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Flyers need to consider adjusting their business model

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Remember when the Flyers were known as that Philly sports team who always did their best to put a good product on the ice, always made the playoffs, and were the one team in the city of Philadelphia that you could never rag on?

 

Well, I’m getting the feeling that those times are changing.

 

Monday’s press conference regarding the firing of head coach Peter Laviolette was a prime example of a business owner (ie: Ed Snider) who is clearly on the defensive about the perennial shortcomings of his team. Shortcomings that seem to be more the rule than the exception these days. Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. Photo: cbc.ca

 

Truth be told, I’m not surprised at all that Laviolette was fired (although firing him three games into the season looks pretty pointless). Vegas odds makers had him being the first NHL coach to go for weeks now.

 

According to Snider, 2013 was one of the worst training camps ever in the history of the franchise. If that is in fact valid, it’s not a stretch to say he was exaggerating. The Flyers look absolutely lifeless. They’ve scored three goals in their first three games. You know things are bad when you’re a Flyers goaltender and you’re not currently the team’s weakest link.

 

This isn’t the first time the organization pulled the trigger on a coach this early in the season. Back in 2006, the team fired Ken Hitchcock after eight games when the orange and black tallied a 1-6-1 record. In the wake of Hitchcock’s firing, favorite son Bob Clarke also resigned from his general manager position.

 

Many think history should have repeated itself on Monday, with general manager Paul Holmgren following Laviolette out the door. After reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2008 and advancing to the Stanley Cup in 2010, Holmgren’s Flyers have been embarrassed by the Bruins and Devils in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs, respectively. And forget about last season- the Flyers didn’t even make the playoffs.

 

Although I still stand by the fact that some kind of change was needed, it was nonetheless a pretty disgusting feeling watching Mike Richards and Jeff Carter drink out of the Stanley Cup in Los Angeles after Holmgren shipped them both off the previous summer. In between, Holmgren signed goalie IIya Bryzglov (do I even need to rehash that circus?), traded his backup who turned into a Vezina winner (Sergei Bobrovsky), acquired a bunch of underachieving forwards, signed an aging Vincent Lecavalier and another aging player in defenseman Mark Streit. We didn’t even get into the Predators matching the Flyers’ offer to defenseman Shea Weber in 2012. There has now been three head coaches (with two being fired) under Holmgren’s watch since 2006. Holmgren is a classy guy. He could still knock the crap out of anybody and the man is pushing 60, but how he’s not skating on some serious thin ice (no pun intended) is beyond me.  It’s not like he has the legacy Clarke has (as a player OR a GM).

 

So who does Holmgren (with the approval of Snider) hire to replace Laviolette? An assistant coach (Craig Berube) who’s never had any NHL head coaching experience. Last time I checked, Rick Tocchet HAS head coaching experience, but he’s still doing Flyers Postgame Live. And what about John Tortorella? I don’t get it.

 


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Monday’s press conference was pretty intense. All it took were a few questions that Snider didn’t like and it was on. When columnist Mike Sielski suggested perhaps the team needed “a fresh perspective,” Snider fired back:

 

“No, we don’t need a fresh perspective.” We have a pretty good culture and we know who we’re dealing with.”  (Translation: I’m the owner of this team. The captain of this ship. Nobody is going to tell me what works or doesn’t work for my company. We’re the Flyers, damn it. Remain calm. All is well. All is well!)


 

 Ok, that last bit was stolen from Kevin Bacon in Animal House. But before I started this second (or is it ninth or tenth?) career putting this site together in 2009, I’d seen some pretty shoddy behavior exemplified by big businesses in my days working for corporate America. Snider’s responses to the educated questions the sportswriters asked on Monday were ones of denial, arrogance, frustration, and a sinking feeling that the Flyers ARE in trouble here.

 

The question is, does Snider really know what he IS dealing with? This organization has made some bad mistakes over the last few years and there’s nothing Snider can do to change that. The Flyers may not have won a Cup in almost 40 years, but you can probably count the number of times this organization has been scrutinized this closely on one hand. Once you’re ingraciated into the Flyers elite, it seems like you can get fired and/or leave town but still have a position waiting for you in the organization at anytime. In some cases, Snider’s loyalty is to be commended. However, when you get too acquainted with the hired help, it’s always a lot harder to cut the cord if things get ugly.Holmgren/Snider photo: (AP photo / Matt Slocum)

 

Despite some quips that rank right up there with Allen Iverson’s “practice” rant and Rickey Watters’ “For who? For what?” tirade, Snider made a few valid points on Monday. To be fair, the Flyers HAVE been to the Stanley Cup six times since winning their second Cup in May 1975. Only problem is, they’ve lost….all six times. Coming close means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Just ask every team who’s been a runner-up in Philadelphia since 1983. There have been many.

 

Furthermore, 30 teams ARE competing for the Stanley Cup, and every year only one of them is left standing in the end. But for 38 (now most likely going on 39) years, the Flyers haven’t gotten it done- despite having one of the most loyal fanbases in professional sports and an organization that doesn’t exactly lack funding.

 

It’s like the music business. You ALWAYS think your band has made an awesome album and nobody has the right to tell you otherwise. Then, an outside set of ears (the producer) comes in and offers new insights you never had before. Look at Pat Gillick. The Phillies ran things the way they wanted to until Gillick came in and said he wants to basically run the ship with no micro managing. Nobody was complaining three years later because the Phillies were World Champs. The Flyers could use a dose of this. They're just going around and around in circles. Pretty sad for a franchise that historically has had very little excess baggage.

 

When all is said and done, Ed Snider’s legacy will be far more positive than negative. There IS no Philadelphia Flyers without his insight and innovation.

 

In saying that, even the best business models can get a little outdated and need retooling.

It might be time the Flyers updated theirs.

What's the definition of insanity again?

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Laviolette photo: Photo: cbc.ca

Video courtesy of CSN

Holmgren/Snider photo: (AP photo / Matt Slocum)