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Flyers replace Stevens with Laviolette

by Adam Kimelman /
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren on Friday fired John Stevens and replaced him with Peter Laviolette as the team's coach.

"I have not been very happy with the direction the team has been going," Holmgren said. "Last night I made up my mind that I needed to make a coaching change. I spoke with Mr. (Ed) Snider (chairman) and Peter (Luukko, club president). … At that point I called (GM) Jim Rutherford in Carolina and got permission to speak to Peter Laviolette, and I offered Peter the job."

Laviolette, who coached the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup, had been working as a television analyst for TSN and Versus. He also had been an assistant coach with his son's pee-wee hockey team in Florida.

"He's not too happy I'm here because now I'm not coaching down there," Laviolette said. "It was good because we weren't getting along, he was ready to fire me, I was ready to trade him. I wanted him to do something on the ice a different way and he told me that's not the way the head coach wants it done. I said I know what I'm talking about because I've coached some games before. He looked at me and said, 'Yeah, Dad, but you got fired.'

"I got back some credibility today."

Laviolette will have to make some quick introductions, as his first Flyers game will be Saturday against the Washington Capitals.

"I think this is a very good hockey team," Laviolette said of his new club. "I don't think you need to come in and explode it. Just some changes in different areas, a different voice delivering that. That's what we'll do."

Laviolette is known as a tough coach, but also preaches an up-tempo style. His Carolina teams usually were near the top of the League in scoring -- they were third in the NHL with 3.49 goals per game in 2005-06 and fifth in 2007-08 at 3.05.

Laviolette, 45, has a record of 244-184-59 in 487 games over seven seasons with the New York Islanders (2001-03) and Hurricanes (2003-09). He also coached the Providence Bruins to the 1999 Calder Cup championship, and coached the U.S. at the 2006 Olympics.

"I would really like to see a very aggressive brand of hockey," Laviolette said. "Aggressive in the offensive zone, get our (defense) activated, get our (defensemen) moving. I think that a lot of teams that are playing the game right now are playing that way."

That sounds good to Holmgren, who had worked with Laviolette with USA Hockey.

"He's been very successful at every level he's coached at," Holmgren said. "I think the style of play that Peter wants to play and remembering the style Carolina played is going to suit our team."

He'll have some immediate help, as Hurricanes assistant Kevin McCarthy, who worked in the same role under Laviolette in Carolina, also was hired by the Flyers. He'll replace assistant coach Jack McIlhargey, who also was let go.

Holmgren said he came to the decision to dismiss Stevens not long after Thursday's 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. It was the second-straight game the Flyers have been shut out -- the first time that's happened since February 2003 -- their third-straight loss and sixth defeat in the last seven games.

Holmgren said he informed Stevens of his decision at 2:45 Friday afternoon.

"That was a hard walk for me," Holmgren said. "I walked down to John's office and talked to him. It was a hard walk. Might have been the hardest thing I've ever had to do."

Holmgren worked closely with Stevens when Holmgren was assistant GM with the Flyers and oversaw the club's minor-league operations, including the AHL Phantoms, where Stevens was the coach for six seasons -- and they won a Calder Cup championship together. When Holmgren was promoted to GM in October 2006, his first decision was to hire Stevens as Flyers coach.

"The qualities that John exhibits as a man and a coach are beyond reproach," Holmgren said. "I know that from my friendship with him and working with him over the years."

"He's been very successful at every level he's coached at. I think the style of play that Peter wants to play and remembering the style Carolina played is going to suit our team."
-- Flyers' GM Paul Holmgren

Flyers captain Mike Richards also had a deep bond with Stevens, who was his first professional coach, during the 2004-05 AHL championship season with the Phantoms.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed," Richards told the Camden Courier-Post. "It's not something anybody wanted to happen. It seems to be the thing in professional sports these days. When things aren't falling well for a team, the coach is the one that pays the price. There is a lot of disappointment on my end. I grew up with Johnny, and he made me the player I am today. He gave me confidence to be an offensive player and I won a championship with him. He's been a huge part of my career.

"That's why I do feel responsible. We have not been our best the last couple of games and I throw that on my shoulders."

Stevens presided over the worst season in Flyers' history in 2006-07, but the next season he guided the team on a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to Pittsburgh. Last season the Flyers lost again to the Penguins -- but this time it was in six games in the first round of the playoffs.

The summer acquisition of all-star defenseman Chris Pronger was supposed to spark a team that was predicted by many to compete for the Stanley Cup. But after a strong start, the Flyers have sputtered since a rough West Coast trip, and haven't scored a goal in eight periods. They entered Friday's games 10th in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the eighth-place New York Islanders.

Despite the current struggles, Holmgren believes the foundation for success is in place.

"I still believe we have a good team, I've said that all along," he said. "I believe we have a good team. … I believe today this is the right move."

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