I hold a rather unpopular opinion of Coach Lavvy, I've been told. I don't disagree with this assertion I don't like the man's strategy. He has a great attitude and gives his team platitudes and attempts to motivate them to do better, but as we saw in Carolina, that messages gets stale and ripe. The fact that Carolina cut him loose so soon after winning a Cup is a red flag to me. Lavvy had to have an inherent flaw for an organization to cut him loose after accomplishing such a monumental feat. From the evidence I gathered regarding the Carolina incident, the consensus was that Lavvy's message had grown stale to the players, and that they stopped listening. In hindsight, this is not surprising, because Lavvy's system requires an extremely high amount of leg strength and stamina, on a period in and period out basis. It's the type of attrition that would turn the most finely tuned off us into a puddle of physical exertion. When Lavvy's system is executed and the team plays a full 60 minutes, his team is hard to beat. Lavvy's defense is his offense, an offense that pinches at the blue-line and keeps the puck in the defensive end. This consistent offensive pressure cuts the ice in half, and any offense that the other team can muster is stifled by a back-check and in Carolina's situation, gobbled up by a terrific goalie in his own right, Cam Ward. Lavvy's teams also thrive on their ability to stay out of the box, because in order for a defenseman to pinch on a puck, they either have to be at even strength or the man advantage.
Of course as we all know, that year that Lavvy came the ship was righted, in the eyes of many. The Flyers had come close to winning a Cup, 2 games away to be precise. What was even more impressive was that Lavvy was not riding Cam Ward, but Michael F'ing Leighton and Brian Boucher. Today, we attribute the success of the goalies to a defensive backbone that was buttressed by phenomenal play by both Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger. The backcheck was pioneered by guys like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, whose 2 way prowess masked the weaknesses in Lavvy's system (it seemed as if when a defenseman pinched, a forward would rotate back to his spot. It wasn't out of the ordinary to see Carle or Coburn down low and Hartnell o
r Richards back there with Pronger or Timonen). In addition to an outstanding defensive effort, the goalie tandem was being asked to purely clean up any chances that came back the other way, and they did. This tandem complemented our defense. It must also be stated that the Flyers got to the Cup with a healthy dose of luck, involving a shootout against the Rangers, a questionable New Jersey Devils team, a Boston meltdown, and a Canadiens team that with Cammaleri toppled a potential Keystone State Eastern Conference showdown (a much anticipated showdown based on the previous 2 playoff meetings between the Flyers and Penguins). That Montreal series gave us many memories, the Richie goal on the breakaway headlining them. More phenomenal goaltending, and the Flyers went to the Finals, and lost to the Hawks in 6. This will be the first time I've ever accepted or said this, but Michael Leighton did a hell of a job, and it's a shame that things went the way they did. For what he gave us that season he deserved a better fate, but the hockey Gods are unkind. It was a weak shot, but Leighton had stopped so many better chances, so it's a wash. The Flyers were poised to have a great campaign the next season. Hell, we were all pumped.
The Flyers conducted a season of questionable off-season moves that now we all come to suspect. The disastrous Gagne boot out of town that followed the Meszaros pickup that left us violating a certain salary cap. Leighton got a new contract, but was hurt during or directly after the signing of the contract. Bob entered the mix, Boucher's backup/complimentary role. We were all pumped for the season. The season went well, but not without questions that stated to linger. These questions didn't disappear, but in fact became more and more alarming, to the point that (it's my belief) cost this team the season. My problems with Lavvy during last year's campaign
1) Despite the sirens that Bob had only played so many games in a short KHL season, Lavvy decided to run Bobs into the ground. This was frustrating to many of us, because Boucher was a serviceable and more than capable backup that could spell Bobs, even potentially split the workload with Bobs, perhaps to keep Bobs fresh. As we all know, this did not happen. Bobs was run into the ground and Boucher was expected to pick up the pieces of a team that many thought were tired at the end of the year, due potentially to a high workload and high demand from their coach. The Flyers limped into the playoffs with this goalie dilemma, and many of us thought that Lavvy would stick to the 2 goalies that got us there in the first place (Bobs and Boucher). I preferred this option, even with a fatigued Bobs, because I believed in Boucher could keep this team in game's with the occasional Bobs start in the Buffalo series. As we all saw, this went to hell. Lavvy used 3 different goalies in the first round. He did not hesitate in lifting the goalie that he months before relied on so heavily (after of course driving him into the ground). What makes matters even worse? Before Leighton was institued in game 5, Boucher had won the 2 games with stellar goalie play, and lost 2 games 1-0. Bob had started one game and was lifted 12 minutes in, being replaced by Boucher, wit the Flyers eventually winning that game. Well in game 5, Lavvy decided to start Michael Leighton (he of the Adirondack Phantoms Michael Leighton) cold off of the bench, and for what reason? Boucher lost 2 games 1-0? Why not give Bobs another shot, after only playing 12 minutes total in the four aforementioned games? No, he decides to start Leighton in game 5, where he promptly has the worst performance of the previous 4 games. I claim that Lavvy has no idea what he is doing with his goalies, because Boucher deserved to start that game 5. So, I thought Lavvy learned from his mistake and would go with Boucher for game 6. Nope, he starts Leighton, Leighton plays terribly, and he's lifted for Boucher, who goes onto win the game in a relief appearance. Boucher goes onto win game 7, and all is right in the world, except this is my problem. If the complaint is that Boucher was tired, then why the hell did he play in 6/7 games, and not just played, but played well. The 2 Leighton starts still blow my mind, and is a main source of my criticism for Lavvy. I really don't get it 9 months later, and it's something that I will never get. In the Boston series Bobrovsky comes in in a relief appearance in the 2nd game, does what’s asked of him, and Boucher finishes the game off. Boucher starts game 3 and Bobs starts game 4. My question is: Why not do this during the Buffalo series? Why not start your best goalies, forego a 7 game series, so that maybe you have a prayer against a formidable team in Boston. Instead, Lavvy decides to make an extra 10 moves in Chess when he could’ve won in 8.
