SOMEHOW, someway Craig Berube awoke this morning still the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.
He conducted exit interviews yesterday, despite the fact his job is in jeopardy. Given the circumstances, it was not awkward or unsettling, he said.
Berube said it did not bother him that he was forced to answer questions yet again yesterday with his underwear practically flapping on a flagpole for all to see outside Skate Zone and his boss not rushing to pull it down.
Ron Hextall conducted his own interviews yesterday (on a separate floor) and did nothing to quash the overwhelming rumors. The situation has devolved into the bizarre.
Toronto and Buffalo both cleaned house already on Sunday. Hextall is not slated to meet the media until tomorrow.
"It's not any more uneasy than it was a week ago, or whatever," Berube said. "Things come out in the paper about my status. I'm just going about my business, meetings and things that have to be cleaned up at the end of the year. It doesn't hurt. What bothers me is not making the playoffs and the season we had. We all expected more."
Everyone except Berube expects the other shoe to drop.
What's taking so long?
For one, Hextall likely wanted to check the pulse of the coaching staff. Plus, the rest of the coaching world hasn't been completely shaken up yet. There's no rush right now. Toronto fired journeyman interim coach Peter Horachek. Buffalo canned Ted Nolan. They are not Flyers candidates.
Tough decisions loom in San Jose, Boston, Arizona, Edmonton and even Los Angeles after a report that Darryl Sutter was locked out of the locker room by his team after a loss. Heads could roll in Pittsburgh, Montreal, St. Louis and even Anaheim if quick first-round exits result.
It seems like cruel and unusual punishment for Hextall to keep Berube without some sort of vote of confidence by now.
When asked about Berube, the Flyers' responses have changed drastically since December or January. They've shifted from "it's not the coach's fault" to "we'll see what happens."
Vinny Lecavalier said point-blank it's "fair to say" he cannot co-exist with Berube for another season. Other players, such as Andrew MacDonald, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Sean Couturier and Steve Mason were less direct, but certainly did not seem as if they would mind a fresh start.
"As a player, you show up to the rink and do what you are told," said MacDonald, who was scratched seven times this season. "It can be difficult. After a season like this, personally, you're looking forward to the next season and whoever is behind the bench."
Those Flyers commended Berube for being a "players' coach," but weren't overly complimentary. Only Ryan White, who was promoted to the power play and given the opportunity to flex his offensive muscles, went as far as to say he looked forward to Berube returning.
Couturier had pointed words for Berube's criticism about a lack of offensive production, considering the role he was asked to play on a nightly basis.
"I'm not going to lie," Couturier said. "It is tough to produce when you start in your end most of the time. I don't want to be known as only the 'shutdown' guy like I've been for the past few years. I want to take a step forward offensively, be a go-to guy when we're down a goal or we need offense. I think it's always going to be a part of my game - big faceoffs in our end late in games - but if I can get more responsibilities at the other end of the ice, that, for sure, can help my production."
On top of all his other blunders for the season - the handling of Mason, the burying of Lecavalier, the inexplicable scratching of Del Zotto, preferential treatment of R.J. Umberger, the preparation woes - Berube's mind-numbing response for Couturier might have helped seal his coaching fate.
"Patrice Bergeron is a defensive, two-way forward much like Couturier, and he starts all those faceoffs in his own end, too," Berube said. "He seems to come out OK, right?"
Yes, Berube compared Couturier, 22, to a 29-year-old two-time Selke Trophy winner as best defensive forward, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Canada who scored a Stanley Cup-winning goal.
In fact, Bergeron enjoyed 109 more offensive-zone starts than Couturier this season. At even-strength, Couturier actually finished with more points per offensive-zone start (.089) than Bergeron (.088). Couturier also earns $7 million less per year and doesn't have enough capable puck-moving defensemen playing behind him to help get out of the zone.
"You're telling me Couturier starts in the defensive zone too much. Well, that's his job," Berube said. "We're trying to make a bit of an excuse here that I'm using him in the defensive zone too much. For him to develop as a better offensive player, he's got to learn how to produce starting in the defensive zone."
That would be like chopping off both my hands and yelling at me to write a better column. It was a dumbfounding answer to an important, relevant topic.
It was another tangible example why Berube should be walking the plank soon. If he isn't, Hextall will have a lot of explaining to do to an incensed fan base and a curious crop of players.
"It's a great job. It really is," Berube said. "It's a roller coaster. When you're in a town like Philadelphia, you've got to accept the good and the bad. You know that you're going to get critiqued, you know that you're going to get criticized. You've got to understand that."