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Philadelphia Flyers owner gets feisty in defense of team's culture, GM

By Allan Muir

While Peter Laviolette was a popular choice among pundits who were looking to tag the first coach to be fired this season, most figured he’d survive the opening week.

But with his Flyers off to an 0-3 start and showing much the same formless game that left them outside the playoff mix last season, Laviolette was cashiered this morning, setting a modern-day record with the alacrity of his dismissal. The all-time mark for quickest firing after the start of a season is Paul Thompson of the Blackhawks getting the can after one game of the 1944-45 campaign. Bill Gadsby (Red Wings, 1969-70) got two games and Fred Glover (Golden Seals, 1971-72) three before they headed for the door.

Laviolette is being replaced by assistant Craig Berube.

You can certainly argue the timing — if Lavy’s leash was going to be that short, why let him start the season in the first place? — but you can’t argue the rationale. Philly was lousy through those three games, outscored 9-3, outshot by an average of nearly seven per game, and poorly executing an aggressive system for which the players seem ill-suited.

Those are the sort of indictments that can get a coach fired. But that always seems to be the answer in Philly, doesn’t it? Maybe after going through 11 coaches in 20 years, it’s fair to ask if there’s a more pressing issue affecting the organization.

Just don’t dare ask owner Ed Snider.

Snider was feisty, even belligerent, while defending his Teflon-coated GM Paul Holmgren and the franchise at today’s press conference. It was the sort of performance that suggested maybe Snider himself, rather than Holmgren, had pulled the plug on Laviolette, although Holmgren said he made the “gut decision” himself on the flight home from Carolina last night.

And maybe he did. And maybe Snider just took offense at the tone of the questions from a Philadelphia media that’s seen little change on the ice while coaches have been cycled in and out through the league’s busiest revolving door.

“Why do you want to go back to all those coaches [from the past]?” Snider hissed. “There was a reason each time the GM made a decision. They thought we needed changes, they made them. Period. Of course, I approved of them. If the GM feels he has to make a chance, I approve it. It’s as simple as that.”

It was less than a month ago that Snider himself said Laviolette was “not on the hot seat” and that he didn’t judge situations by one season. “As far as Peter is concerned, last year was an anomaly. He’s been a very good coach for us. A good coach in this league. We’re thrilled to have him.”

That thrill was gone quickly. “I’m very disappointed with the start we’ve had,” Snider said today. “Frankly, I was very disappointed with preseason we had. I’m hoping for better. We always try to make the team as good as we possibly can. Hopefully, this time it will work out.”

Hey, if all this team needs is a different voice, then maybe Berube is the answer. He’s a straightforward, heart-on-his-sleeve guy as opposed to the more calm, cerebral Laviolette. Watching the compete level of some of the Flyers in last night’s loss to the Hurricanes, a personality with a bit more spark behind the bench couldn’t hurt. But that’s a short-term bump. And when Holmgren is pressed to name the problems that need to be addressed and he responds by saying that’s the coach’s problem, you have to wonder what hope of success the new guy can possibly have.

But if Berube has one thing going for him, it’s that he’s woven directly into the Flyers’ culture. And Snider loves this team’s culture.

“What’s [wrong with] the culture?” he asked a reporter who brought up the obvious point that Berube is part of a legacy of no Cups in 38 years. “We haven’t won the championship? We’ve been in the Stanley Cup Final a lot of times. We’ve been in the playoffs a lot of times. The culture is to win. 30 teams are trying to win the Cup, and we’re doing our damnedest to do it. That’s our culture. We don’t need a fresh perspective. We have a pretty good culture. We know who we’re dealing with.”

Maybe he believes that. Maybe he truly believes that Holmgren, whose legacy is highlighted by the decisions to trade away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, and sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a $51 million deal, and ship Sergei Bobrovsky to Columbus in time to for him to win the 2013 Vezina Trophy, is perfectly suited for this job because he’s part of that culture.

But at some point, Snider has to weigh the value of that loyalty against wins and losses. At some point, Holmgren has to be held accountable for being unable to solve the goalie go-round, and for failing to adequately address a blueline that’s been a shambles ever since Chris Pronger was concussed into semi-retirement two years ago.

And until he is, the Flyers will keep on being the Flyers. Because, hey, they’re comfortable with that.

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