So what went wrong?
Three major failures stand out in this season: terrible road play, poor penalty killing and overtime/shootout struggles.
10-21-11 was the Flyers record in games away from home. Only three teams in the NHL had fewer road wins than Philadelphia. It was their worst season on the road in 23 years (1992). The Flyers, who had 13 more home victories, scored 118 goals at the Wells Fargo Center while giving up just 96; a plus 22 ratio. However, on the road, Philadelphia only scored 94 goals while allowing 127; a minus 33 ratio.
The Flyers ended their season with a poor 77.1% on the penalty kill, 4th worst in the NHL. The 61 PowerPlay goals against was third worst in the league, 37 of them came while on the road, which is the second highest total among all teams.
After regulation, the Flyers posted an 8-18 record; 5-7 in overtime and 3-11 in shootouts. Their 18 losses led the entire league by far, while their eight wins was tied for 7th worst. 11 of their overtime/shootout losses came on the road, also a league worst. In 14 total shootouts this season, incredibly, only two Flyers registered more than one goal (Jake Voracek: 5 for 12; Wayne Simmonds: 4 for 7). The rest of the Flyers who participated in at least one shootout (7 total players) combined for just three goals: 3 for 34 (notables: Claude Giroux: 1 for 12, Sean Couturier: 1 for 8, Matt Read: 0 for 5).
There is more than enough blame to go around. Consistency, leadership, coaching. Much of the blame falls on coach Craig Berube, who was in just his second season and first full season as a head coach with the Flyers organization.
That blame is completely justified. Yes, the players must be held accountable, but when a team plays
well enough to go 12-2-6 in their last 20 games against teams who were in the playoff hunt down the stretch and just 4-9-6 against teams that weren't, someone at the top is to blame. Philadelphia proved they could be a dangerous team, just not all the time. There in lies the problem. For a team that just lost Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, two of their assistant captains in one season, and whose average age is under 28 years old, the team needed their coach to be the strongest voice in the room. And since their consistency was the biggest problem all the way to the end (this was evident in five of their last six games as they defeated Pittsburgh twice and the New York Islanders once, both playoff teams, then turned around and lost to Carolina, the fourth worst team in the league, twice), coaching needs to be blamed.
Last season, the Flyers held the seventh best penalty killing unit in the league at 84.9%, yet this season it completely fell apart. Yes, Kimmo Timonen was a big factor, but he cannot be the excuse. Penalty killing is one of the most worked on situations in practice; therefore, when it goes wrong, time after time, player after player, game after game for an entire season, coaching needs to be blamed.
18-16-7 was the Flyers road record last year, not great, but respectable. This season they barely cracked the double digits in road wins. Why? Home games are easy to get excited and prepared for; players have home cooked meals, they are close to family and friends, they are sleeping in their own beds and most importantly they have a stadium packed with fans helping get them pumped up. While on the road, it all comes back to having a strong voice in the locker room. Not to say that captain Claude Giroux isn't a good leader, but he is still young and he leads by example on the ice. Meanwhile, Mark Streit and Wayne Simmonds were in just their first season as assistant captains. And since they don't have any long term veterans (only two players are older than 32: Vinny Lecavalier, 34, yet he was a healthy scratch for several games, and Mark Streit, 37, yet this is only his 9th season since he broke into the NHL at the age of 28), they needed their coach to be their leader.
Coach Craig Berube was not a terrible coach and did do many good things. His system, which he called a 'Center Lock' was a defensive minded one that actually worked throughout the season, despite the criticism. During 5 on 5 play, the Flyers allowed the 9th fewest goals against, 137, better than some of the best teams in the league, such as the New York Rangers, the Anaheim Ducks and the St. Louis Blues. The problem with this system was it did not create a whole lot of offense. During the same 5 on 5 play, Philadelphia only scored 138 goals, the seventh fewest in the NHL. Behind the 'Center Lock,' a system that relies on a physical and defensive minded center, Claude Giroux only scored 11 even strength goals, his lowest total (not counting the lockout shortened season) since the 2009-10 season.
