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Inside the Flyers: Hextall right to keep Berube

LOS ANGELES - One of the worst starts in Flyers history has triggered various reactions from a divided fan base.

Flyers head coach Craig Berube. (Matt Slocum/AP)
Flyers head coach Craig Berube. (Matt Slocum/AP)Read more

LOS ANGELES - One of the worst starts in Flyers history has triggered various reactions from a divided fan base.

While some fans aren't giving up on the season and think it's too early to dismiss a playoff run, others want the team to fall deeper into a hole and increase their chances of drafting Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, centers considered to be franchise cornerstones.

Some fans want general manager Ron Hextall to gut the roster, though there really isn't a lot of trade value at the moment among the Flyers' struggling veterans.

Some want Hextall to fire coach Craig Berube.

Berube's job is safe, Hextall said Friday afternoon. To some, the dreaded vote of confidence means that the coach won't be here much longer. In this case, though, I believe Hextall is telling the truth.

It's the right decision. The no-nonsense Berube deserves more time. After replacing the fired Peter Laviolette early last season, he revived the team and somehow got it to take the faster, more talented New York Rangers - a team that would reach the Stanley Cup Finals - to a Game 7 in the opening round.

Some have questioned his revolving door of big-name scratches (see Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn, Vinny Lecavalier, Michael Del Zotto, etc.), saying he has players looking over their shoulders.

But at least he's doing something to try to light a fire. Some teams have the luxury of a deep minor-league system and can recall quality players to send a message. The Flyers don't have that, so Berube is trying to send a message in a different way.

Not that Berube should be immune from criticism. The Flyers have started too slowly in a majority of games, and they have taken many periods off - something a team with midlevel talent cannot do if it expects to make the playoffs.

Heading into Saturday, the Flyers had lost 10 of their last 11, giving them an 8-13-4 record in their first 25 games. That's their second-lowest win total at this juncture since 1970-71.

Hextall said everyone deserves part of the blame - and he seemed to name everybody but Lou Nolan, the Flyers' public-address announcer, and radio broadcasters Steve Coates and Tim Saunders.

In the last 44 years, only the 2006-07 Flyers had fewer wins (7-15-3) at this point than the current team.

That 2006-07 team finished with the NHL's worst record, but the Flyers lost the draft lottery despite having a 25 percent chance of winning it. They slipped to second and selected James van Riemsdyk, now starring for Toronto after being traded for Schenn, a healthy scratch in two of the last five games.

Chicago, which had the fifth-worst record, won the lottery despite just an 8.6 percent chance. The Blackhawks picked Patrick Kane, the star of the class.

We bring this to your attention, "tank" fans, because there are no guarantees in the draft system. In fact, this year the odds of getting the No. 1 pick have changed. The worst team will have a 20 percent chance (down from 25 percent), the second-worst will have a 13.5 percent chance (down from 18.8 percent), and so on.

Tanking, of course, is far from the minds of the players, coaches, and front-office personnel. They are determined to turn around the season and make a playoff push.

"We dug this hole, and we've got to dig ourselves out of it," Berube said. "End of story. I don't make excuses with injuries, bounces, all that stuff. We got ourselves in this situation as a team, and we'll get ourselves out as a team."

The Flyers need to get back to the defense-first mentality that served them so well last season, when they went 41-23-10 after a 1-7 start.

"In my opinion, you lose games in this league from a lack of defensive structure," said Berube, whose team entered Saturday having been outscored, 38-21, in their last 11 games, during which they were on the wrong end of takeaways (88-59). "Games can be won 2-1 and 1-0. [If] you think you're going to score four goals a game and that's how you want to win, you won't win many games. To me, we need to be a better defensive hockey team, and we're going to work on it and get better."

Berube is also working on getting his players in a better frame of mind.

"They're pressing," he said. "They want to win. They're all character guys. They need to relax."

In other words, a winning streak would do wonders.