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Philadelphia Flyers seemingly a team without direction

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

Craig Berube (left) takes over the Flyers from Peter Laviolette who was fired Tuesday. (USATSI)
Craig Berube (left) takes over the Flyers from Peter Laviolette who was fired Tuesday. (USATSI)

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It's probably going to get worse before it gets better in Philadelphia. The firing of Peter Laviolette as Flyers head coach Monday isn't going to change much of the Flyers' fortune, at least probably not this season and maybe not for a while.

Maybe Laviolette deserved to get fired. Both general manager Paul Holmgren and owner Ed Snider said they had concerns from the beginning of training camp. With Laviolette on a short leash thanks to last year's dismal campaign, the 0-3 start to the year for the Flyers with only three goals for was the final straw. That's understandable, though making a decision in the offseason would have left the team with a much wider array of experienced candidates to choose from.

When addressing the media, Holmgren and Snider had to sit before a room full of reporters and try to explain why they made the coaching change, promoting assistant Craig Berube, and how things will get better. There were plenty of answers for the former and very little about the latter.

Snider was combative in his remarks, particularly when asked if he thought the team needed a fresh perspective or a shift in culture after 37 years without a Stanley Cup, Snider shot back angrily.

“What's [wrong with] the culture?” Snider sneered. “We haven't won the championship? We've been in the Stanley Cup Final a lot of times. We've been in the playoffs a lot of times. 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. We don't need a fresh perspective. We have a pretty good culture. We know who we're dealing with.”

Herein lies the problem. It's not the culture that is broken, it's the process. It is the obsession with winning and winning right now put the Flyers in a position to fire their head coach.

The Flyers appear to be a team without direction and may have been since falling in the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. For the last two years in particular, holes have been covered by band-aids, very expensive band-aids.

The biggest hole was that of the goaltending position. It has been reported that Snider wanted that position to be a priority in the 2011 offseason. The end result was a nine-year, $51 million deal for Ilya Bryzgalov. It was a deal in which Snider was heavily involved, even meeting with the goaltender before finalizing the deal.

We of course know now that Bryzgalov sputtered in Philadelphia and the mistake of the long-term contract was rectified via buyout in the offseason. It was proof positive that throwing money at a problem isn't necessarily the solution.

Look at everything else the Flyers have done recently, though. There was the trade of Sergei Bobrovsky for a second-round and two fourth-round picks. An in-house option the Flyers lost patience with, Bobrovsky became expendable because of Bryzgalov and then of course went on to win the Vezina Trophy with the Blue Jackets last year. Hindsight of course is 20/20, but even then, Bobrovsky clearly had his best years in front of him.

The offseason acquisition of Mark Streit, a terrific veteran defender, but one whose contract takes him to his age 39 season at an annual cap hit of $5.25 million, was throwing more money at one of the Flyers' less pressing problems.

The team also bet big on 33-year-old forward Vincent Lecavalier, who was bought out by the Lightning and is on the books until he is 38 with an annual hit of $4.5 million. He can certainly contribute now, but he's not the player he once was.

This isn't even bringing up the trades of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, which in actuality, each brought back the Flyers decent value.

These are not the moves of a team looking to build a winning foundation that will carry the team through multiple seasons. They're win-now moves that may not actually help the team win now.

You look at the Stanley Cup champions of the last several years. All of them have a core of about five to six players that they built the team around. The Flyers don't really seem to have that, even though Claude Giroux is a fantastic centerpiece to surround with talent.

There's the less-than-ideal situation in goal with Ray Emery, who has spent more time backing up than starting lately, and Steve Mason, who was a high-risk, high-reward type trade and signing that may not pan out. Neither goalie's contract goes beyond this season.

Some of Philadelphia's NHL roster problems are born out of poor drafting as well. Reinforcements have had to come from free agency, because the Flyers prospect pipeline is among the shallowest in the NHL. Hockey Prospectus pegged the Flyers' prospect pool 29th in the league with only Scott Laughton looking close to NHL ready.

The Flyers will have to hope that new coach Craig Berube can get the most out of the roster he's been given. Make no mistake, this is not a bad hockey club, but it's a franchise in a very precarious situation. If they can't win now, the question becomes, when can they?

Really, who could blame Snider for this bit of desperation? He has owned the team since the beginning and its best years are now nearly 40 in the rear-view mirror. That kind of pressure is leading to some questionable decisions from his general manager that may be doing more harm than good.

The problem with the lack of direction is that the team is not being built for sustainable success. If the owner wants to win now, he probably wants to win later, too. If the Flyers continue down this path of overspending and getting older, doing neither is a real possibility. They have at least some of the players, now they need a plan.

 
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