This time last year, the Philadelphia Flyers were in the midst of mediocrity. They had just come off a lackluster season in which they lost to Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs. Management upgraded the talent pool during the off-season; highlighted by the trade that landed the Orange and Black gritty defensemen Chris Pronger.
Still, something was off.
The team, which some in the national media pegged as preseason Stanley Cup favorites, limped to an uninspiring 13-11-1 record. Something needed to be done, and on December 4th2009 something was done. The Flyers fired coach John Stevens and hired Stanley Cup winner Peter Laviolette.
Fast forward one calendar year and we have an Eastern Conference Championship banner hanging in the Wells Fargo Center, along with one of the best teams in the NHL playing below it. This can all be attributed to the new Commander in Chief of the Flyers.
If you look at his career as a head coach, you will see that he is, above all, a proven winner. The man started his head coaching duties on Long Island, where he took the Islanders to the playoffs in two straight seasons (they had missed the playoffs in each of the previous seven). From there he went down to Carolina to coach a team that was struggling for an identity within the NHL. Three seasons later- Stanley Cup Champions.
His coaching style is one of precision and accountability. He never leaves a stone unturned, a great example of this is his use of the timeout. We have never seen a coach put so much value, and get so much out of, the old, overrated tactic. Never was this more evident then Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals versus the Boston Bruins, when down 3-0 in the first period he called his timeout to remind his players to focus on getting one goal at a time (we all know how that turned out).
The main thing the Flyers lacked under Stevens was discipline, and once “Lavs” hopped on board, the players were held accountable for their actions on the ice. There were countless boneheaded penalties and turnovers in the defensive zone that previously tortured this team. That all went out the window on December 4th. Now with the new regime, if they consistently commit bad penalties, they will sit on the bench or ultimately find themselves as a healthy scratch.
The player that exemplifies the transformation best is Scott Hartnell. Under Stevens, he was a one-way reckless player who you could count on to handicap the team for two minutes on gratuitous plays. Under Laviolette, he has learned to bottle up his energy and fulfill his role on this team. His defense has improved immensely and he's no longer hurting the team with out of control penalties (although, there is that whole falling thing). Sure, he had a 30-goal season under his belt with Stevens; but really, does this lineup need another 30-goal scorer if it will cost them on the other end? We have Briere, Carter, Richards, and now Giroux to put the bulk of the pucks in the net; Hartnell’s 20 goals with all-around better play will benefit this team so much more than that 30-goal campaign.
It is evident that Laviolette is the right fit for this group of players. Each player has their own role in order for the team to prosper, a modern day “the whole is more than the sum of its parts.” As talented as they are; this team still needs a Mike Richards as captain to steer the ship in the right direction. Nay Sayers will contest that you can’t succeed through the playoffs with a rookie goaltender. For Laviolette it's been there, done that. Cam Ward anyone?