2) During the regular season, Lavvy benched Zherdev and gave him 4th line minutes, which he still produced in. Regardless of what your feelings towards Zherdev are, he’s an extremely talented player. He made some moves that would leave you in awe. Despite criticisms in the past that Zherdev coasted in the neutral zone and didn’t play defense, he was spotted playing defense and backchecking. Apparently, his attitude wasn’t good enough for Lavvy, and Lavvy gave him menial minutes and sat him in the press box (and at one point Zherdev found himself a Phantom), while inferior skilled players started in his place. During the days when this team looked disinterested (as reported by the media in Philly), Lavvy thought it best to bench Zherdev or give him under 10 minutes a game (when he was even on the roster). Zherdev was a player that was ready to play, and he sat and rotted away on the bench, in the press box, or not even on the pro-team. And to me, this was all started by Lavvy’s stubbornness and personal vendetta towards Zherdev. While this team looked tired in the late stages of the season, I asked to myself if Zherdev would’ve made a difference, and spot started for some of the other forwards. It might’ve not made a huge difference, but I believe it would’ve helped. Instead we saw a tired team stumbling into the playoffs, where amazingly Zherdev was now starting. So he’s not good enough for the regular season, but he’s playoff ready? It just seemed like one Lavvy mistake after another. It pissed me off that Lavvy would do this for a whole season, then expect the guy to perform in the playoffs (which he infact did).
3) During the Boston series, we saw a Flyers team get manhandled. It’s important to note that this team never gave up, which was illustrated by then Captain Mike Richards diving to stop a 3rd empty net goal in game 4 when the Bruins were already leading 5-1. The guy had a tremendous amount of heart, which made me ask myself, are they really tired to the point of being swept in 4 games? The answer to that question, was in fact no. Looking at the games as a whole, one thing became apparent: Lavvy was outcoached by Hank Hill’s bald neighbor. Lavvy mismanaging his lines prevented the Flyers from taking advantage of the Bruins’ weak lines, and put the Flyers at a disadvantage when the 4th line was left to defend the likes of Lucic and Krejci, which is a mismatch to say the least. It’s a mismatch that a coach should pick up on, and Lavvy did not. The Bruins were not 4 games to 0 better than the Flyers. Lavvy dropped the ball in this series, and it showed. This manhandling no doubt in my mind contributed to a yearning for a cleaning of house, because obviously it’s the players who failed the Flyers, right? Offseason comes, the targets of discontent are gone, and there’s not a single problem in the sky, right?
4) And here comes the icing on the cake, and the problem that will plague the Flyers until they choose to address it. What helped out Lavvy’s system was that the defense was one of the best in the nation. Pronger was injured for a decent amount of last year, and wasn’t going to start the beginning of this year. Pronger’s absence against the Bruins was a big issue, but one that a coach would prepare for. Thing is, he didn’t prepare for that absence against the Bruins, which made me question the beginning of this year. The beginning of this year started without issue, the team looked like a well put-together team, a surprise in fact. People believe that Bryz will steal you a game, but we have found out that’s not the case. People then jumped on the Bob train and believed that he would steal you a game, and that’s now apparently a baseless assumption. What is becoming a consistent issue for the last month or so, is that the defense is playing average on the best of nights, and needs their goalies to bail them out of breakaways and turnovers in their defensive zone on the worst of nights. What has become obvious to us is apparently lost on Lavvy, because it’s an issue game in and game out. The turnovers happen, and it’s a toss that night if the goalie is up to the challenge. As I was writing this Bobs let in 3 goals that were really none of his fault, and defended a barrage of breakaway and odd man chances that the Flyers defense failed to stop. The defense failed Bob, and by defense I mean the defensive core and the back-checking forwards. Yet a week ago Bob had a stellar performance against this same team, with the same team getting the same odd man and breakaway chances. The defense problem is glaring, and Lavvy is showing no initiative to change it. Instead he seems unconcerned, unwilling to change his scheme, or adapt his scheme to bail out his goaltenders that essentially have to bail out this team every night. Every single game this is an issue as of late, and as of late is actually more like a month. I’d call it a slump if it was unique, but it’s not. It’s a problem that Lavvy has had intermittently without the help of Chris Pronger, and it’s a problem that doesn’t look to go away.
This team cannot afford to have its offensive star slumping while the defense is left to fend for itself. While the offense is performing, the defense still looks bad, but is bearable because wins are still registered. My problem with Lavvy is that he is not concerned with the defense, at all. I’m of the opinion that teams win games with a stellar defense supported by an outstanding goaltender and an offense that outlasts the other team and wins the war of attrition. With Lavvy, there is no commitment to defense, which causes the goalie to look bad, which puts stress on the offense. Unless you have a defenseman the likes of Chris Pronger or extremely favorable matchups that pit you against the Oilers in the Cup Finals, Lavvy seems to struggle as a coach. He also has a habit of burning out his players with needless bag skates after a poor performance ending a five game winning streak, or a bag skate at the tail end of the season where the team looks burnt out. It’s mind-boggling to me, but it appears to only bother a small subset of us