Sunday, October 22, 2006

Philadelphia Freedom

One was burned out, the other tossed out. Regardless of the procedure involved, there are changes in Philadelphia and a new chapter is set to begin in the history of one of the most dominant of franchises of the modern era.

Bob Clarke called it quits explaining that he had lost interest in his job as far back as last season, the 19 year veteran GM suggested that he felt he had done a poor job of managing the team since that point, making today’s decision a necessity.

Clarke painted a picture of an almost burnt out resident of the Flyers office, in which he deferred almost all decisions to his assistant Paul HolmgrenA at the end of the day Clarke felt that Ed Snider and the organization required something more than a pass the buck GM. And so Clarke took his walk away on Sunday morning, in effect firing himself.

What’s alarming for Flyer fans is the fact that the signs of this were being recognized last year and yet the Flyers fell into the trap of ignoring the evidence at time, leading up to the mess they find themselves in today.

With Clarke’s departure, the head of Coach Ken Hitchcock was provided to at least offer something to the Flyers fans who have seen the team get off to its worst start since the 1989-90 season. With a record of 1-6-1 so far in the year, comments rumbled around the league that Hitchcock had lost the confidence of his team, the players having tuned him out seemed to be lost on the ice, making mistakes that you wouldn’t see of the most woeful of house league teams.

The question though must be did Hitchcock really lose the ability to coach at team in such a short period of time, or were the Flyers a little too quick to tie the can to his backside.

By Clarke’s own admission he had lost interest in his team last year, so that means an entire off season and the first month of this season featured a team with no discernible leadership. It was a situation that was hardly the responsibility of a head coach and surely not one that would help him in preparing a team for the upcoming season.

Only Clarke and Hitchcock know for sure how dysfunctional things became in Philadelphia in the last six months or so, but it’s a bit too easy to give the roster a pass on the responsibility slope. Likewise, the ownership needs to look at their handling of things in the last few years as well.

Whether the GM had a wandering mind or the coach overlooked a few things, that doesn’t excuse a defence that showed no interest in clearing the zone, or an offense that had troubles negotiating a proper onside play let alone mount and offensive zone attack. If the GM was bringing in the wrong type of players for a faster paced league, surely somebody up in the private boxes must have noticed that the team was having a problem keeping pace.

None of that will change overnight under the stewardship of the interim GM Holmgren or the new face behind the bench in the form of John Stevens an assistant coach, who previously coached the farm club Phantoms to the AHL championship.

They will look over a line up that has been underperforming rather dramatically in this early season. This quote from Ed Snider suggests that player changes may not be on the way anytime soon: “We have a lot better talent on the team than we've shown so far.”

And while Snider may think that’s true, it’s certainly open to debate after the first eight games of the season. If Holmgren and Stevens have any hopes of moving from interim to permanent, they had best hope that the “better talent” gets a lot better pretty fast.

It’s always easiest to fire the coach; it’s not always the right thing. Accountability begins on the rink and this year the Flyers in all departments have deferred on that requirement.

It may have indeed been time for Clarke to leave, nineteen years is a long time to run a hockey team, especially in a league that seems to redefine itself every five years or so. And frankly there won’t be many that are terribly upset that he’s become the architect of his own demise.

Likewise perhaps Hitchcock had over stayed his welcome in Philadelphia, coaching in the NHL seems to be a vocation that demands results fast.

But if the ownership group wants to see a way out of their current predicament, looking in the mirror might help. As Alan Adams says at Sports on Fox, Snider took his eye of the team over the last few years, making the decision today an insulator over poor upper managment.

Today’s announcement was the first major bloodletting of the season, a surprising development for many observers in Philly. With a few other teams struggling out of the gate, it will be interesting to see if the Flyers are once again the trendsetters or the just an anomaly in the new NHL.

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