Could Laviolette, Bylsma work together for USA?

Posted: February 20, 2013

PITTSBURGH - The unforgettable theater of Peter Laviolette standing atop the edge of the Flyers' bench, gesturing and waving a freshly broken stick at Pittsburgh's coaching staff last April 1 is as fresh as Scott Hartnell's mocking of Fake Hulk Hogan.

Laviolette called Penguins coach Dan Bylsma "gutless" minutes after becoming the first Flyers coach in 13 years to be ejected from a game. The accusation, as Hartnell described it, was for Bylsma putting his "meat" on the ice once the Flyers had the game in-hand.

The Flyers will return to Consol Energy Center on Wednesday night for the first time since wiping the Penguins from the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring. The wounds are still fresh.

This time next year, though, could you imagine Bylsma and Laviolette working together?

Bylsma, 42, is considered the odds-on favorite to be named head coach of Team USA for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Back-room chatter says the Penguins' bench boss could be amenable to having Laviolette join his staff.

Any concrete discussions would be premature. First, the NHL and the International Olympic Committee have not yet reached an agreement to allow NHL players to participate in Sochi. No announcement on team officials has been made by USA Hockey, and a coach isn't expected to be named until after this season has concluded.

Bylsma said in an interview with ESPN The Magazine last week that he has not been contacted by USA Hockey. The same goes for Laviolette.

Brian Burke, the man who assembled the team that took silver in Vancouver in 2010, is expected to remain as general manager. Burke has been scouting for USA Hockey since his abrupt firing from the Maple Leafs on Jan. 9. His management team, including both Flyers GM Paul Holmgren and Penguins GM Ray Shero, is also expected to remain intact.

However, USA's head coach in Vancouver, Ron Wilson, is not expected back. Wilson was fired as coach last season in Toronto. His Vancouver staff included two other NHL head coaches as assistants, John Tortorella (Rangers) and Scott Gordon (Islanders).

Bylsma (Grand Haven, Mich.) has the best NHL winning percentage (.617) of any American-born coach. Tortorella (Concord, Mass.), 52, is the all-time winningest American-born coach (391 wins), though he's not considered a front-runner. Laviolette (Franklin, Mass.), 48, is second in wins (373) and has a better winning percentage than Tortorella.

Laviolette coached the United States to an eighth-place finish at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy. All three men have won a Stanley Cup - and we got a taste of all three coaching styles thanks to HBO's "24/7" reality series.

Flyers forward Mike Knuble played for Laviolette in Torino. Laviolette has a long history with USA Hockey, having coached in two World Championships, and he was the captain of the 1994 squad in Lillehammer, Norway.

Bylsma, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer to coaching circles with USA Hockey. He voluntarily flew to Finland after the Penguins' ouster last May to observe the World Championships and has participated in coaching symposiums. In many ways, it's his job to lose.

On Tuesday, Bylsma backed NHL participation in the Olympics, but acknowledged he hasn't followed proceedings much.

In the meantime, Bylsma will keep up his healthy hate for the Flyers. One Penguins player mentioned at practice Tuesday that Bylsma's facial expressions completely changed when discussing the Flyers in a meeting with the team.

"I was aware of that," Bylsma said. "It should change. We're aware of the standings, but we're playing Philadelphia. The last time they were in this building was the playoffs. My facial expressions will change tomorrow, too."

Giroux'd awakening

For the Flyers, it was a big deal that captain Claude Giroux broke through with his fourth multipoint game of the season in Monday's thrashing on Long Island.

Across the state, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby has been doing it with relatively little fanfare. Crosby has five three-point games this month alone - and two in his last three games.

"He's at a pretty high level right now," Bylsma said when asked to compare Crosby with his 2010 version before concussions. "For the games [he played], the level of consistency that he played at was probably the highest of his career. It's not just one game that you look at and say this guy's playing great, it's game after game that he's playing well. And it's not just the highlight reel, it's the full game."

Crosby has 66 points in 40 career games (1.65 points per game) against the Flyers, second only to the Penguins' owner, Mario Lemieux, who racked up 104 in 52 games vs. Philadelphia.

Slap shots

According to resident Daily News statistician Bob Vetrone Jr., the Flyers are 0-5-2 in their next game following their previous seven regular-season wins in which they've scored seven or more goals . . . Speaking of Olympics, Philadelphia was one of 35 cities invited Tuesday by the U.S. Olympic Committee to bid for hosting the 2024 Summer Games. New York (2012) and Chicago (2016) fell short to London and Rio De Janeiro, and the USOC did not enter a bid for 2020.

On Twitter: @DNFlyers


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