December 12, 2009

Even stevens.

For the record, I support the firing of John Stevens and the hiring of Peter Laviolette.

I don't think Stevens was the right guy to take this team to the next level, and I like the idea behind a tough, demanding coach that'll shake those Flyers who grew up with Stevens out of their comfort zone.

I also believe that firing Stevens will help Mike Richards grow as a captain. It sounded like Richards wasn't sure how to handle the addition of Chris Pronger to the locker room, with a lot of talk about Pronger being afraid to step on Mikey's toes and a damaging lack of communication between the two.

In a perfect world where human emotions were irrelevant, Pronger would probably have the C. He's done it before, and he has the demeanor and the skills to lead in every facet of the word. But Mike Richards is the face of the franchise, the man with the 12-year contract and the team's leader, for better or worse. I don't think anyone regrets that decision just yet, but Richards needs to grow and mature. And he will. The guy is only eight months older than me, and if you asked me to lead with an intimidating 35-year-old future Hall of Famer looking over my shoulder, I'd probably be a little hesitant as well.

It sounds like Richards took a lot of the blame for the coaching change, which is only partly true but definitely the right way for him to view the situation. Whether Stevens's style was holding the team back or not, more consistent play would have saved the man's job, and the Flyers did not provide that. As the captain, that falls on Mikey, and I think in the end that kind of kick in the ass will make him a better player and leader.

That being said, the timing wasn't right. Even though the Flyers looked awful, there didn't appear to be the need for an immediate change. Did Stevens lose the locker room? Unlikely, although Pronger didn't sound too distraught after the fact. Clearly Paul Holmgren lost faith in his coach, and that's understandable based on their recent play. But rather than inspire the team, the coaching change seems to have added to the pressure on the Flyers. A thrashing of the Islanders notwithstanding, the power play has remained painfully stagnant and implementing Laviolette's new system is going to be difficult with the team in the middle of a horrible slide.

A midseason outright coaching change, rather than the temporary promotion of an assistant, is rare. Laviolette was Holmgren's man, no question about it, and maybe he didn't want to take the chance that he'd slip away to another team after the season. But for now, a team with extremely high Stanley Cup hopes is playing like a team expecting a high draft pick.

The talent is there. If they can keep Claude Giroux on one of the top two lines, I think it'll restart his maturation process that began last year. JVR looks like a stud, especially considering how young he is, and hopefully the offensive output provided by the defense at the start of the season re-emerges. They need Blair Betts and Darrell Powe back, and they need Ray Emery to get healthy, as well. It'll be a shocker if they don't make the playoffs, and even if they sneak in, they'll be a debilitating matchup for Boston or Pittsburgh in the first round.

But all this probably could have been done with John Stevens. Right now, the Flyers are a team in turmoil, and when the axe falls next, it'll fall a little higher up on the food chain. Holmgren got his coach, but it might cost him his job.

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