So, after taking a few days to mull it over, Flyers GM Ron Hextall arrived at the conclusion that most of us expected. He fired coach Craig Berube.
It shouldn’t have been a tough call.
Berube seemed to have the respect of his players—well most of them anyway—and his team made the Wells Fargo Center a miserable place to visit.
But there was a sense that he wasn’t getting the most out of the group. Philadelphia had a frustrating tendency of playing down to the level of its competition, especially in the second half of the season when the Flyers went 0-7-5 in their final 12 games against teams that were not in playoff position. It also didn’t reflect favorably on Berube when Wayne Simmonds said, “We don't come to play every night.” And then there was Berube’s insistence on giving ice time to blunt objects Zac Rinaldo and Jay Rosehill over the more skilled Vincent Lecavalier. When you look at Philly’s league-high 18 losses in OT and shootouts, you wonder if the team might have benefited from the coach having a little more faith in his talent.
Now that Berube is gone, Hextall is in the market for a replacement. And he’s apparently set his sights high.
told Flyers short list is Babcock, Julien, McLellan "if" they are available— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) April 17, 2015
Can’t blame him for that. Any of those men, if available and interested, would qualify as a highly credible hire.
But being a credible candidate is not the same thing as being the best man for the job. In fact, there might be someone out there who’s better for this team at this particular time.
There are guys who plant the seeds and there are guys who harvest the crops. Babcock and Julien? They’re harvesters. And right now what this team needs more than anything is a planter.
The Flyers are, conservatively, two or three years away from being a competitive team. That’s about how much time they’ll need to develop Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin and Mark Alt into reliable NHL defensemen, and to figure out where Taylor Leier and Nick Cousins and Petr Straka fit up front.
That’s where a nurturer like Murray fits in.
A sexy pick? Not exactly. But Murray has 15 years of NHL coaching experience with Philadelphia, the Capitals, the Panthers and, most recently, the Kings. He spent 3½ years with young and promising L.A., developing the safe side of the Kings’ game before getting replaced midway through the 2011–12 season by Darryl Sutter, the man who carried the team over the finish line.
Murray’s name isn’t on that Stanley Cup, but his fingerprints are all over it.
He returned to the Flyers—an organization he coached to the Stanley Cup finals in 1997—and has spent the last three seasons coaching the team’s AHL affiliate, adapting his approach while waiting for another kick at the NHL can. He’s shown he can cultivate the kids and has done a solid job instilling fundamentals and building confidence while managing the roster chaos that resulted from injuries and call-ups. And he can draw upon those years he spent in the NHL—including a stint coaching Hextall—when he needs to deal with his veterans.
Hextall has plenty of options but for this team, right now, Murray is the best.