Hockey Night in Canada's Scott Morrison delivers his insights into the world of hockey, on and off the ice.
The Flyers: No more writing on the wall
Sunday, October 22, 2006 | 02:18 PM ET
By Scott Morrison
The writing is no longer on the wall in Philadelphia.
It's on the pink slip.
And the letter of resignation.
Not surprisingly, though a little sooner than expected and deserved, the Flyers early Sunday made a major management change, firing coach Ken Hitchcock, while general manager Bob Clarke resigned, claiming he had lost his zest for the job.
It was widely anticipated that if changes were made in the organization they would involve both men, it's just no one had figured Clarke had reached a burn-out point and would ask to step down. Once he did that, Hitchcock became a convenient and easy sacrifice to serve up to the disgruntled masses.
It was believed, as mentioned on the Satellite Hot Stove on Saturday, that with six days off between games and with a five-game homestand on the horizon, the Flyers would wait before making any changes. That is what Hitchcock believed and a coach of Hitchcock's stature, especially with a two-year contract extension at $1.25 million per, deserved the time to right the ship. But patience with coaches has not been a virtue in the Flyers organization under chairman Ed Snider, thus the inevitable became reality early Sunday.
Paul Holmgren, a good hockey man and long-time assistant to Clarke, will take over as, curiously, interim general manager, while assistant John Stevens was promoted to head coach. Stevens was made an assistant in the off season after Wayne Fleming departed to Calgary. Stevens had coached the Flyers farm team, the Phantoms, and had won a Calder Cup in the AHL. He is considered a good NHL coaching prospect.
The question, of course, is whether the change should have been made at all. The Flyers have struggled mightily, there is no question about that. A lot of nights they have been horrible. They have lost five straight, including an embarrassing 9-1 loss to Buffalo, and are off to their worst start since 1989-90 when, ironically, Clarke was fired as general manager.
Hitchcock is a taskmaster and the suspicion was the players had tuned him out. But are the Flyers a better team with Stevens behind the bench? Of course not. It has always been, and it is even more so in a salary cap world, easier to replace the coach than 20 players. But how you go from extending the contract of a coach who owns a Stanley Cup ring, who was apparently the "final piece of stability," to firing him eight games into a season is bizarre.
If, as the Flyers and Snider claim, the players are better than they have shown, so too is the coach. Hitchcock deserved time to turn the team around. Of course, that might be a trick Houdini couldn't pull off.
As for Clarke, overall he had an impressive run in his 12-year second stint as the Flyers' GM, but since returning from the lockout he has made more bad decisions than good ones. He didn't anticipate the league would maintain its crackdown on obstruction and was burdened by a big, slow defence. And the moves he made this past summer to try to get with the times have failed miserably. There is no doubt the current roster requires an overhaul and infusion of speed, but Clarke wouldn't have been able to do it the old fashioned way, by spending money.
As for Snider, after the Buffalo debacle, he said he was reviewing the entire Flyers operation.
"I'm going to look at everything," he said, "starting with me."
Somehow, we don't think there is any more writing on the wall.
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About the Author
Scott Morrison, the recipient of the Hockey Hall of Fameís 2006 Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, has been covering hockey for 25 years. The Toronto native began his career at the Toronto Sun in 1979. After spending more than 11 years as a hockey writer and columnist at the paper, Morrison became Sports Editor in 1991 and led the section to being named one of North America's top-ten sports sections in 1999 - the first sports section in Canada to receive the AP Sports Editors North American Award. Scott, a former two-term president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, joined Rogers Sportsnet in 2001 as Managing Editor, Hockey, and is currently both a commentator on Hockey Night in Canada and a columnist for CBC.ca.
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