The Flyers’ Brand
The Flyers coaching change carousel has made yet another sudden spin, dumping off Peter Laviolette, a one-time Stanley Cup winning coach and one-time runner up. Laviolette was the 2nd longest tenured coach in Flyers history with 5 seasons in command. Legendary coach, Fred Shero tops this list with 7 seasons. Beyond those two coaches, the average life span of a Flyers bench boss is about 3 years.
The Flyers’ organization is shaped much by its (only) owner, Ed Snider. Mr. Snider prides himself on running a family – like operation extending loyalties to his former players. This approach is evident by a strong alumni connection, both through direct employment in the front office, bench and through club activities, typically coinciding with Snider’s charities.
This loyalty to Flyer alumni has become a badge of honor for Ed Snider and his organization. That loyalty, however, becomes strained if your title happens to be “Head Coach”. With the sudden change behind the bench this season, the Flyers yet again executed their organization’s mantra – if there is a problem, fire the head coach. Though Paul Holmgren communicated the decision, Flyers – faithful know this move was dictated by Ed Snider.
Rather than harp on the known tendency of the club’s owner spanning 6 decades, this column is about the present and future. I want to focus on the coaching staff in place now and how the Flyers roster of young players must develop together this season or there will be significant turnover not at the coaching level, but with the players, thus creating more Flyer alumnus.
The New Head Coach
Craig “Chief” Berube, (a Flyer alumnus) was offered his first head coaching weeks ago without the benefit of an offseason and training camp. Now, the month of October is spent refining the existing system and most importantly shaping the locker room culture to match Berube’s vision. With a Flyers team that struggles to score and battle for three periods, the team Berube inherited appears to be a mix of youth that are not yet ready to break out and under-achieving veterans.
On the outside, it would seem the Flyers management is setting up Berube for failure. With this coaching change in October it mirrors the occasion when Ken Hitchcock was replaced by rookie head coach, John Stevens. Stevens first 10 games resulted in losses and the Flyers finished the season last in the Conference. However, the shipped was righted with a Flyers resurgence in 2007-08 that ended with a trip to the Eastern Conference Final against a talented Pittsburgh Penguins squad. Stevens was helped to a large extent by key free agent signings and trades (Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Harnell, Joffrey Lupul and Scottie Upshaw were key additions.) A developing core of young players such as Mike Richards and Jeff Carter provided the glue.
The Rookie Head Coach and Veteran Assistant Coach – Take 2.
Beginning with John Steven rookie season, he had the resourceful assistant coach, Terry Murray. Murray, a seasoned NHL coach provided a wealth of experience and insight to handle a mostly young team and revamped veteran defensive corps, gaining Jason Smith but losing Derian Hatcher mid-season. (Murray was a Flyer alumnus if you didn’t know…).
Flash forward to the present, we find ourselves in a similar coaching situation. Craig Berube – a rookie head coach inherited an underachieving squad much like 2006. With that, the Flyers bring up John Paddock from his head coaching position with Flyers’ top affiliate, Adirondack Phantoms. Clearly this promotion of Paddock is to help Berube through the learning curve of being a head coach in the National Hockey League.
A seasoned head coach with the National Hockey League and American Hockey League, John Paddock has the credentials. For a time, he even served as General Manager for the Winnipeg Jets (the original Jets that moved to Phoenix, not the “new” Jets that moved from Atlanta). Paddock also served as Assistant General Manager with the Flyers since 2009. (As a player, did I mention John Paddock, too, is a Flyers alumnus, playing with the 1980 squad? Just checking if you noticed a theme here…).
John Paddock was brought in quickly to provide Berube a low-key, unassuming mentor, much like Terry Murray provided consultation for Stevens during his rookie campaign. Like Murray, his role will serve as coach of the defense pair units and help develop the bench.
Paddock spent most of his professional coaching career in the American Hockey League winning three Calder Cups. His AHL Hall of Fame coaching career started with Philadelphia’s top affiliate, splitting time in Portland, ME and Hershey, PA. In fact it was during these years he developed and mentored both previous and current members of the Flyers coaching staff to include current front office management. Assistant GM Ron Hextall and Berube were teammates under Paddock in Hershey in the mid-1980’s. John Stevens and recently fired assistant coach, Kevin McCarthy also held roster spots in Hershey under Paddock during the Bears’ historic 12-0 march through the 1988 Calder Cup playoffs.
For the remainder of the season my focus is on whether the youth of this team will rise from mediocrity to become serious contributors for Claude Giroux and Jacob Voracek. Sean Courtier, Wayne Simmons, Brayden and Luke Shenn need to show that their version of a Flyers core is as good as or better than the Richards and Carter era created.
Let’s give this revised coaching staff a few months to move these young players along with hopes that a revitalized Flyers arises because the scoring is coming from the youth of this roster. By the All-Star break we will find out if a true “youth-core” exists. If not, since we are on Snider’s watch, the offseason will result in a series of overpriced offers to free agents, essentially a repeat of the last offseason. If we get to that, the Ed Snider brand of loyalty will expire for the current title holder of “General Manager.”