Flyers fire coach Craig Berube
On Wednesday afternoon, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said he was still evaluating whether or not to retain coach Craig Berube for another season. Despite a disappointing record and a year of looking at the coach up close, Hextall said:
A shade over a day. That was all the time required for a wavering Ron Hextall to determine the job status of a man without a shadow of a doubt.
The Flyers general manager held a news conference on Wednesday afternoon and announced he was neither dismissing nor keeping head coach Craig Berube. He made up his mind Thursday night after a supposedly "methodical" process with "due diligence."
Berube, 49, was fired yesterday morning, capping off one of the most head-scratching weeks in a franchise history full of them.
What did Hextall discover in those 30 hours that he didn't realize in the previous 19 days since the Flyers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs?
"Well, nothing changed," Hextall said. "It's just a process that I went through. I wanted to make the right decision. Once I kind of put all the facts together, and in the end, you go with your gut.
"In a nutshell, in the end, I didn't feel like he got enough out of our group collectively."
That the Flyers featured two players in the top 10 in scoring, a goaltender with a Vezina Trophy-caliber season, a defenseman ranked ninth in points and still couldn't finish within 14 points of a playoff berth spoke of something amiss.
According to Hextall, his conversation notifying Berube he'd been fired was "fairly brief," and the former enforcer was "stoic" and "that was it."
No replacement was named. A lengthy search for the Flyers' 19th head coach is likely to ensue, considering the breadth of coaching candidates to be available this summer - a class arguably deeper than the upcoming NHL draft.
Detroit's Mike Babcock and San Jose's Todd McLellan - two coaches currently employed - will be front-runners for the job, should they become available.
The man replacing Berube will become the fifth head coach to start a season with the team since 2006. All four of the previously fired left town with a winning record: Berube, Peter Laviolette, John Stevens and Ken Hitchcock.
Berube, who had a year remaining on his contract, is unlikely to be offered a new role with the team. He spent part of 18 seasons with the Flyers, including two stints as a player beginning in 1986, and has been a coach in some role with the organization since 2004.
In 161 games at the helm, Berube went 75-58-28 for a .553 points winning percentage. Last season, he helped the Flyers become one of only five teams since 2005 to overcome a four-point or more deficit in the standings on Nov. 1 and make the playoffs. In the first round, the Flyers lost to the Stanley Cup finalist Rangers in the most lopsided of Game 7 series.
The fate of assistant coaches Ian Laperriere, Gord Murphy and Joe Mullen will be left in the hand of Berube's successor. Goaltending coach Jeff Reese parted ways with the organization with 17 games remaining in the season over an apparent dispute about the way Berube and the team handled Steve Mason and his injuries.
Despite rather lukewarm comments from the Flyers' players as they cleaned out their lockers on Monday, Hextall said he did not ask one player specifically about Berube during exit interviews.
"It's a feel. It's about the evidence on the ice," Hextall said. "I'm not one of those guys that necessarily looks at the players and [wonders], are the players happy or are the players unhappy? So if you start asking pinpointing questions, I don't think it's fair analysis of a coach. In the end, it's more collectively as a group, it's getting the most out of each individual and then collectively pulling that effort together, and in the end squeezing the most out of your team. And that's the part that I just felt like in the end, it wasn't enough."
Hextall declined to specify which players he thought were poorly positioned, but the names of Sean Couturier, Vinny Lecavalier, and defenseman Luke Schenn come to mind.
Hextall also said he would keep his conversation with chairman Ed Snider and president Paul Holmgren about the decision to fire Berube as "inside information." Snider and Holmgren could not have been thrilled about Hextall's indecision with a good soldier flapping in the breeze.
"I will say that when I talked [them] through the process here," Hextall said, "that whatever decision I made, they were comfortable with."
"I know that Ron has agonized over making this decision," Snider said in a statement. "He studied over the situation very carefully and finally made the decision. Obviously, he is the general manager and I support him in what he does and I am looking forward to whoever he hires and hoping we can have a much better season next year than we did this season."
Hextall reiterated the decision to cut ties with Berube had nothing to do with the available crop of coaches.
Babcock and McLellan would be at the top of the list. Like Berube, McLellan is in limbo with the Sharks, particularly after pointed comments by players this week. Babcock is in the heat of Round 1 against Tampa Bay, but does not have a contract for next season.
If those two are unavailable, former NHL head coaches Dan Bylsma, Guy Boucher, Pete DeBoer, Mike Keenan, John Tortorella, Terry Murray and Stevens would likely be considered.
One hot commodity who does not have NHL experience is Benoit Groulx (pronounced ben-WAHH GROO), current coach of the Quebec Major Junior League's Gatineau Olympiques. Groulx guided Flyers captain Claude Giroux to three straight 100-point seasons and a QMJHL championship. The two have remained close.
Hextall said NHL experience would be "one of the things you look for, but that's not mandatory." He called it "nice" but not "imperative."
Perhaps one imperative item on a resumé would include no previous ties to the Flyers, who are notorious for hiring old connections part of the "old boys' network." That theoretically would exclude Keenan, Murray, Stevens, Mike Stothers and Kevin Dineen.
"We're looking the right guy," Hextall said. "Whether he has connections or not is not going to be part of the equation. I don't care about that. We're looking for the best coach possible to coach our team moving forward."
When will that person be found? Hextall said he'd ideally have a person in place by the June 26-27 draft, but he wouldn't "fast-track anything" and he's definitely "not going to do something in the next couple of weeks for sure."
In fact, Hextall said he won't even start to think about any potential candidates for the next couple of days. Given his unpredictability with time frames, don't count on that, either.
"If it wasn't a tough decision, it would've been done on Sunday," Hextall said. "It was a tough decision. I believe Craig is an NHL coach and will go on to be an NHL coach. If you don't think it's the right head coach, you've got to move on, and that's what we did here. As we get into the summer here and we start to do our research here, we'll come up with a guy that we feel is the right guy."