Having only one win in eight listlessly played games was not exactly what Flyers’ fans, players, and especially owner Ed Snider expected from the team coming into the 2006-2007 season. After a terrible preseason, the Flyers hoped to regroup and silence critics who believed this would be the first time the Flyers missed the playoffs in 12 years. What the Flyers showed, however, was not just an out-of-position defense and an anemic offense, but a complete lack of effort that was obvious to anyone watching. After an embarrassing 9-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, Ed Snider decided he had seen enough from his team. Snider called on long time Flyers’ General Manager Bob Clarke to make drastic changes, resulting in three veteran players being put on waivers. Despite the cuts, the poor play continued and after two more losses more drastic changes were to come.
On Sunday, the Flyers surprisingly announced that GM Bob Clarke would be resigning his position as general manager and Coach Ken Hitchcock would not be continuing his duties as coach. Clarke would be replaced by his assistant GM, Paul Holmgren, and Hitchcock would be replaced by his assistant, John Stevens.
Clarke explained his resignation as a personal burnout of the job he had kept for 13 years. Yet the scuttlebutt surrounding this incident hinted that Clarke and Snider were at odds over Hitchcock’s firing. It is believed that Snider wanted Hitchcock fired after the Buffalo loss but Clarke resisted. When the plug was pulled on Hitchcock two games later, Clarke’s resignation quickly followed.
As for Hitchcock, Snider was asked during the press conference if he felt the players were not responsive to him and his aggressive, pressurized coaching style anymore. Snider responded that he had talked to private personnel who believed that this was in fact the case and explained why Flyers’ players continued to show little gumption after losing pitifully on multiple occasions. If Hitchcock did in fact lose the team, he would be the Flyers third coach to be ousted by mutinous players. Terry Murray and Bill Barber were also fired as head coaches in a less than glorious fashion because they lost favor with certain players.
Yet despite the proverbial hammer falling on this season, all is not lost for the Flyers who are now left in the hands of a young, but capable first year coach. John Stevens is no stranger to the Flyers’ roster. He coached the 2004 Calder Cup Champion, Philadelphia Phantoms, which features many of the players on the Flyers current roster. Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and RJ Umberger are just a few of the 11 current Flyers who played under Stevens. Stevens is a quiet coach who does not put a great deal of pressure on players to perform. This is a step back from hawk eye Hitchcock who would demand performance lest jobs be lost. Stevens also has history on side as he is the 18th NHL coach to have also been a head coach in the American Hockey League. Names like Tampa Bay’s John Tortorella and Carolina’s Peter Laviolette both made their bones in the AHL before eventually leading NHL teams to Stanley Cup Championships. This season, former AHL, coaches Bob Hartley and Randy Carlyle have their teams rolling at a combined record of 14-1-5.
Fortunately for the Flyers, this major shakeup occurred with more than 70 games to still be played in the NHL season. With a more relaxed system and Steven’s ability to get the younger players to produce some offense, there is a good chance the Flyers will turn their early woes around – if for no other reason than they can not get much worse.