Given the Philadelphia Flyers’ lacklustre play early in the season, Peter Laviolette’s firing was not altogether shocking.
But the veteran coach getting the hook after just three games provided some measure of surprise around the NHL.
“It’s one of those things that happens in sports and we’ve all been victims of it,” Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said Monday afternoon. “I can’t say that I’m surprised that it’s happened. I’m surprised that it happened to him. I’m surprised that it happened so quickly.”
The Flyers went 0-3-0 against the Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes, scoring one goal in each game and giving up a total of nine. The last head coach to be let go this early in a season was Bill Gadsby, who was fired by the Detroit Red Wings after a 2-0 start in 1969.
Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren had a “fleeting thought” about firing Laviolette last season when the team didn’t make the playoffs but ultimately thought the man who led the Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup final deserved another training camp. Owner Ed Snider told reporters at Wells Fargo Center that it was the worst training camp he had ever seen.
There was little doubt Laviolette was on a short leash. The online sportsbook Bodog set odds that made him the favourite to be the first NHL coach fired this season.
“Any time the Philadelphia Flyers miss the playoffs, you know that everyone’s walking on thin ice. Every player knows that,” said former Flyers enforcer Jody Shelley, who now works for the Columbus Blue Jackets. “I was in Philly, so you get a sense that it’s what have you done for me today. That’s the way they operate.”
The Flyers have the reputation as a team that’s not afraid to make changes when things aren’t working. Holmgren traded Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings and Jeff Carter to Columbus after the 2010-11 season and signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a US$51-million, nine-year contract.
This past summer the organization bought Bryzgalov out of the final seven years of that deal.
James van Riemsdyk was the Flyers’ No. 2 overall pick in 2007 and then signed a $25.5-million, six-year contract extension in the summer of 2011. He was traded to the Leafs for defenceman Luke Schenn at the 2012 draft.
Van Riemsdyk didn’t really know what to make of the Flyers’ slow start and Laviolette’s firing.
“When stuff doesn’t go, I guess, the way they’re thinking it’ll go there, you obviously expect them to make changes,” he said.
Canadiens forward Daniel Briere, who spent the previous six seasons in Philadelphia, talked to Laviolette last week and was impressed with how the Flyers played in their opener against Toronto. Montreal beat the Flyers 4-1 at Bell Centre on Saturday night.
“I didn’t get a sense of any panic there,” Briere said. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to anyone since these last two losses, but I imagine everyone’s a little surprised at what happened.”
Laviolette and the Flyers made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, but turning things around in 2013-14 will fall on Craig Berube, who’s considered something of a players’ coach.
“He’s a guy who I had a great relationship with when I was there, and he definitely helped me out a lot as far as helping me grow into the player that I am today,” van Riemsdyk said. “I think he’ll do a great job.”
Berube, 47, was a Flyers assistant for the past five seasons, and he spent one full year as a head coach at the AHL level. He played parts of 17 NHL seasons for the Flyers, Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, Calgary Flames and New York Islanders.
“He’s a guy that’s paid his dues, he’s got a lot of respect,” Shelley said. “He’s played for guys like Roger Neilson, Ken Hitchcock, he’s played for Jim Schoenfeld. He’s learned as a player from some great coaches.
“I’ve had conversations with him, and he’s a guy that he’s not only a character guy, he’s smart and it seems like he’s learned a lot from these guys.”
With files from Bill Beacon in Montreal.
Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at @SWhyno.