Craig Berube answered a lot of questions about the Flyers and his future as their head coach Tuesday. The questions were to be expected. The Flyers are going to miss the playoffs this season, for the second time in three years, and they've bottomed out so badly - with one victory in their last nine games - that Berube's job is in jeopardy less than a year and a half after he replaced Peter Laviolette.
After the Flyers practiced Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center, someone asked Berube whether he's been taking Prilosec throughout the season, to calm his stomach. Berube laughed.
Someone else asked him whether he was worried about his job status. Berube said that he wasn't, that he enjoyed showing up to the rink every day and working with the guys and preparing them for the last eight games of the regular season, and that those happy moments were all he focused on.
Someone else asked him the obvious question: If you enjoy the job that much, how could you not be worried about losing it?
"I'm on Prozac," he said, joking. "Kind of numbs ya."
The average NHL coach gets between two and three years with one team before management tells him that it's time for the organization to move on. It's looking as if Berube's tenure with the Flyers won't last that long.
Yes, he and general manager Ron Hextall were teammates on the Flyers, ol' buddies in the Brotherhood of the Orange and Black, but that was a quarter-century ago, and general managers tend to like to handpick their head coaches, and Hextall inherited Berube. He did not hire him, and even with Hextall promising a patient, methodical rebuilding project, the Flyers did not exactly exceed the meager expectations people had for them this season under Berube.
"When you don't make the playoffs, anything can happen, especially here," Berube said. "We're still fighting to make the playoffs, but if that [doesn't] happen, who knows what can happen? It's an organization that has a lot of pride, and they want to be in the fight every year. So, that's the way they look at it."
That's the way they used to look at it, certainly. But for now - particularly in light of his trading Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn at the in-season deadline - let's take Hextall at his word that he will try not to make the same core mistake that has hounded this franchise: forever sacrificing the future for the sake of the present.
Hextall's long-view approach afforded Berube an opportunity this season. Everyone knew the Flyers would struggle to reach the postseason, based on the lack of depth among their forwards and the lack of speed and puck-moving ability among their defensemen. The true test of Berube's chops as a head coach, though, would always be how the players responded to him, and he to them.
If he could make something more of a team that Hextall himself acknowledged was far from elite - if he could show that the Flyers' turnaround last season didn't result from sheer desperation, a new system, and the sound of a new voice behind the bench - maybe the franchise wouldn't need to make a fresh, clean start at head coach. But, in those respects, and independent of the roster's shortcomings, Berube has made some egregious mistakes.
The worst and most obvious has been his mishandling of goaltender Steve Mason - his risking Mason's health by rushing him back into the lineup after knee surgery in February, his decision to humiliate Mason by yanking him from a 4-1 loss in Calgary last week, his taking the Flyers' player and position of least worry and turning them into a source of controversy and tension.
On a team in need of scoring, he's also done little to wring any production from Vinny Lecavalier, playing him out of position on right wing, adding weight to the albatross that is Lecavalier's five-year, $22.5 million contract.
Mason is the Flyers' most valuable player. Lecavalier is their most accomplished. Berube has damaged his relationship with each of them, and you're kidding yourself if you think the other players in that locker room haven't noticed.
"There's obviously something that we haven't done enough of, and I don't think the word is effort," Lecavalier said. "I don't think it's that. It might be other things. You can look at games, and you can make your own opinion on what you think."
Go around that room Tuesday, and every Flyers player was measured and diplomatic when Berube's status was broached.
I don't make that decision. We'll have to see.
Nobody stood on a soapbox to defend him. Nobody had much to say.
Maybe they're numb to the whole mess now, just as the coach joked he was. Eight games left now in this forgettable Flyers season, and Craig Berube knows it as well as anyone who has coached in the National Hockey League: Once the end arrives, anything can happen. These are the Flyers. Anything usually does.