Monday, October 7, 2013

On the Firing of Peter Laviolette

When Pete Rose was banned for life from the game of baseball in 1989, the late Commissioner Bart Giamatti described the ordeal as "a sad end to a sorry episode." Though the gambling connotations were absent (unless you booked action on the odds-on favorite most likely coach to lose his job first), Giamatti's infamous quote can also be applied to Philadelphia's firing of Peter Laviolette this morning.

Often the case when a coach of Laviolette's stature is released (see: having won a Stanley Cup), just about everything written about this move will include the footnote that he'll find another job shortly. Many articles today made mention of this, and for good reason; Laviolette is set to serve on Dan Bylsma's staff for Team USA during the upcoming Sochi Olympics. With common sentiment leaning towards Laviolette coaching an NHL team sooner rather than later, it demands further inquiry why a coveted coach found himself on the chopping block just three seasons removed from a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Without using too many brain cells, the answer points in one direction: the Flyers' front office.

Having foreseen the team's current situation far too long ago, this blogger remained skeptical that GM Paul Holmgren's returns in trade for Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, along with the subsequent addition of Ilya Bryzgalov, would result in a net positive for Philadelphia. In hindsight, Jakub Voracek has proven to be who we thought he was, Sean Couturier is becoming an elite defensive talent, and Brayden Schenn still projects to be a top-six forward. However, the cap crunch created by the Bryzgalov contract ultimately meant that the team could not re-sign useful players (e.g. Matt Carle), and more importantly, set a dangerous precent of overreacting to poor results in short stretches.

We've seen this time and again with Philadelphia. Specifically, whether it was benching Sergei Bobrovsky after one bad period during the 2011 playoffs, trading him after a poor streak in the second half of 2012, signing James van Riemsdyk to a six-year deal after 11 impressive playoff games, trading him after a mere 43 games of 'underperformance,' extending Scott Hartnell following a career year, or losing out on re-signing Jaromir Jagr to woo Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, the message remains clear. If you're not helping the Flyers now, they'll ship you out of town for someone who will. Lost upon Holmgren & Co. has been the fact that adding new players does not guarantee success; it can only improve (or in this case, lessen) one's chances.

We now return to Laviolette. Keeping in mind Holmgren's (and Chairman Ed Snider's) role(s) in this saga, the easy answer to our question looks to be that Lavy could not escape the fate of these players before him. 51 games of underperformance since the beginning of 2013 is simply too long to survive in mediocrity within the crucible that is Flyers hockey. This holds especially true with the aging Al Davis Snider looking for one final championship.

It would, however, be remiss to label Laviolette a mere victim of overreaction and bad luck. His lineup decisions were often suspect (e.g., scratching Erik Gustafsson most of the past two seasons), he mismanaged goaltending (e.g., Bobrovsky/Boucher/Leighton, playing Bryzgalov every back-to-back), and he refused to adapt from his up-tempo style of play when it was clear the team's personnel on defense could not handle the assignment. On the flip side, Laviolette also had his strengths. Looking at Philadelphia's zone start discrepancies and quality of competition, he was a coach that seemed to understand matchups and was not afraid to deploy players he trusted in the roles he trusted them with. Couple this with his style of play, and we see a coach that likes to create more shots on goal, giving his best players the best opportunities to do so.

We can go back and forth on Laviolette's advantages and shortcomings all day; the fact of the matter remains that Holmgren & Co. knew what they were getting from their coach on opening day of the 2013 season. At that point in time, the Flyers were depleted on defense, devoid of scoring depth, and gave the coach no reasonable option to spell their starting goaltender. Though it is unclear whether Laviolette held any say in the moves that sent the Flyers from Stanley Cup contenders to mere playoff hopefuls, at the end of the day, responsibility lies upon the general manager to acquire the best players available for his club. While it remains undeniable that Laviolette's recent poor performance ultimately resulted in his firing, the depreciating talent on the Flyers' roster and the friction between these players and their coach's system cannot be ignored. Ultimately, these trends point not to the Flyers firing their ineffective coach, but instead continuing to employ incompetent general management.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Driving Play's 2013-14 NHL Season Preview Podcast

Good afternoon friends. Before you take this post as a sign of the zombie apocalypse, please be assured that no witchcraft was used in the making and revival of the Driving Play Podcast. Joined once again by our friend Alex Pocrnick, we are grateful for his perspective which uses surprisingly few spreadsheets to analyze and interpret the game of hockey. In this episode, we are excited to preview the 2013-14 NHL season, touching upon topics of realignment, roster change in the offseason, and teams to watch out for.

Here is a link to our podcast RSS feed, with options to stream or download the podcast below.

Thanks for listening, and enjoy!

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