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Should Flyers coach Craig Berube be fired? A roundtable discussion

The writers here at BSH sat down on Monday to discuss our feelings about Flyers head coach Craig Berube. Below is our conversation.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Kurt R.: So before the season's final month or so, when the whole Steve Mason / Jeff Reese / Craig Berube thing happened, I thought that Berube stood a pretty good chance at being retained next year. Fringe team was hanging on the fringe of the playoff race.

Then Berube played Mason to the point where his goalie coach quit, the Flyers totally crapped themselves down the stretch, Berube called Mason out after a game or two, and now it sure seems like one of the two of them will be back.

And I have a really hard time seeing Hextall think enough of Berube's coaching ability to decide to kick Mason to the curb. So yes, I think Berube's gone.

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Kevin Christmann: I'm having a really tough time coming to a decision as to whether or not I think Berube comes back. I think I'd put it at maybe 65/35 to him being fired, and I think it'd be the right move.

I have almost no faith in Berube's ability to adequately judge talent. Whether it's him opting for Chris VandeVelde as his first choice to play wing alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, or him routinely sitting guys like Michael Del Zotto or Carlo Colaiacovo, I just don't trust his talent evaluation.

You ask what he does well ... is it sad that I don't know if I can find something? I hate coming across as a pessimist but I'm just really not sure. I guess he has made the team much more disciplined and he does put an emphasis on being in shape.

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Mary Clarke: Berube's mismanagement of players this season really has been the biggest takeaway for me this year. You can point to a whole handful of mistakes, with the Mason situation being just the tip of the iceberg. Vincent Lecavalier's production falling off a cliff, consistently starting Zac Rinaldo despite his lack of offensive talent and his on-ice shenanigans, rotating defensemen without much reason, and on.

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Amidst an awful season, Nicklas Grossmann somehow evaded Craig Berube's quick trigger pull with healthy scratches. (USA Today)

Charlie O'Connor: Keeping the Teflon Grossmann in the lineup. Dragging the Couturier line down with an ineffective R.J. Umberger for the majority of the year. The carousel of scratches on defense, and the poor communication to the scratched players as to his reasoning for doing so. Continuing to dress an obviously-hampered Matt Read for two months when he could barely play NHL hockey. The fact that Rinaldo played 58 games.

When taken all together, it's not surprising that a team with two top-ten scorers and a goalie in the top-three in save percentage was out of realistic playoff contention by early March, and that's sad.

* * *

Kelly Hinkle: I was willing to give him a lot of rope at the start of the season, given the roster, and he went right ahead and hanged himself. The team is bad. Berube made stupid choice after stupid choice with his players that, in my opinion, made a bad team even worse.

And given the talent that will be available this summer, there just doesn't seem to be a good reason to keep him around.

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Travis Hughes: That's the kicker to me: the talent available this summer. Mike Babcock obviously tops the list, but Todd McLellan might be out there, maybe Claude Julien, Dallas Eakins .... Dan Bylsma *cricket noise* .... or any other number of rising star candidates from the AHL or college.

In all honesty, I don't know if there's a name on that list I wouldn't take over Berube right now. I was asked recently what I thought of Berube as head coach, and my basic response is "he's fine." I don't think he makes terribly egregious errors all that frequently, but the best head coaches in hockey are the ones that can squeeze every little bit of juice out of their lineup ... and that's even more important when you have a less-than-optimal lineup at your disposal.

With so many other people out there capable of doing just that, and with a roster that's salary crunched and unlikely to change all that much, they're going to need somebody behind the bench who can adapt this roster a bit better in the short-term. I don't think Berube is that guy -- but I hope he's out there somewhere.

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Kevin: If Dave Tippett is let go I'd have some interest in him too. He had a quote three years ago or so that always stood out to me (not to mention it touches on the topic of "talent evaluation" which as I indicated earlier, is something I question with Berube).

"I'll give you an example," he said. "We had a player that was supposed to be a great, shut-down defenseman. He was supposedly the be-all, end-all of defensemen. But when you did a 10-game analysis of him, you found out he was defending all the time because he can't move the puck.

"Then we had another guy, who supposedly couldn't defend a lick. Well, he was defending only 20 percent of the time because he's making good plays out of our end. He may not be the strongest defender, but he's only doing it 20 percent of the time. So the equation works out better the other way. I ended up trading the other defenseman."

