Craig Berube is in as the Philadelphia Flyers' new coach, replacing Peter Laviolette three games – three! - into the new 2013-14 NHL season. It felt like a panic move, which is what a lot of moves the Flyers make these days feel like.
They can be bold – trading away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards on the same day – and occasionally puzzling – signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a monster free-agent contract, acquiring Steve Mason from the Columbus scrap heap – but they are always interesting. Philadelphia has money to spend and an intensely loyal and involved owner in Ed Snider, so emotion figures into the equation more in Philadelphia than almost anywhere else in the NHL.
There is a Flyer way of doing things and Berube epitomizes the Flyer way. As a player, he was immensely popular wherever he landed – and the same apparently has been true in his various coaching assignments up to now. Berube was one part of one of the most controversial trades in NHL history – 10 players changing places between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Calgary Flames back in January of 1992. Doug Gilmour went to the Leafs as the centrepiece of the deal and essentially turned the Leafs' franchise around. Gary Leeman came the other way and was an abysmal fit in Calgary. The deal started the Flames' long slow side from elite team into mediocrity and the only player that ever really lived up to his billing was Berube, who was from Calahoo, Alta. He played 113 games for Calgary, and fought a lot of fights for a team that was turning the leadership over to Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts and that group. With 3,149 career penalty minutes, seventh on the all-time NHL list, Berube will put a little bit of the fight back into the boys from Broad Street, who are anything but bullies these days.
More than anything else, the Flyers look as if they need to be energized. Watching their listless play in a 2-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes Sunday – and seeing Claude Giroux struggle to make an impact – you just had a sense that the Flyers would make a move sooner rather than later, unwilling to fall further behind in what figures to be a competitive season-long struggle to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
As a personality, Berube is really the antithesis of Laviolette. The latter is slick and cerebral; the former, a heart-on-his-sleeve sort of competitor, known throughout the hockey world as a stand-up guy. Sometimes, when a coach's shelf life expires, you just need someone different behind the bench – a different voice, a different approach. Berube will be different than Laviolette.
It's a funny team at the moment, with Giroux as captain and two ex-captains, Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit also on the roster, you'd think they'd have oodles of leadership there. But Lecavalier and Streit likely feel that as newcomers, they cannot completely exert their influence just yet, and the rest of the team is so young, that they're not ready to assume full leadership roles either. It will likely come in Philadelphia – just not soon enough to keep Laviolette's head off the chopping block.