It didn't come as a shock to many. After last season, this pre-season and three games into the regular season, it was clear something was going to change for the Flyers. The chemistry wasn't there, the defense was a mess and there was no energy to speak of. In the words of Laviolette, there was zero "jam" coming from the Flyers.
So, in the wake of all this, Peter Laviolette took the hit for the underachieving Flyers. Lavy got the unpleasant phone call from Paul Holmgren on Monday morning, receiving the news that he would no longer be coaching in the City of Brotherly Love. He will be replaced by Craig Berube, who has coached the Flyers as an assistant for the passed seven years.
Was this the right move? Who knows really. Sure, the team has played pretty poor dating back to the beginning of last season, but is it fair to put all the blame on Laviolette? Probably not, but in the world of hockey, the coach is always the first to go when things aren't going well. It's truly a shame given how well liked Laviolette was here, but it was only a matter of time before he got the axe with the team's recent play and his winning capabilities. After all, he is now the third longest tenured coach in Flyers' history, as well as bringing the team back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1997. Let's not forget that Laviolette also lead the Flyers to an improbable comeback against Boston in 2010. But all coaches have a shelf life, and Lavy's was up according to management.
With Laviolette gone, the pressure is on in Philadelphia for the team to win. Who should be feeling the heat the most? None other than Paul Holmgren. Holmgren has had an up and down stint as GM of the Flyers. He has made some great moves, bad moves and some that you're just not too sure about.
He built a cup-contending team in the summer of 2009. Holmgren brought in all of the necessary players to push the team over the hump. Chris Pronger was traded for, Ray Emery was signed and Ian Laperriere came aboard. The Flyers got a number one defense man, a starting goaltender and a depth, role player all in one swing. His mid-season move to bring in Peter Laviolette (a coach with a cup ring) gave the team a winning coach with a tremendous track record in order to lead them. Mesh that with the amazing offensive talent in the top nine of forwards and you have an all-star line-up. We all know how that season ended, but Holmgren did everything he could to win that year.
But the real criticism started for Holmgren in the summer of 2010, right after the Flyers lost in the Cup final to the Blackhawks. Going into the summer, Holmgren needed to fix two things that costed them the cup: sure up the defense and find a starting goaltender. He took care of the defense by trading for Andrej Meszaros (the team's best defense man that year) and signing Sean O'Donnell. The goaltending situation was another story. Holmgren opted to re-sign Michael Leighton, hold onto Brian Boucher and stand pat. To make things all the more worse, rumors were flying around indicating the Kings had interest in Jeff Carter and were willing to part with one of their goaltenders (Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier) to obtain him. On a team which had Mike Richards, Claude Giroux and Danny Briere as top three centers, the deal made too much sense to make.
Instead, Holmgren refused to deal Carter, and opted to ship out Simon Gagne for a bag of pucks. The decision obviousley did not sit well with the Flyers' fan base, and that's when fans began to turn on him. After the Flyers were bounced by the Bruins in disgusting fashion in the playoffs of 2011, everybody knew changes were coming.
The Richards and Carter deals are the biggest ones Holmgren has made to date, the ironic part being that it wasn't his decision to trade them. There are different opinions on those deals, but for the most part he can't be blamed for them. Both players had huge, unnecessary contracts, failed the team as leaders (as clearly seen in the Boston series of 2011) and both brought in young talent to form the team's core for the foreseeable future in Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn.
The Ilya Bryzgalov signing will go down as one of the most infamous deals in team history. Not only did Bryzgalov not live up to expectations, but he developed a hatred from the fans and his fellow teammates. Result? The largest buy-out in team history. Put it this was: I'll be 33 by the time the Flyers stop paying Bryzgalov.
Holmgren had a pretty good summer in 2013. He got the top-rated forward and best defense man on the market (Vinny Lecavalier and Mark Streit) and signed former-Flyer Ray Emery to fill out the goaltending duo along with Steve Mason. Not a bad summer by any means.
But at the end of the day, the Flyers are underachieving. It can be blamed on all sorts of things: bad luck, shaky defense, lack of offence or what ever. Holmgren tries every year to make the Flyers a cup-contending team, and while this is a great mentality, it has also proved to be his worst enemy. Impulsive decisions and knee-jerk reactions by Holmgren have plagued Philadelphia in the past, and he doesn't seem to be changing his ways.
If the Flyers continue their struggles, Holmgren will be the next to blame and the Flyers will be headed for a re-build. Don't think Holmgren's leash is that long in Philadelphia either, because Ron Hextall was brought over to Flyers' management for a reason.