Frank Seravalli: A coaching change must come first
The Flyers and Craig Berube need to part ways early next week.
That is the most glaring and immediate priority for Ron Hextall, as he begins to sift through the wreckage of a franchise that will watch the Stanley Cup playoffs go on without it for the second time in three springs.
Berube, 49, poorly managed and deployed the imperfect roster he was handed.
Just last week, Berube barked about the need for Sean Couturier, still 22, to score more, unfazed by the fact he sends Couturier on the ice for an offensive-zone faceoff just 26 percent of the time. It’s hard to score when you finally cross the opposition’s blue line 40 seconds into a shift — particularly when you’re playing against the top line.
Vinny Lecavalier should never be benched for Zac Rinaldo. How is it possible that Michael Del Zotto was scratched for nearly the entire month of December during such a crucial stretch?
Andrew MacDonald was scratched 6 weeks into a 6-year, $30 million deal. He had to be thinking: What kind of mistake did I make signing here?
With an itchy trigger and unkept promises, Berube then spiraled the Flyers’ most consistent position into an unnecessary chain of controversy, subjecting backbone Steve Mason to further injury in the process. It forced out goaltending coach Jeff Reese with 17 games to play, on the eve of the biggest game of the season, March 7 in Boston.
All of those baffling moves contributed to the mental fragility that defined this Flyers season.
“Last year, we had this mojo going in the third periods where we ended up coming from behind a lot. We knew we were going to,” Berube said. “This year, we didn’t seem to have that mojo. Things go the other way a little bit and it can really weigh on your mind. It can create things in your head and you can think negatively.”
Edmonton’s Todd Nelson already changed the feel of a young doormat in one half season. Look at what Peter Laviolette has accomplished in Nashville.
A coaching change is the easiest, most meaningful way to spur a turnaround. The Flyers desperately need a voice from outside the organization. It just so happens this may be the best summer ever to hire one.
Marcus Hayes: Trade Giroux and Voracek
This team’s best players are Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek.
This team cannot win without a better defense. It can not win a single playoff series.
Considering the defense is at least 2 years from bearing the fruit of the Flyers’ wise investments, the only logical course, for now, is for general manager Ron Hextall to trade Giroux and Voracek. They have their maximum value now, and it would save a ton of money in the process.
Giroux is 27, and, possessed of uncanny vision, wonderful instincts, magical hands and nimble feet, he is a wonder to behold. He is worth every bit of his $8.275 million average annual value, which runs through 2022.
Giroux also is miscast as captain in Philadelphia, a city with a deserved reputation for being merciless. More and more, Giroux has become easier to contain in 5-on-5 situations.
With a different club, freed of the captaincy burden and helped by a different lineup, Giroux could make a real run at the Hart Trophy. Every player with his talent deserves that at least once in his career, and that won’t happen in Philadelphia for a couple of seasons.
Voracek, who will be 26 next season, has blossomed into his pedigree, when he was picked seventh overall in 2007.
The case for keeping Voracek might be stronger. He’s bigger than Giroux, at 6-2 and 214 pounds. He’s a little younger. For now, he’s cheaper, by about half.
Voracek also is a free agent after next season, which introduces several variables. Perhaps the Flyers will pre-emptively extend him to cement a talent base for the future. Perhaps they believe he is a product of Giroux’s genius and hope to unload him for picks or prospects. Perhaps they can market him as a short-term risk for whoever gets him.
It just seems foolish to waste two players’ prime years on a team destined for mediocrity. They will be relentlessly ground down the next two seasons, assuming Voracek stays, while the Flyers are hopelessly outclassed by at least five or six other clubs in the Eastern Conference and by at least as many in the West.
Two bad deals brought the Flyers costly, faded stars at forward. Bad luck cost them veteran defensemen.
That is the past.
Trading Giroux and Voracek frames the future.
Sam Donnellon: Both a new coach and a defensive upgrade
There’s no question in my mind the Flyers need a new coach, because in hockey a new coach always equates with a new start. No-nonsense approaches only work when you win. Otherwise, all it does is lose the room, which I think has happened, sadly, to Craig Berube.
