Most Flyer fans across the Delaware Valley have had little to cheer for so far this hockey season. It started with the firing of longtime head coach Peter Laviolette 3 games into the season. Most fans including myself questioned the organizations decision to pull such a move that soon into the season. Laviolette had a great track record with the Flyers. Outside of missing the playoffs last season, which many believe was due to the lockout, they were in the playoffs every season under his tenure including a run to the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2010 where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks.
But once the smoke cleared on the Laviolette firing the team continued to struggle under new head coach Craig Berube. The team looked slow, out of shape, uninspired, and flat out miserable. The product on the ice was absolutely dreadful night in and night out. Flyer fans usually are some of the strongest supporters in the city but even the die hards had to question ownership and upper management.
For the first time for as long as I can remember fans were questioning the culture of the Flyers as an organization. Many thought it was time for a change at the GM position. Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren has made some questionable moves during his tenure, some which I still don’t agree with to this day including the trading of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter only a year after a run to the Stanley Cup. For those of you who don’t know Carter and Richards both went on to win a cup with the LA Kings. Holmgren also was responsible for bringing in $51 million dollar goalie Ilyia Bryzgalov who turned out to be nothing but a head case for the team. He never lived up to his price tag and in the end hurt the team in the locker room. Time after time Holmgren continued to make bold, questionable moves.
Owner Ed Snyder hasn’t been much better. During the Laviolette firing he went on the defense about the Flyers culture when asked why they decided to pull the plug on the coach and bring in Berube after only 3 games into the season. Berube also is a former Flyer player and has been serving as assistant coach for many years. Fans thought it might be better to bring in someone from outside the organization to coach the team, someone with a fresh perspective, someone without any ties to Flyers history. Other than Laviolette the Flyers have had only had 2 other coaches in history who either didn’t play for the team or coach in some capacity for them prior to taking the position. This franchise hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since the mid 70s and is actually gearing up to celebrate the 40 year anniversary of their first Cup Victory in January. The pattern clearly shows it was time for Snyder to bring in a fresh perspective.
At one point the Flyers actually lost a game to the Washington Capitals 7-0 at home. It was a game that not only was lopsided on the scoreboard but also an embarrassment to the franchise due to the amount of fighting the team engaged in. Goalie Ray Emery towards the end of the game chose to skate down the ice and take on the Capitals goalie who clearly did not want to fight. It was an ugly scene that marked rock bottom for the franchise this season. Up until that point this team struggled to score. Captain Claude Giroux was virtually invisible on the ice. But all of a sudden, shortly after the beating to the Capitals, Berube got through to this team and things started changing.
On October 17 the Flyers had a 1-7 record after a 4-1 loss to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins. A little over a month later the Flyers have points in 7 straight games and have finally climbed to .500 with a 10-10-2 record. All of a sudden a team that was written off by many and had no shot at the playoffs are all of a sudden in the mix. The team moved to 10-7-2 under coach Craig Berube after a 5-2 victory over the NY Islanders on Saturday.
A team that so many doubted all of a sudden has life. They currently have 22 pts and are now only 2 points out of a playoff spot in the East. Flyer games all of a sudden became fun to watch again. The team is scoring now. Captain Claude Giroux is making contributions to that scoring and helping everyone out in the process. The goaltending has been solid all season but the fact this team can now score to compliment the powerful goaltending makes this team a scary bunch in the Eastern Conference.
Sure, we still have plenty of hockey to go in this NHL season. I could very easily be right back here a few months from now talking about how miserable this team is and how much of a letdown they’ve been. But it’s been a breath of fresh air watching this team progress from where they were early in the season. We all questioned the culture, the decision making, and upper management of this franchise from top to bottom. But it’s absolutely true when they say winning cures all. Right now no one out there is questioning any of the culture or decision making of this team. Craig Berube has this team playing hard and looking like a team once again. No longer do they look slow, run down, and out of shape. We’re only a quarter of the way through this NHL season so plenty of hockey is left. But for right now let’s sick back and enjoy the Flyers because I’ve seen this team turn a corner and hopefully they don’t turn back as this season progresses. Let’s Go Flyers!