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Andrew Devitt: Is Berube likely to be gone? Yeah I think so. Should he be gone? There I'm not so sure. There isn't much wrong with what Chief wants his team to do in terms of system. He likes active D, he says all the right things about puck possession, etc. Most importantly, we've seen this team play well when the right personnel mix happens to fall into place.

I think everyone so far has agreed that the biggest problem is getting that right mix on the ice, and Berube undeniably makes poor decisions with his lineup. But I'm not convinced any coach they bring in is going to correct those problems. Name a big name free agent coach, and you can list personnel gaffes up and down their lineups.

Not even the consensus rock star Mike Babcock is immune to the NHL group think with certain types of players.

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Charlie: Let's not forget last season. With Peter Laviolette either unable or unwilling to adjust his system to account for the team's weak defense, Berube was thrown into a mess of a situation. On the fly, he implemented a new conservative style centered around the forwards providing constant support to the defense, both in terms of defensive zone exits and aggressive backchecking on rushes. That and an increased emphasis on fitness and conditioning saw the Flyers rebound to make the playoffs and give the Rangers a run for their money in the first round.

Is Berube the adaptable, sharp hockey mind from last season, or the failed talent evaluator from this year?

So is Berube the adaptable, sharp hockey mind from last season, or the "results-over-process" failed talent evaluator from this year? Most likely, the answer is somewhere in the middle, and Ron Hextall needs to decide if that is enough.

The upcoming youth movement on defense needs to be taken into account, as well. If Berube benched Michael Del Zotto for a month, how will he adjust to the aggressive Shayne Gostisbehere? What if Sam Morin is a hitting machine but handles the puck like a hot potato? Will Berube lock him into top-four minutes like he's done with Grossmann? It's a serious concern, and one that may be the best reason to look for a new coach.

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Al K.: I hate to be the "middle of the road" guy here, but I think this is actually one of those rare instances in life where one group of people isn't completely right or wrong. To me, most people either think that Berube is the worst coach on the planet or largely just the victim of circumstance. I think it's a bit of both.

Sure, having the lineup that Paul Holmgren (mostly) and Ron Hextall gave him is certainly not great. And obviously that shouldn't count against him in any substantial way. So yes, he is certainly a victim of having years of terrible moves pile up at his doorstep.

However, Berube was willing to go the extra mile and take what I thought was a team capable of possibly snagging an eighth seed and make them completely ineffective. I won't get into the details of all the things I think he did wrong (see what Charlie and Mary said up there for more of that), but I think his coaching abilities are best summed up by the fact that ZAC RINALDO HAD POWER PLAY TIME THIS YEAR. Not a single coach in the NHL should ever do that under any circumstances.

I won't be completely shocked or upset if he doesn't leave before next season, because I seriously doubt many of the Flyers' prospects will be entering the NHL by then. But so help me, if he's still around to fuck up Gostisbehere, Morin, Sanheim, etc. by having absurd expectations or putting them in positions where success is impossible, I quit.

* * *

Kelly: Can we just publish Berube's quotes from Monday afternoon and then the poop emoji?

* * *

Kurt: I don't hate that plan!

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Ryan Gilbert: Berube's dealings with Steve Mason in February, and the eventual departure of Jeff Reese put it over the top. Pulling a goalie at a bad time to "change momentum" is one thing, but when that goalie is dressing on an emergency basis then it's a different story.

* * *

Charlie: Yeah, the Steve Mason situation really is the elephant in the room. If the reported stories really are true, then it's a no-brainer - Berube has to be gone. Mason just had one of the best seasons by a goaltender in franchise history, and he's clearly more valuable to the team than Berube. In a choice between the coach and the goalie, I'd hope that Hextall recognizes the obvious asset to pick.

I've heard from writers who I trust that there are serious issues between Mason and Berube; I've also heard from others that I trust that it's way overblown. So I'm not sure how to react to the rumors. I will say that there's a solid case to move on from Berube even if he still has the respect of Mason, which obviously is in question. If tension truly does exist, that turns a toss-up decision into an easy one in my opinion.

* * *

Collin Mehalick: Yeah, there are conflicting stories there, and it seems the only people who know what happened were the ones involved. If this becomes a battle between the core of the team and Berube -- an "either or" if you will -- then it's very easy to see that Berube will be the one packing.

