WHEN CRAIG BERUBE was tabbed to replace Peter Laviolette as the Flyers head coach in October of 2013, he vowed to make them a more responsible bunch, one that would compete hard every night, one that would never take a shift or a game off, one that would become more consistent.
Now, as his second season and first full one as their coach has been completed, Berube's future as that coach may be determined by the execution of those principles, and not the way he imagined back on that day. Because the perception of the 2014-2015 Flyers is that they did not compete hard every night, that shifts and games were taken off, and that they were anything but consistent.
The Flyers had a stellar 23-11-7 record at home and a dismal 10-20-11 record on the road. You have to go back nearly 30 years to find a greater disparity, and that 53-win team won more games than it lost on the road. They finished the season winless in their last 11 games against non-playoff teams, yet beat Pittsburgh (twice), Chicago and the Islanders over their final six games.
Players point to this as evidence that they are a better team than the record shows. Having witnessed it work in reverse when the Flyers were, in fact, a well-situated playoff team, I'm not sure that's the case. The Blackhawks lucked out a victory in Carolina before the Flyers beat them here. The Penguins have been black and white and red all over down the stretch.
"Against the non-playoff teams I thought we didn't initiate the play enough,'' said Mark Streit. "We didn't force our game on the other team, didn't play aggressive enough, or didn't skate enough. There were definitely not enough emotions in those games. That's something that's got to change.''
Said Berube: "A lot of the things on the road, individual players never performed on the road."
For a team forced to play catch-up because of another slow start, both explanations are unfathomable.
More likely is when both teams brought their "A'' game, the Flyers lost. It explains the disparity in records, the even-strength impotency, the shorthanded struggles, even their perennially abysmal shootout records.
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has told us repeatedly that he doesn't buy this, that he believes he had constructed a playoff-worthy team, albeit not an "elite" one. And so, sometime between the next few hours or next few weeks, he will decide how much of what transpired traced to a miscalculation on his part and how much falls on the coach he inherited.
You see where this is going, don't you?
For Berube, not in a good direction.
After Saturday's 3-1 home loss to Ottawa punctuated this inconsistent, goal-starved season, Berube answered a question about what he hoped Hextall would see in his assessment. He touted "five-on-five play defensively" while conceding a lack of offensive, even-strength prowess. He called the team's poor penalty kill "unusual" and said he expected it "to be good again," but did not say how.
It wasn't much of a sell, and it suggested that Berube is not as enamored of his roster as it stands as he professed to be down the stretch. Because to be better at the penalty kill, they will need to fill the glaring hole the illness and departure of Kimmo Timonen created. To be better five-on-five, they will need tougher-minded secondary players to take some heat and hurt off the team's top guns.
Jake Voracek, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Mark Streit.
This is what Berube meant when he spoke about leadership after a meeting with the team last Wednesday.
"I think with Timonen and [Scott] Hartnell gone this year, the room was sort of turned over to these guys,'' said the coach. "Simmer and Jake and Streiter and G. I think they've done a good job. It has to get better for sure. But we need more guys to latch on. More guys to help. It's not all on these guys. It's everybody.''
But it wasn't. Matt Read disappeared. Still only 22, Sean Couturier's development into a scoring threat has been slower than anticipated. Brayden Schenn's game came and went and came again. Brother Luke Schenn regressed.
Vinny LeCavalier, R.J. Umberger - the list of perceived underachievers is sizable. Hextall must determine whether any or all can become better through a coaching change or whether the coach did all he could do with overvalued pieces.
"I think we prepare the team the same way, road, teams that aren't in the playoffs,'' Berube said last week. "We even actually warn them about teams that are desperate that are out of the playoffs, that are trying to get into the playoffs. It's just a mindset to me.''
A mindset that he was in charge of shaping. By season's end, many of those minds either damned him with faint praise or raised the old "I'm only a player" shield when asked about their coach's fate.
"If you don't make the playoffs, it's not the coach, it's not two or three players," Streit said. "It's the whole team."
Yes, yes. But replacing an entire team is hard, maybe even impossible.
The other thing though?
As easy as one-two-three.
On Twitter: @samdonnellon