Darren Eliot
Monday December 7th, 2009

The storied Philadelphia Flyers franchise has displayed many admirable attributes over the years, but patience is not on the list. Peter Laviolette -- a nice guy and excellent coach -- has just replaced John Stevens, who is a nice guy and an excellent coach.

So where is the gain?

Well, I look at this move by GM Paul Holmgren as not being about coaching, but rather about the need for a group to grow up. In 2006, Stevens was selected as the internal steward to oversee the growth and development of a fine young nucleus. He replaced Ken Hitchcock as management sided with the players' notion at the time that Hitch's tough-minded approach wasn't the best way to nurture the prized group led by Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Stevens took over during a mess of a season -- his first as an NHL assistant -- after having success in the AHL with a number of young Flyers. Pressed into service behind the bench, he put some ideals in place that would help the team flourish while Holmgren set about marvelously rebuilding the roster.

The next two seasons fit the vision, as Stevens and the Flyers went to the 2008 Eastern Conference Final and then posted a 99-point campaign before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Disappointment in bowing out early, sure, but part of the process. Then the Flyers raced out early with a 12-5-1 start to this season, so all was pointing in the right direction after offseason acquisitions Chris Pronger and Ian Laperrière ostensibly bolstered the team's leadership. Early injuries to Simon Gagne and Daniel Briere seemed inconsequential in the short-term.

Now, everything seems of consequence, with the Flyers losing seven of their last eight contests, including an 8-2 embarrassment at home in Laviolette's debut. So much for immediate impact, which, of course, is of utmost importance in this saga.

The Flyers have 12 games in the next 20 days -- a stretch that may define the wisdom of the Stevens firing and Laviolette hiring. If the team responds and the Flyers get back on track, then hindsight will hold the coaching up as the catalyst. Of course, the team may have come out of its funk with Stevens still at the helm, but we'll never know.

Either way, Holmgren's move is about moving this team along. The waiting is over -- both for the players to come together for this season and for the core group to start meeting expectations. Welcome to the business side of the sport. From the Flyers' brass perspective, the Richards-Carter era has been all about making the environment as comfortable and as conducive as possible for them to succeed. All they had to do was show consistency and progress in that regard. A late season slide, first round playoff loss and early season skid all added up to not enough advancement shown.

So, now it is all about the mental toughness that Richards et al exhibit in recognizing their failings for their handpicked coach -- both in the standings and in the locker room. The initial response was disturbing on both fronts, with the team getting blistered by the Capitals and rumors of Richards relinquishing his captaincy. That led to the need to say there is no rift on the team and that he and Pronger get along just fine -- usually a telltale sign that something is amiss.

And that's what Holmgren was acting on. To what affect? Time will only tell in Philly.

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