Berube also did help a few players develop by showing tremendous confidence in them such as Jake Voracek, rookie Pierre Edouard Bellemare, Chris Vandevelde and Michael Del Zotto. Voracek had a career high in assists and points, Bellemare and Vandevelde jelled on a fourth line that proved not to need fighters, and Del Zotto's ice time and point production both increased drastically after a slew of healthy scratches got him back on track. Unfortunately he also may be to blame for slow tracking a few other players developments. Sean Couturier, who's strong finish to his season (seven points in his last six games) helped his stats a bit, had fewer points this season than last with just 37. Couturier even mentioned in his exit interview on Monday that he wants to be known as more than just a defensive center; however, Berube never quite gave him that opportunity. Matt Read went completely backwards this year, having his worst year since turning pro. After scoring 20 goals in two of his first three seasons (the third being the lockout shortened season in which he scored 11 goals in 42 games), Read scored a lowly eight goals. Read was thrown into the same defensive role with the struggling Couturier and despite these troubles on even strength, PowerPlay and the penalty kill, Berube kept the pairing together for much of the season. Vinny Lecavalier was another player who seems to think he was misused. Lecavalier, who appears to be at the end of his career, doesn't have that same mindset. He even went as far as to say that Berube used him incorrectly and doesn't know if he could play for him next season.
On top of all of this looms the Steve Mason story. Whether or not Mason was mishandled, as previously stated by certain reporters, Berube certainly did not show a whole lot of confidence towards Mason, who was arguably one of the best Flyers all season, especially toward the end of the season. On March 19th, Berube pulled Mason after he allowed just two goals against. Some coaches do this to send a message to challenge the team to be better in front of their goaltender. However, after the game, Berube said that was not the reason. He went on to blame Mason for not being able to see through a screen and for simply not playing well. Despite having defensive troubles most of the season and a poor penalty killing unit, Mason still managed to hold the third best save percentage in the NHL with .928. Yet Berube failed to praise him over and over again. Mason, however, has no hard feelings and denies that Berube had anything to do with goalie coach Jeff Reese's strange and sudden exit. Even in the player's exit interview, Mason went as far as to say he wanted Berube back.
Whether or not Lecavalier is correct in his statements or if Berube mishandled Mason or not, there is an underlying friction, and one thing is true, Berube has seemed to have lost the locker room. After a failed season, most of the time players take full responsibility telling the media not to blame the coach. But that wasn't the message for most of the players during their exit interviews on Monday. Many players talked about leadership issues, consistency and some even questioned their roles, such as the aforementioned Couturier and Lecavalier.
A split and unconfident locker room is the last thing a team needs to be successful moving foreword.
Due to all of these reasons, GM Ron Hextall was not left with much of a choice and ultimately made the correct decision by firing head coach Craig Berube this morning.
"Is the coach the right coach for your team now? If the answer is no, you have to move on. That’s what we did here," Hextall told NHLFlyers.com. "Craig Berube is a good friend of mine; he’s a terrific man. But professionally I have an obligation to do what I think is best. We’re looking for the right guy. Whether he has connections [to the Flyers] doesn’t matter. We’re looking for the best coach.”
Hextall may have some good options when looking to fill the void. According to Darren Dreger of TSN, two coaches will be the Flyers main targets: Mike Babcock and Todd McLellan. However, currently both of these coaches are still employmented by their respective teams (Babcock with Detroit and McLellan with San Jose). It is rumored that since Babcock's contract is up at the end of the season, he is going to move on from the Red Wings organization. McLellan on the other hand may mutually agree to leave or be let go by the Sharks organization after they failed to make the playoffs this year.
Other notable coaching options may be: Dan Bylsma (formerly with the Pittsburgh Penguins), Benoit Groulx (Canadian Junior coach in the QMJHL), Dave Tippett (if he is let go by the Arizona Coyotes) Claude Julien (if fired by the Boston Bruins), Peter DeBoer (former New Jersey Devils head coach) among several other candidates.
Hextall stated that he would like to have a coach in place before the draft on June 26th. The Flyers will draft 7th (if a 1-6 placed team wins the lottery), 8th (if 8-14th placed team wins the lottery) or 1st (if the Flyers win the draft lottery). This lottery to see which team obtains the first overall pick in the 2015 NHL entry draft will take place on Saturday; the Flyers have a 6.5% chance of winning.