Craig Berube has coached the Flyers for the better part of two seasons now, and has a 72-56-27 record to show for it. It’s not an outstanding record, but under Berube’s direction the team is clearly above .500, and made the playoffs last year.
Despite a decent record, it’s become pretty clear that Berube’s days in Philadelphia are numbered. The team has been maddeningly inconsistent this year, beating playoff teams with regularity and losing to lottery teams because they play down to their level.
At home, the team is an impressive 21-9-7. But on the road, they’ve been a nightmare at 9-20-10. It’s not just inconsistency in the team’s effort, there are a number of issues that have been readily apparent.
The cumulative effect of all the following likely mean Berube will be receiving a pink slip once the season is over.
Rocky Relationship with Steve Mason
Despite Jakub Voracek (3rd) and Claude Giroux (11th) being among the league leaders in points, it is Steve Mason that has been the Flyers’ most important player. Playing behind a porous-at-best defense, he has routinely bailed the team out and kept them in games.
Among goalies with 30 games this season, he is 8th in GAA and 4th in save percentage. He gets so little support that he has 2 road shutouts, and only one road win. Yet, Berube has treated Mason like garbage this season.
He’s forced him to come back early from injuries, criticized him for letting in “weak goals” that weren’t his fault, and been unappreciative of what Mason has to offer.
To top it all off, Berube was likely the reason Mason’s goalie coach Jeff Reese left the team earlier this month. Mason credited Reese for turning his career around, and was devastated by his departure.
The organization has remained conspicuously quiet about the reason for Reese leaving, but the prevailing theory is that Reese went to bat for Mason against Berube over Mason’s usage, and Berube didn’t like it.
Highly Questionable Personnel Decisions
The biggest problem for the Flyers this season has been even strength play. They sit 20th in the league in ES GF/GA, and unless their 3rd ranked power play is clicking, the team almost always loses. The even strength problems stem from the team’s immobile defense that lacks the puck skills to break the puck out well from their defensive zone.
For a ten game stretch in November and December, Michael Del Zotto was a healthy scratch in favor of Nicklas Grossmann and Andrew MacDonald. That’s right, the most adept puck mover on the entire defense was sitting in favor of two of the worst possession players in the NHL.
Berube finally smartened up and played Del Zotto, and he’s turned in an impressive campaign with 29 points, average over 21 minutes a game.
The second puzzling decision is that Zac Rinaldo is somehow still getting minutes in the NHL. When Zac Rinaldo was suspended earlier in the year, the Flyers’ 4th line of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde, and Vinny Lecavalier was extremely effective.
That should come as a shock to no one, because it’s the first time the Flyers have had a 4th line of all deserving NHL players on it in years. They cycled well in the opponent’s offensive zone, and chipped in a surprising amount of offense.
But when Rinaldo’s suspension was over, he was reinserted into the lineup, and the line’s effectiveness fell off a cliff. Rinaldo consistently hurts the team with his undisciplined penalties, questionable hits, and lack of offensive ability.
Plummeting PK Effectiveness
This season represented the first in which Berube had a full offseason to implement his systems and tactics with the team. Last year, he took over for Peter Laviolette 3 games into the season, and worked with mostly Laviolette’s system.
In the two season prior to this one, the Flyers had an elite PK that finished 5th and 7th in the league. Despite little personnel change (Kimmo Timonen’s departure being the only major subtraction), the penalty kill has been awful this year. It sits at 29th in the league, and there have been few signs of it getting any better.
If He’s Not the Solution, Why Keep Him?
Ask yourself: Do you believe a team could win the cup with Craig Berube as coach?
In my mind, the answer is a resounding no, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone that disagreed. He hasn’t demonstrated any promise or signs of growth that lead me to believe he could be the coach to take this team to the promised land.
Since he can’t do it, why keep him around? Keeping him is wasting time in the search for finding a coach that could be that guy.
Looking Outside the Organization
Of the last five Flyers head coaches, three have come from within the organization as former players and AHL coaches. The only two that didn’t (Laviolette and Hitchcock), took the Flyers to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The closest any of the other three (Barber, Stevens, Berube) got was Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
With apologies to Ed Snider, this team does need a culture change. They need a breath of fresh air, and someone that did not grow up in the Flyers’ organization.
Even if it means an unproven NHL coach from Europe or the AHL, the team needs something different to bring some creativity and innovation to what has become a broken record.