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Phil Sheridan: Flyers' organization drifts nowhere

The Flyers' new coach, Peter Laviolette, was fired by the Carolina Hurricanes less than two years after winning a Stanley Cup with the team. Tampa Bay's John Tortorella met a similar fate after leading the Lightning to the Cup.

The Flyers' new coach, Peter Laviolette, was fired by the Carolina Hurricanes less than two years after winning a Stanley Cup with the team. Tampa Bay's John Tortorella met a similar fate after leading the Lightning to the Cup.

They are good, intense hockey coaches who are difficult to play for. They come stamped with an expiration date beyond which players simply won't respond to them.

On its face, it is impossible to criticize the decision to replace John Stevens with Laviolette. The Flyers are getting a Cup-proven coach instead of a good organizational soldier. But then, three years ago, the Flyers fired a Cup-proven coach, Ken Hitchcock, to go with the player-friendly organizational soldier.

So it may be impossible to criticize the move, but it is just as impossible to get excited by another swing of the endless good cop/bad cop teeter-totter.

The real question here is whether the Flyers are any closer to winning a championship today than they were before Stevens was dismissed Friday. And the answer sure looks like a great big No.

The Pittsburgh Penguins still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fleury. The Washington Capitals still have Alexander Ovechkin. The Flyers will be fighting for the right to be the third-best team in their conference until their young, up-and-coming nucleus actually performs according to expectations.

The group, led by Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, had its chance to become an elite team with the coach hand-chosen for their comfort and development. Stevens, one of the truly decent and honorable men you will find in this or any other sport, had worked with a lot of the current Flyers when they were mere Phantoms. He was a sound choice as coach after Hitchcock was deemed too mean and demanding for the sensitive buds and blossoms on the roster.

Well, those players now must cope with the fact that they got their guy fired. If Laviolette lives up to his reputation, these guys will look back on Stevens' tenure as the good old days. Their comfort zone has been shut down and sealed off with crime-scene tape.

The risk of firing a coach to shake up players is obvious. Sometimes the players answer the wake-up call and respond with passion and renewed focus. But just as often, players decide they are bulletproof. Why worry? If things go wrong, it will be the coach, not them, taking the fall.

These players failed Stevens, not the other way around. By extension, that means general manager Paul Holmgren failed his coach, as well. It was Holmgren who put together this roster and who keeps it in such a state of flux that a true team identity has been nearly impossible to forge.

To his credit, Holmgren acknowledged all that. He wasn't about to fire himself, and the salary cap makes it impossible to make meaningful changes in the core of players right now. Given all that - a young, unformed team that seems perfectly content with mediocrity and no other options - it makes perfect sense to change coaches.

If you get a flat, you change the tire. That doesn't mean the car is well made or couldn't use serious work under the hood.

It has been 35 hockey seasons since Bobby Clarke raised the Stanley Cup. It has been 27 basketball seasons since Maurice Cheeks' ecstatic dunk in the clinching game of the 1983 NBA Finals. That is a long time for the two major professional indoor teams to fall short.

Comcast-Spectacor has owned the Flyers and 76ers since 1996. When you look at what has happened in the last week, you have to wonder whether it isn't time for more profound change.

Parent company Comcast is taking control of NBC Universal, one of the truly prestigious media companies in the world. Clearly, the priority there is on leveraging the company's hold on millions of cable customers to get more control of content. That's fine when we're talking about the new season of The Biggest Loser. It doesn't necessarily work when we're talking about trying to be a winner in the brutally competitive world of professional sports.

So what we got in the last week was the time-warp signing of Allen Iverson and yet another coaching change for the hockey team. Laviolette becomes the 16th head coach employed by Comcast-Spectacor in its 13-plus years running the two teams.

There has been one regular host of Daily News Live over the same period, so at least the company believes in continuity in one area. Maybe it's time to put Michael Barkann in charge of the teams.

Comcast-Spectacor tried to sell the Sixers a couple of years ago, but it was a half-hearted effort. It's hard to dodge the feeling the operation is being run with the other half of the heart.

But, hey, welcome to town, Peter Laviolette, and good luck. Just ignore that ticking sound.