Analysis: Players share blame in Laviolette dismissal

Monday, 10.07.2013 / 5:27 PM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

Peter Laviolette took the hit Monday for a group of Philadelphia Flyers players that hasn't performed close to its capabilities. The firing of Laviolette on Monday is the ultimate example of the old adage that a general manager can't fire his entire team, so the expedient move is to replace the coach.

After watching his team fall to 0-3 with another lackluster performance in Carolina on Sunday, general manager Paul Holmgren decided firing Laviolette was his only course of action. Chairman Ed Snider backed Holmgren's decision to remove Laviolette after three games and replace him with Craig Berube, a move that was announced during a Monday morning press conference at Wells Fargo Center.

But, the press conference was also a wake-up call to the players. They can't be let off the hook. They caused this to happen. They need to fix it.

Berube enters with a long resume in Philadelphia's organization as a player and a coach. He's paid his dues in the American Hockey League and as an assistant in Philadelphia. He deserves his chance to figure out what is wrong with this team that is up against the $64.3 million salary cap, has an owner and fan base with high standards, and an expectation to win despite not having raised the Stanley Cup since 1975.

Berube talked about fixing the team's play away from the puck, and he'll likely coach with a philosophy that stresses play in the defending zone. But as much as the Flyers need some defensive structure, they may need a jolt of creativity more.

They need their best players to show up.

"We don't look like a team at all," Holmgren said when he announced Laviolette's firing.

The problems won't go away if captain Claude Giroux can't find his game. Giroux is still seeking his first point of the season after averaging better than a point-per-game since the 2010-11 season (217 points in 207 games).

Berube won't be able to fix this if Scott Hartnell doesn't start resembling the dangerous power forward he was when he scored 37 goals in 2011-12. He hasn't been close.

Like Laviolette, Berube will ask Wayne Simmonds to have some bite. The problem is so far he hasn't played physical at the right time or done enough to help the team in other areas. He has no points.

Matt Read was given a four-year, $14.5 million contract extension early in training camp. Like Giroux, Hartnell, Simmonds and Jakub Voracek, he has no points.

Sean Couturier's development has flat-lined since a strong rookie season. Is he an offensive player? Is he a checking center? He's in his third year and the jury is still out. He's also without a point.

The defense is lacking in speed and youth. Laviolette can't be blamed for that and it's unlikely Berube can fix it. That's on Holmgren, the architect of a capped-out team that still has holes on its roster.

Philadelphia employs three 35-and-older defensemen and has six defensemen on the active roster making $3.5 million or more this season, according to Capgeek. No other team in the League has five and only three teams -- the Anaheim Ducks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks -- have four.

Holmgren has no wiggle room with the salary cap because of his slow, aging and expensive defense.

What Laviolette can be blamed for, and what Berube can fix, is how sloppy the defense has been. However, there's only so much a coach can do if Luke Schenn, the youngest of the defensemen, continues to put the puck directly into the middle of the ice, directly into the opponent's aggressive forecheck the way he did Sunday in the second period of Philadelphia's 2-1 loss at Carolina.

On the play, the puck hit off Jeff Skinner, went right to Radek Dvorak, who roofed the winning goal at the 8:20 mark. No coach in the League or anywhere really would tell Schenn to pass the puck from behind the goal line into the middle of the ice. The play rarely is worth the risk.

But why was Dvorak's goal with almost 32 minutes remaining the winning goal? It was because the Flyers couldn't generate any consistent push in Carolina's zone and wound up getting outshot, 34-18, including 11-6 after Dvorak's goal.

The Flyers have been outscored 9-3 in three games. They have one even-strength goal. They've scored two power-play goals, but have given up three. They are winning less than 48 percent of their faceoffs. They're a minus-20 in shot-differential, better than only the Buffalo Sabres (minus-39) and Winnipeg Jets (minus-30).

Ironically, goaltending, which was the Flyers' biggest question mark heading into the season, seems like the least of the team's worries right now. Fans aren't clamoring for Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky (traded by Holmgren for draft picks) right now; they'd instead like to see their star players perform to their capabilities.

Laviolette took the fall for them Monday and Berube inherited the mess, but Holmgren has to hold true to his word.

"I'm not going to let the players off the hook," he said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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