, stale perspective working out lately? General manager Paul Holmgren also insisted the players will be held accountable. Forget Dry Island—is there an Archipelago of Goal Scoring they can ship these guys off to?
2. Gloves Will Be Dropped (Maybe)
In 1,054 NHL games played, Berube had 159 points—not quite one every seven games. By comparison, he tallied 3,149 penalty minutes, ranking him seventh on the all-time list. He once slugged a lineman while trying to slug current Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff. For the blood-thirsty bleacher creatures in the nosebleeds, keep in mind that this isn’t 1975; fisticuffs are a relatively rare thing these days. I’m sure Berube wants his team to do its talking on the scoreboard, not in the penalty box. Still, an emphasis on physical hockey is all but guaranteed.
3. Tee Times In April
Yes, we’re just a week into the season and this will sound perfectly Philly-reactionary, but a second consecutive season without playoff hockey seems likely. Bring back Hitch, dust off Keanan, give Shero’s ghost a contract—when you add a 35-year-old to improve your aging defense and a former All-Star on the downside of his career and they lead your team in points, the coach can only do so much.
4. More Front-Office Change
Snider endorsed Holmgren yesterday, but he backed Laviolette recently as well. If the team misses the post-season, expect current assistant GM Ron Hextall to take Holmgren’s job. The move makes sense, since Hexy—like Homer and Bob Clarke—fits the mold of former players running Snider’s franchise. But at least Hextall won a Stanley Cup in Los Angeles and brings that—dare we say—”fresh” perspective to the organ-i-zation.
5. More Of The Same
Goalie controversies, a sagging offense, ill-timed penalties, a defense that inspires as much confidence as the U.S. Congress—inevitable storylines for the season ahead, and all of them have plagued this team for a while. Then there’s the front office, powered by a fan base that still shows up when the team doesn’t deserve it. No matter how ugly this gets, there will be butts in seats, and Snider will continue to circle the wagons around the culture he’s built, even though it’s been nearly 40 years since that culture produced a champion.