It's time players show accountability
If the Philadelphia Flyers think they've solved their problems by firing coach John Stevens and hiring former Cup winner Peter Laviolette, then they'd better run, not walk, to the closest mirror. Their problems did not begin with Stevens, and they sure didn't end with his dismissal.
For a team with this much talent and depth, the issues confronting the Flyers seem to be far less about scheme and breakout patterns than plain old maturity and accountability.
The Flyers, who woke up Friday in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, seem to have little of either and, in the end, it cost a good hockey man his job.
We take you back to two seasons ago. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, among others, had breakout campaigns, and the Flyers knocked off Washington and Montreal in the first two rounds of the playoffs before injuries and the Pittsburgh Penguins caught up with them in the Eastern Conference finals.
That season, the Flyers limped through March and there were rumors that Stevens, in his first full season with the team, was in trouble (hey, it's Philadelphia, and a poorly tied knot in a game-day tie can lead to rumors that a coach is about to be fired or a goalie run out of town). But Stevens rode out the storm and proved his mettle as an NHL coach.
Last season, the Flyers wobbled at the end of the regular season and ended up giving up home-ice advantage in the first round. Then after battling back in the first round against Pittsburgh, Philly could not hold a 3-0 game lead at home and was gone in six games.
This past offseason, GM Paul Holmgren brought in future Hall of Famer Chris Pronger to anchor the blue line and provide some ballast on a young team with high expectations. The other thing Holmgren did before the season, which is more closely related to Friday's firing, was acknowledge publicly he thought his team needed to be more mature, on and off the ice.
Holmgren told Wayne Fish of PhillyBurbs.com he and Stevens had talked to the players about taking care of themselves off the ice, of taking better care of themselves.
"I think this all falls under the umbrella of discipline. It's on-ice discipline -- not overstaying-your-shift discipline -- it's off-ice discipline, it's night-before-a-game taking better care of ourselves," Holmgren said. "That's a natural maturation process that a lot of our younger players are still going through. We've addressed that. So am I concerned about it? We'll see how it goes this year. All our players have been talked to about it. Is it an issue? The fact that we've talked about it, I guess it is an issue."
We have no idea whether Richards and Carter and the rest of the youngsters whoop it up too much. Don't much care. But one thing seems patently clear in the wake of the team's second three-game losing streak in the past couple of weeks (they've lost six of seven, been shut out twice in a row and have not scored a power-play goal in their past three games): The young guys who were expected to lead this team to success aren't driving the bus.
It's fair to ask whether they're even on board.
Carter's production is well off his 46-goal effort from last season with nine goals in 25 games, and it's entirely likely he has played his way off the 2010 Canadian Olympic team given his tepid performance in the playoffs last season.
As for Richards, his production is also off last year's pace when he had 80 points, although just slightly, as he has 22 points in 25 games.
In a surprising display of petulance earlier this season, Richards got into a brief feud with local writers who raised the subject of the players' off-ice behavior and whether it might have led to the trading of Joffrey Lupul to Anaheim as part of the Pronger deal.
As a result, Richards provided only one-word answers for several days as a show of his displeasure. Very grown-up. In recent days, Pronger told ESPN.com the attitude of some players in the dressing room needed to change or there were going to be changes.
"The first 20 games are done. We've got to start looking ourselves in the mirror and understanding that we've got to play for one another in this locker room or there are going to be changes," Pronger told ESPN.com. "At the end of the day, it's a results-oriented business and we've got to play better."
He was prescient.
More recently, Pronger was asked by Tim Panaccio of Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia whether Richards had ever sought counsel with the defenseman, who is a former Hart and Norris Trophy winner and has won both a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal.
Pronger said Richards had not.
"[Richards] hasn't come to me and asked me anything, and it's delicate because at the end of the day, it's his team," Pronger told Panaccio. "He's the captain. He needs to show the rest of the players that it is his team. I don't want to be the guy that has to stand up every day and tell ourselves to look into the mirror and play better and all this stuff "
Richards' exchange with the media, coupled with things like his dangerous blind-side hit on Florida's David Booth, suggest a player who is perhaps ill-suited for a high-profile leadership role.
If Holmgren had called us -- and, for the record, he did not -- we would have gone down a different path and taken the "C" away from Richards, pinned it on Pronger and seen how things went from there.
It would have saved a good hockey man his job and maybe snapped some sense into a group of players that seem more worried about their own reputations than the reputation of their team.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.