Craig Berube has been fired as coach of the Flyers.
The 49-year-old former Flyers enforcer replaced Peter Laviolette in the fourth game of last season and took the Flyers to a third-place finish in the Metropolitan Division with a 42-27-10 record (94 points).
The Flyers lost in a seven-game, first-round playoff series to the New York Rangers, who eventually won the Eastern Conference.
This season, the Flyers took numerous steps backwards, missing the playoffs while finishing sixth in the division (12th overall) with a 33-31-18 record (84 points). Berube’s two-year record was 75-58-28.
In recent weeks, Berube, who was known as "Chief" in his playing day, seemed resigned to his fate. It was reflected in his voice and facial expressions during several interviews with reporters, although he said publicly he felt he'd return next fall.
To the very end, he insisted his team was better than it had performed and agreed with general manager Ron Hextall that the roster didn’t need to be gutted.
“I still do,” Berube said when asked if he believed in his team. “It’s a fine line between winning and losing. It really is.
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“A lot of it’s mental. It’s just a fine line. Injuries, different things that come up. It’s a fine line. There’s good hockey players here, and a group of guys that believe in themselves and like each other and are hard workers.”
No single factor was responsible for Berube’s firing, yet one word summed up the season: inconsistency.
If anything, a combination of factors, many of which lie at the feet of former GM Paul Holmgren, placed Berube in a no-win situation, similar to Laviolette. He takes the fall for management.
The Flyers for the second consecutive year were cash-strapped by the salary cap, unable to make significant improvements where they were needed most — on defense and a scoring winger.
This season’s group remained largely unchanged from last with the notable absences of power forward Scott Hartnell (traded) and veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who didn’t play a single game for the Flyers because of blood clots in his legs and lungs before being moved at the trade deadline to Chicago.
As much as the Flyers sorely missed Hartnell’s offense, it was Timonen’s absence on defense and especially the penalty kill that undermined whoever coached this club.
Berube’s club underachieved in several areas:
• 10 road wins, the fewest since 1972
• 43 games decided by one goal (15 wins)
• A team average of 2.56 goals a game, worst since 1969-70
• A 3-11 shootout record
• A 27th overall ranking on the penalty kill
• A 29th overall ranking in road penalty killing
• Just three wins among 34 games when trailing after two periods
“Our road record is the biggest thing for me,” Berube said recently. “When you look at the road and different things on the road that have happened — not enough scoring, shootout losses, PK at times.”
Starting in 2010-11, the Flyers twice had consecutive seasons with a franchise-record 25 road victories. That’s how far they’ve fallen since.
The bulk of the Flyers' problems winning on the road can be traced to low-scoring games in which their penalty kill gave up a decisive goal that the Flyers weren’t able to offset either on the power play or at even strength.
Five-on-five scoring (138) was down throughout the team. Claude Giroux didn’t score an even-strength goal on home ice until the 36th game here.
The Flyers had seven 20-goal scorers in Berube’s first season as coach and just four this season — just three heading into March.
Also, a number of younger players — Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Matt Read — failed to take another step in their development. That said, Hextall needs to realistically evaluate whether there is that "next step" for any of these players from an offensive standpoint or if this is as good as it gets.
Obviously, not all of this can be blamed solely on the head coach. It’s expected the Flyers' entire coaching staff will be overturned, with the possible exception of Joey Mullen. His power-play units were again ranked among the NHL’s top five (finished third).
Berube’s club struggled in almost every facet of its game.
What does it say when starting goalie Steve Mason, who missed significant time with injuries, finished with a losing record yet was third in save percentage (.928) and seventh in goals-against average (2.25).
Mason won just two games on the road this season, solely because the Flyers seldom gave him any goal support.
Despite suggestions by some that Berube and Mason had issues with each other or this was somehow tied to goalie coach Jeff Reese’s departure, it simply was untrue as Mason and others said.
Yet the fan base turned against Berube because of such and his handling of Vinny Lecavalier, a misfit from the get-go who should never have been signed given the abundance of centers.
Berube’s firing likely had its roots in the fact the Flyers were maddeningly inconsistent in their game-to-game performances. Hextall railed numerous times about the club’s “lack of consistency.”
Throughout the season, the Flyers continually rose to the occasion against teams better than themselves, then seemed disinterested against teams below them in the standings.
The Flyers were 12-2-4 over their final 18 games against teams in the playoffs. Conversely, they also lost 12 straight against non-playoff clubs at season’s end.
Far too often, veteran leaders, such as Wayne Simmonds and even Mason himself, said the club was mentally unprepared after such losses.
From a management standpoint, that had to weigh heavily against Berube in Hextall’s mind.
The club appeared mentally incapable all season of coming from behind as evidenced by just three wins after the second period. The year before, they won 11 games in the third period alone. Obviously, the team lacked for confidence.
“Last year, we had this mojo going in the third period where we were coming from behind and we knew we were going to,” Berube said. “This year, we didn’t have that mojo.”
Taken as a whole, the brunt of the problem lies in the Flyers' failure to significantly upgrade a slow and aging defense which has shown significant defensive liabilities in front of its goaltenders for three years now.
In today’s NHL, the offense begins with the defense’s ability to start quickly out of its own end. The Flyers often didn’t hit full stride until well past the red line.
Hextall fired defensive coach John Paddock last summer and replaced him with Gord Murphy. Still, the defense was no better than before.
A number of high-profile coaches are expected to be available this summer.
Detroit’s Mike Babcock heads the list, as his contract is up. Yet his $5 million price tag might be a stumbling block. Also, Babcock’s culture in Detroit has always been European heavy. The culture here is radically different.
Among the more realistic possibilities — assuming some are available if released — Todd McLellan, whose name has been mentioned repeatedly in recent weeks with the Flyers; Dave Tippett, who could bring goalie coach Sean Burke to his next club; Ken Hitchcock, Dan Bylsma, Claude Julien, Randy Carlyle, Kevin Dineen and Peter DeBoer.
And what about former Flyers coach John Stevens, who is slated to someday succeed Darryl Sutter in Los Angeles, or Jeff Blashill, a rising star in Grand Rapids, who has been waiting patiently behind Babcock?
There’s also Carolina assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour.
Hextall opted to back out of attending the IIHF World Championships with Team Canada this spring in the Czech Republic.
He has a larger and far more difficult task to tackle right here in Philadelphia.
And it began today with Berube’s firing.