Sagging Flyers put coach Peter Laviolette on the hot seat

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren talks about the season with reporters inside the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ on May 10, 2012. The Flyers were knocked out of the playoffs by the New Jersey Devils. ( David Maialetti / Staff Photographer )
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren talks about the season with reporters inside the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ on May 10, 2012. The Flyers were knocked out of the playoffs by the New Jersey Devils. ( David Maialetti / Staff Photographer ) (David Maialetti)
Posted: March 16, 2013

Let's start with this: If Paul Holmgren truly hasn't thought about changing head coaches, he should be fired for dereliction of duty.

The Flyers are an underachieving mess, sliding ever further from a playoff spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference. Any general manager with a pulse would consider all of his options, including firing his head coach. Holmgren has a pulse, as far as we know. So we can deduce that Holmgren has considered the merits of firing head coach Peter Laviolette.

Should Laviolette pay the price for this team's poor performance? That's an entirely different question. And the answer, in terms of fairness, is no. Absolutely not. But fairness isn't always in the equation in these things.

Laviolette is a very good hockey coach, just as Doug Collins is a very good basketball coach and Andy Reid is a very good football coach. Being a very good coach doesn't necessarily translate to winning and it certainly doesn't guarantee continued employment.

It is beginning to feel as if the zombie apocalypse laid waste to Philadelphia sports when no one was looking. The Eagles got Reid fired by playing without passion, without heart, without commitment. Even setting Andrew Bynum aside, where he seems comfortable, the Sixers have underachieved enough to raise questions about Collins' security.

The Flyers are playing and talking like a team determined to get its coach fired. Their performance against the Devils on Wednesday night, in an admitted "must-win" situation, was appalling. Their words after a film study session and practice Thursday weren't much better.

"It's good to see that stuff," forward Scott Hartnell said of the video work. "It's good to kind of realize how bad we are and how stupid the mistakes we're making. It's time to correct them."

"We're not playing as hard or as well as we need to play," Wayne Simmonds said.

The Flyers sound an awful lot like the Eagles did back in November, during the eight-game losing streak that sealed Reid's doom. It isn't the coach, it's the players. They just have to win one game to turn it all around. Yadda yadda, blah blah blah.

The difference is the Flyers have time to back up those empty-sounding words. They play another must-win game Friday night against those same New Jersey Devils. It is the second half of Ilya Bryzgalov's two-game pass/fail exam, and it will be played in front of an unhappy home crowd. Given all these circumstances, the game is virtually a referendum on Laviolette's continued ability to motivate this team.

Is that fair? Of course not. But it is the way things work in the NHL. Coaches get fired. When Laviolette took the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals three years ago, he had replaced John Stevens in the middle of the season. His message was new and it propelled a moribund team into a great playoff run.

Laviolette needs to get the same kind of reaction from this team, only now he's the incumbent who has presided over the lousy start. Same coach, different dynamic - and, not insignificant, a very different group of players.

The bigger question is whether Holmgren, who radically remade the roster, gets to make another change behind the bench. As hard as it was to watch Mike Richards and Jeff Carter skate around with the Cup last year, at least there was the sense that Holmgren had acquired an abundance of young talent.

Those young players have not come through as needed this year. Meanwhile, Carter is playing better than ever for the Kings. James van Riemsdyk leads the resurgent Toronto Maple Leafs with 14 goals. Sergei Bobrovsky is as hot as any goalie in the league.

Holmgren's additions - reaching into the Flyers' past for Ruslan Fedotenko, Mike Knuble, and Simon Gagne - have not exactly been inspired.

So when Holmgren weighed all his options, he had to realize that firing the coach would also shift the focus onto his own record as GM. And it should. Laviolette is coaching the zombies Holmgren acquired for him.

Three years ago, Holmgren fired his coach in-season and it worked. This time, if the coach goes, the GM deserves to go, too. That's something else you can be sure Holmgren has thought about.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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