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Berube deserves part of the blame

the players should get most of the blame for the Flyers’ disappointing season, but coach Craig Berube should get some too.

Flyers head coach Craig Berube. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Flyers head coach Craig Berube. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

NOW THAT the Flyers have been pronounced dead for the fifth time this season, one last, lingering question remains for Ron Hextall over the final 15 games.

Where does Craig Berube fit in this mess?

First, let's get Bloody Sunday out of the way. To be fair, Scotty Bowman wouldn't have been able to get the Flyers to regroup after Saturday's last-second debacle in Boston.

Their collapse a day later against the Devils was human nature. Berube can't play for the players - he can only say as much as possible to try and avoid it.

"I mentioned it, I talked about it," Berube said of the letdown. "We had to put that game behind us, but it didn't look like it to me."

This isn't about the lost weekend. For a truly talented team, as the Flyers believe they are, missing or making the playoffs shouldn't come down to one faceoff with 15 seconds to play in a March afternoon game in Beantown.

The players deserve the bulk of the blame. To have more "off" nights than "on" in an 82-game season is alarming.

"That's the frustrating thing, because you see the type of team we could be, it's just not on a consistent basis," said Steve Mason, ironically, since he's the Flyers' one true consistent performer this season. "That's been our problem all year. We have nobody to blame but ourselves. There's no excuse for it, no explanation."

Berube, 49, is far from immune.

Without even tackling his in-game tactics, Berube's player usage and deployment has been utterly head-scratching.

Remember when Michael Del Zotto was somehow benched for 11 of the 14 games in the month of December? He has been the Flyers' top defenseman this season - and that would include his play before his string of inexplicable scratches.

It sometimes seemed like Berube threw darts around the locker room to determine that night's press-box attendant. Luke Schenn (14 games), Carlo Colaiacovo (37) and $30 million man Andrew MacDonald (seven) were frequent whipping boys.

Somehow, Nick Grossmann and Braydon Coburn were immune. The fact Grossmann severely dragged down his partners statistically this season with the worst shot-attempts ratio on the team went largely ignored. Stats weren't even necessary for that judgment call: They do not say anything that cannot be seen with eyes.

Berube also struggled to balance his forward lines, leaving one to do all of the heavy lifting - and we don't just mean offensively.

Berube and the Flyers want more from Sean Couturier in the scoring department, but continually ask him to play the toughest minutes in the NHL.

Couturier, still 22, starts just 26 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. He faces some of the stiffest competition. And he's been asked to produce with an injured Matt Read and a foundering R.J. Umberger for most of the season. That's like demanding a barber to cut hair with a butter knife.

Despite his workload, Couturier has still managed to score more points (110) than all but four players (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Brandon Saad and Ondrej Palat) of his 211-member 2011 draft class.

On the other hand, Claude Giroux is statistically one of the very elite defensive players in the NHL. You could make the argument he is up there with Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron defensively and he's still managed to be a point-per-game player. Berube could have better balanced out Couturier's responsibilities on Giroux.

Plus, keeping Jake Voracek and Giroux together for most of the season made the Flyers incredibly thin and one-dimensional at times. If Giroux's line didn't produce, while Couturier's line was focusing on defense, that left largely one line to do the job.

Couturier is relied on so heavily because he is talented, but more so because the Flyers do not have a "true" fourth line - and part of that falls on Ron Hextall and Paul Holmgren, not Berube. Vinny Lecavalier, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde do not have traditional fourth-line skill sets. Sticking Zac Rinaldo on that line to bench Lecavalier only exacerbates the problem.

Berube's irresponsible handling of Mason's injuries, which we reported cost goaltending coach Jeff Reese his job, also deserves mentioning. Part of that, too, is on Hextall and salary-cap management: Berube can only play the cards he has available.

There are countless roster decisions for Hextall to begin sorting out. He started his remake in earnest at the trade deadline.

Before that continues this summer, his most pressing decision is determining whether his former teammate is the long-term solution to lead a roster that will require significant overhaul and patience. Is Berube still that man 2 or 3 years from now when Hextall's vision comes to fruition? If not, then the answer is to make a change at the end of this season.

Berube is 70-53-23 for a .558 points percentage. That should count for something, particularly considering he's done it with a poorly assembled lineup. To repeat: This is not entirely his fault.

But Mike Babcock is practically begging for a record-breaking offer from Ed Snider's deep pockets this summer - even if it is just for leverage in Detroit.

Names like Guy Boucher, Dan Bylsma, John Tortorella, Dallas Eakins are available. The ultimate hard guy, Mike Keenan, won a championship in Russia last year. Todd McLellan, Michel Therrien and even Claude Julien could be looking for work if expectations aren't met.

Expectations have not been met here. And with 19 NHL coaching changes since April 2013, it's just that there's never been a better time than now to be hiring.