PHILADELPHIA – On the first day of training camp, the Philadelphia Flyers were already a mess.
By the end of the preseason, chairman Ed Snider had grave concerns about the team he founded.
“I thought our training camp, quite frankly, was one of the worst training camps I’ve ever seen,” Snider said. “I’m not talking about wins or losses. There was nothing exciting. Nobody shined. Nobody looked good. I couldn’t point to one thing that I thought was a positive.
“Unfortunately, my worries were realized.”
He only needed three games to make a move.
After a winless start, the Flyers fired coach Peter Laviolette on Monday, three seasons after he led them to the Stanley Cup finals. Assistant Craig Berube, in his seventh season coaching within the organization, was promoted to replace Laviolette. He is the 18th coach in franchise history.
Despite a preseason vote of confidence from ownership, Laviolette just couldn’t overcome a punchless offence, a pair of journeymen in goal and a patchwork defence to jolt the Flyers out of their funk and keep his job. He dealt with rumours of his firing last season, a year in which the Flyers missed the playoffs after the lockout shortened the campaign. It was the only season in which he failed to make the post-season in Philadelphia.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren tried to mould a playoff roster in the off-season, signing forward Vinny Lecavalier, defenceman Mark Streit and goaltender Ray Emery. He also jettisoned overpriced and underperforming veterans, like goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and forward Danny Briere.
Holmgren liked his transactions. He just didn’t like how Laviolette was putting the pieces together.
“I think some of the additions that we made this summer were good additions,” Holmgren said. “I think there was some excitement about our team going into training camp. Right from Day 1 of training camp, I was concerned.
“But it was more about how we played, and it was unacceptable. We don’t look like a team at all.”
Laviolette is signed through 2014-15. He’s just the second coach in Flyers history to coach parts of five seasons.
He was hired early in the 2009 season after John Stevens was fired, and led the Flyers on an improbable run to the 2010 Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to Chicago in six games.
Laviolette won the Stanley Cup coaching Carolina in 2006, and previously coached the New York Islanders. He’s still set to serve as an assistant under Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma for the United States in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
Snider backed his coach last month and brushed off suggestions that Laviolette was on the hot seat.
“As far as Peter is concerned, last year was an anomaly,” he said in September. “He’s been a very good coach for us.”
Just not anymore with the Flyers. Holmgren had a “fleeting thought” of firing Laviolette after last season, but thought the coach deserved one more chance with a full training camp.
“They do need a kick in the pants,” Holmgren said.
Berube had 20 goals and 54 points over parts of seven seasons with the Flyers. He played for four other teams over a 17-year career and his 3,149 penalty minutes are seventh in NHL history.
Berube will make his debut Tuesday, when the Flyers play host to Florida.
“Just because I’ve been in the organization a long time doesn’t mean I’m going to do the same thing other coaches did,” he said. “I’m not them. I have my own thoughts. I have my own way of how I want to coach.”
The Flyers added former forward Ian Laperriere and former Ottawa coach John Paddock as assistants, while Kevin McCarthy, a part of Laviolette’s staff, was fired.
Snider balked at the suggestion the Flyers should have looked outside the organization to find a coach. The Flyers haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975 and lost their last six trips to the finals.
“We don’t need a fresh perspective,” Snider said. “We have a pretty good culture, and we know who we’re dealing with.”
Laviolette led the Flyers to three straight playoff appearances before last season. The Flyers went 23-22-3 and were 10th in the Eastern Conference with 49 points last year.
There was no apparent improvement this season. The Flyers lost their opener at home last week to Toronto, then lost games on consecutive days over the weekend to Montreal and Carolina. With captain Claude Giroux without a point, and forwards Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn stagnant, they were outscored 9-3.
“I would think guys are probably pretty frustrated,” Laviolette said Sunday. “Offensively, if you’re not scoring, everything’s got to be perfect on the defensive side of things.”
The Flyers’ 1-5-1 preseason record was an ominous sign that trouble was ahead.
“We all sensed it,” Berube said. “We didn’t play very well in the preseason. Whether you have a full lineup or not, we just didn’t see the competitiveness and team-oriented play that’s needed.”
Snider said Holmgren still has his support even as move after move—starting with the unexpected dismantling of the young core of the 2010 finals team—has backfired.
“I think Paul did an excellent job over the summer with the three players he brought in,” Snider said. “We had extremely high hopes for those three players and we still do. It remains to be seen if we were right or wrong.”
In a bleak era in city sports, Laviolette’s firing means all four Philadelphia teams have changed coaches in the last year. Eagles coach Chip Kelly, hired in January, is now the dean of Philadelphia coaches.
“It’s kind of the crazy reality of what we deal with, but it’s unfortunate,” Kelly said. “I know Pete a little bit. He’s a good guy. “