But the new guy will have the same problems the old coach did, and the biggest one is this: They need an experienced, No. 1 defenseman on this team, and soon, because the promising young blue liners this team’s future is tied to will be coming through in the next season or two and will need that guy, that anchor.
Former Flyer and hockey analyst Keith Jones has said often that this is what the team is missing most, and I agree. I’m not sure it’s a cure-all, but it does seem to be the one ingredient the so-called “elite“ teams have in common.
Consider the last time the Flyers made the Stanley Cup finals. They did so with two well-traveled goaltenders playing above expectations, with a team that was inconsistent all season and made the playoffs via a shootout, after nearly coughing up that playoff spot over the last three games of the season.
The Flyers were a middle-of-the-pack team in both goals scored (10th) and goals against (tie, 14th). But they had Chris Pronger, healthy for 82 regular-season games that season, performing in the playoffs at age 35 the way Paul Holmgren imagined he would when he gave him all that money. Pronger allowed other talented defensemen on the team to be slotted appropriately: Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle.
Coburn, at 25, played so well in that postseason that it appeared he too was developing into a No. 1.
That, of course, never happened. Coburn lost his game, his confidence over the last two seasons, and was traded this year at the deadline for a better future. Financially burdened by cap decisions, the Flyers also lost Carle, who had played well as Pronger’s partner but not nearly as well without him, to free agency in 2012.
They have been scrambling for an identity since: Former coach Peter Laviolette’s cure was to draw you into a goal-trading war. Berube got this team to play over its collective head last season with a conscientious, but mentally grinding (over 82 games) approach.
It’s torturous: After years of pining for a young No. 1 goalie, they have one in Steve Mason. But it won’t be enough unless they fix what’s in front of him. And it starts with that anchor.
Ed Barkowitz: Will they have the patience to wait for the young defense?
There are pieces in the Flyers’ system to fix the defense, but the trouble could be whether general manager Ron Hextall’s plan of building and developing gets a chance to blossom. Ed Snider isn’t real interested in a multiyear project. The lack of a Stanley Cup since the Ford Administration is his primary motivation. But empty arenas during playoff time also are bad for business. That’s Snider’s problem — but since he runs the team, it could be a factor. If they make a run at 38-year-old unrestricted free agent defenseman Marek Zidlicky during free agency, we’ll know who is running things.
It’s naïve to think that all four of the top horses in the Flyers’ minor league stable of defensemen will develop into prized thoroughbreds. But give them time. Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim all have good size and all are under 21 years old. Shayne Gostisbehere, who is about to turn 22, is arguably the most intriguing of them all. But he’ll be coming off a torn ACL. The Flyers also picked up bruiser Radko Gudas in the Braydon Coburn deal. Gudas, 24, has a very friendly cap number ($992,000) for next season.
Michael Del Zotto, 24, seems to have found a home. Nick Schultz, 32, and Mark Streit, 37, are OK as short-term veterans. Andrew MacDonald, 28, and Luke Schenn, 25, had bouts of healthy-scratch-itis this season. MacDonald has 5 more years with a $5 million cap hit each year. Not saying this will be easy.
The Flyers do not need to immolate themselves the way the Sixers have. But they need a quarterback on the power play – like Kimmo Timonen, Eric Desjardins – and their penalty kill is near the bottom of the league’s rankings. Imagine how different things would have been had they landed Shea Weber in 2012.
Hextall has said he intends to build the defense from within the system. He has the talent, but does he have the time?
The most dreadful statistic in Flyersland obviously is no Stanley Cups since 1975. It haunts Snider like Scott Stevens’ hit on Eric Lindros or Patrick Kane’s goal to win the 2010 Stanley Cup at the Wells Fargo Center.
But here’s another distressing fact to consider: The last homegrown Flyers defenseman to play in an All-Star Game was Behn Wilson in 1981.