Philly panics and pays, Phoenix keeps cool and wins
Posted: Tuesday January 9, 2007 1:43PM; Updated: Monday January 15, 2007 5:32PM
John Stevens' success with young Flyers in the AHL hasn't carried over to the NHL.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
E.M. Swift will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
You've heard it before: the best moves are sometimes the ones that a team's management doesn't make.
And so we have a tale of two cities -- Philadelphia and Phoenix -- that are heading in opposite directions.
Return with us now to Oct. 24, 2006. The Flyers, having played six of their first eight games on the road, have stumbled to a 1-6-1 start. They'd finished the previous season with 101 points, 45-26-11, and everyone has predicted in preseason polls that the Flyers would make the playoffs.
Suddenly, the team is in disarray. GM Bobby Clarke, three games into the young season, has resigned, saying his heart was no longer in the job. The Flyers have been outscored 15-33; their worst loss a 9-1 embarrassment at the hands of the Sabres. They can't score. Their goaltending stinks. Something has to be done. But what?
Meanwhile, three time zones away, the Coyotes are on a similar path. The record? 2-8-0. The prognosis? Bleak.
Like the Flyers, the Coyotes have had poor goaltending, they've been outscored 19-44, and they've been embarrassed 9-2 by a good team: the Red Wings. Unlike the Flyers, though, no one believed the Coyotes, who were coming off a last-place finish in the strong Pacific Division, were going to make the playoffs. But few people thought they'd be this bad.
What transpired? The Flyers' front office panicked. The Coyotes' front office kept their heads. Philly owner Ed Snider stepped into the void left by Clarke's resignation and, against Clarke's counsel, fired head coach Ken Hitchcock, a man who'd never had a losing season in 10 years behind an NHL bench. Snider replaced him with John Stevens, who'd never been an NHL head coach, but at least he'd had success in the minor leagues.
Result? Ten weeks later, the Flyers are the worst team in the league, with a record of 11-27-4. They've gone from five games under .500 to 16 games under, with absolutely no chance of making the playoffs and no dawn on the horizon.
They're even getting worse. The young players on the team are getting steeped in a culture of losing, and veterans like Peter Forsberg are hoping to get dealt out of town before the trading deadline. And Hitchcock? As I predicted in a previous column, he's landed on his feet in Columbus, where he's turned around a Blue Jackets team that was 5-13-2 before he arrived and 11-9-2 afterwards.
I have zero doubt that Hitchcock would have turned the Flyers around, as well. The moral of this part of the tale? Eight games does not make a season. Never underestimate the resilience and importance of a great coach.