But -- to play devil's advocate -- if Berube staying means Lecavalier retiring (and that albatross of a contract gone), do you go that route? You're not tied to Berube as tightly as you are to Lecavalier at this point.

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Meseret H.: I don't think Craig is the person we all expect to be the bench boss that leads this team to the Cup.

If I know I will only get 50,000 miles out of a car, but there are cars that can last 130,000 miles, why would I waste my time and money with the 50k one? Wouldn't I be patient and wait for one I know will get me farther?

Is Berube the guy to help grow the young players in the Flyers system, like Travis Sanheim? (USA Today)

For me the negatives, particularly with his usage of the teams young talent, outweigh the positives. I judge that heavier than the other things, because that is what we have to look forward to. Lots of young talent, particularly defensemen who will be coming up. And with any young player you need to guide them the right way and he hasn't shown a particular knack for doing that. Or at least foster an environment where making mistakes won't mean you only play three and a half minutes in a game, like he did with Jason Akeson.

He might be the tough love guy the veterans need, but as many of the better coaches out there will tell you, it's not all about bag skating and getting healthy scratched to get your message across.

* * *

Kurt: I normally hate to talk about this kind of stuff because it's mostly just navel-gazing, but have we noticed that everyone and their mothers who covers this team seems to think that a big part of their problems this year was a lack of leadership? Panotch wrote it the other day, Rando wrote it today, I'm sure one of those other guys will at some point soon.

So I thought it was interesting (with the disclaimer that this was published on the Flyers' own web site) that, when none other than Ron Hextall was asked about the team's leadership group point-blank (skip to around the 3:00 mark), he said that the team has "got more leadership in there than I think people believe," while also singling out Voracek and Simmonds as guys who have grown this year.

Meanwhile, Berube himself has come out and said that the team's leadership needs to improve.

So the team needs better leadership. Yet Hextall seems to have some degree of confidence in the guys who have become leaders within the locker room. Who else that's supposed to be a leader on this team can be replaced? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

* * *

Collin: I think Travis kind of hit the nail on the head with this earlier:

"In all honesty, I don't know if there's a name on that list I wouldn't take over Berube right now. I was asked recently what I thought of Berube as head coach, and my basic response is "He's fine." I don't think he makes terribly egregious errors all that frequently, but the best head coaches in hockey are the ones that can squeeze every little bit of juice out of their lineup, and that's even more important when you have a less-than-optimal lineup at your disposal."

In the grand scheme of things, playing Grossmann for an entire year isn't really something that would make me say "Get rid of him," especially with the talent this club is working with to begin with. There are plenty of organizations and head coaches that would include a player like that in a lineup, and there are still many of those evaluators employed in the NHL. Those types of defensemen are being phased out, yes, but it's not really something to make me scream "He doesn't deserve to be at the helm!" I'm actually a little more confused as to how Grossmann avoided the "healthy scratch carousel" that Charlie was talking about.

Berube's "fine." Not incredibly awful. Not that great.

I gave Berube a little more leeway over the course of this season, because he was handcuffed quite a bit with personnel. He can't healthy scratch MacDonald for 82 games. He can't healthy scratch Nick Grossmann for 82 games. He's got four bottom-pairing defensemen to work with. If the organization wants to build enough value to move them, the only option is to play them a bunch and hope they fall into good play, good luck or both. You'd be naive if you didn't expect a bunch of different healthy scratches to occur based on PDO fluctuations (which the team may or may not understand yet).

Every team has minute issues with optimization. Hell, even Babcock does it over in Detroit. That's just how things are in today's NHL.

Berube's "fine." Not incredibly awful, despite how some of the exit interview quotes come across. Not that great. I'm leaning more toward him being replaced, but that's wholly dependent on which coaches are available and at what times the changing of the guards occur for all of these other teams as well.

The biggest issue heading into this offseason is this: With these players -- and this lineup -- is it realistic to expect a drastic change in performance next season? Is this team's ceiling higher than a bottom wild card spot? Why throw another coach into this mess? If there are much better coaches available, you'd better believe this team is going to be shopping around, but don't be surprised when this team is on the bubble again next year even if one of these newer coaches seems to be making all of the right decisions.

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