John Stevens, fired Friday because his underachieving Flyers were mired in a massive slump, deserved better.
From his players. From management.
The players, many of whom played for him with the AHL Phantoms, got too comfy under Stevens and played without a sense of urgency. This firing is on them.
Management, which contributed to last season's late meltdown with salary-cap blunders that put not-ready-for-prime-time players in the lineup, didn't create much depth in the minors.
So when some key players went down this season, including Simon Gagne, Danny Briere, Blair Betts, Darroll Powe, and Arron Asham, the reinforcements from the Phantoms were mostly nonfactors.
Two weeks before the ax fell on the unflappable Stevens, the Flyers were 12-5-1, winners of seven of their last eight, and facing a showdown against San Jose that conjured thoughts of a Stanley Cup Finals matchup.
And, then, incredibly, the team went poof, losing six of seven, failing to score in the last eight periods, and falling to 10th in the Eastern Conference.
When Paul Holmgren announced Stevens' dismissal Friday after the club had slipped to 13-11-1, the Flyers' general manager cited the team's recent play as the main reason.
Maybe. But the skids were greased last season when the Flyers collapsed down the stretch, lost the home-ice advantage in the playoffs, and fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round. They blew a 3-0 lead, at home, to the Penguins in the decisive Game 6.
That put Holmgren on the Stevens Alert.
Firing a coach just 25 games into a season seems a little rash, a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction.
That's why I think last season played such a defining role. It set Stevens up for the fall if a bad stretch arrived.
And no one will deny that the Flyers were in an awful offensive funk lately, one in which they failed to score in their last 14 power-play chances.
In the old days, Stevens would have been given a few more weeks to see if he could rally his club. After what he did in the past, he deserved that.
Stevens replaced Ken Hitchcock early in the 2006-07 season, and the team finished with an NHL-worst 56 points. The next year, the Flyers made a stunning 39-point improvement and reached the Eastern Conference finals.
Back then, no one seemed to mind that Stevens didn't have a fiery persona. The Flyers rewarded him with a contract extension.
Last season's team had 99 points - four more than the previous season - but faded down the stretch.
The late stumble left a bad taste with the brass, and the team's up-and-down play continued this season: Win three, lose three, win two, lose two, win seven of eight, lose six out of seven.
That is how the season went under Stevens.
A Stanley Cup contender - as it was said in this space last week - does not experience the wild swings that have plagued this team.
A Stanley Cup contender plays consistently from game to game. Heck, the Flyers haven't been consistent from period to period - and Stevens deserves some of the blame.
And so while I thought Stevens deserved a little more time to get things straightened out, I can understand Holmgren's decision.
In the NHL's relatively new salary-cap world, where parity makes almost every game a dogfight, teams can't afford long dry spells or they'll be outsiders when the playoffs arrive.
Stevens could not get consistency out of his players, so now the torch has been passed to Peter Laviolette.
Because he led Carolina to the Stanley Cup title in 2006, Laviolette was a popular choice. But, remember, when he coached Carolina for a full season, only one of his three teams made the playoffs.
Laviolette was fired last season when his Carolina team had a 12-11-2 record - almost the exact mark as the Flyers (13-11-1) when Stevens was canned - and his replacement, Paul Maurice, took the Hurricanes to the conference finals.
Will Laviolette make a difference?
Perhaps. The Flyers, who lost to Washington, 8-2, in Laviolette's debut, now know if they aren't producing, there will be consequences. The fact that Laviolette didn't coach these players in the minors, as Stevens did in many cases, is actually a plus. The Flyers got too complacent under Stevens and developed a cavalier attitude. They took advantage of him, didn't play with enough passion, and helped him become unemployed.
Shame on them.
No one worked harder than Stevens. No one studied more film. No one cared more about this franchise.
Again, shame on the players for taking those qualities for granted.
Holmgren said Laviolette would bring "an attack style" to the Flyers.
But it should be pointed out that the Flyers outshot their opponents in 18 of their 25 games (72 percent) under Stevens. That's a pretty good "attack style."
It's not that the Flyers haven't been attacking. It's just that they haven't been finishing. Before scoring last night, Scott Hartnell - the Flyers' top player in front following Mike Knuble's signing with Washington in the off-season - had one goal in his last five games.
James van Riemsdyk and Jeff Carter are also being counted on to cause havoc in front. Carter scored in just one of his last nine games under Stevens, and van Riemsdyk, who has played superbly for most of the season, was used sparingly in Thursday's third period because Stevens didn't think he was creating a net presence. Van Reimsdyk stretched his goalless streak to eight games last night.
Other players have also struggled, including Claude Giroux, who had just three goals in the first 25 games, and defensive partners Chris Pronger and Matt Carle, who have slumped offensively after a hot start.
There were times when those players, and many others, could have been thrown under the bus by Stevens. He had too much class to do it.
Instead, the team threw him.
Inside the Flyers:
Read Sam Carchidi's Flyers blog, Broad Street Bull, at http://go.philly.com/sports.
Blog response of the week
Posted by: jmanship16 06:01 p.m. Saturday
Subject: John Stevens' firing.
I feel bad for Stevens, but his demeanor isn't fiery enough for this group. He's more suited to being an assistant coach at the NHL level. Laviolette should bring up the intensity level and has proven he can win at the highest level.EndText