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This smacks of bafflegab

Once again, Flyers have raised the bar for lunacy

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Posted: Thursday April 27, 2000 01:16 AM

By Jim Taylor, SLAM! Sports

Put aside the bickering, the back-stabbing, the Life of Lindros soaper and, more than anything, remove the word "cancer" from the equation.

Should Roger Neilson be coaching the Philadelphia Flyers, or shouldn't he?

Yesterday's announcement that Neilson will "assist" interim coach Craig Ramsay in some unspecified manner in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs smacks of bafflegab. But then, for the Flyers, that's par for the course.

The Bobby Clarke-Eric Lindros feud has been a festering boil on the organizational backside for at least two seasons. Rather than lance it, clean it and bandage it until it heals, they've tried to pass it off as a pimple that will clear up in time for the prom. And they're at it again.

Neilson, replaced as head coach by assistant coach Ramsay on an interim basis, is now an interim assistant to the interim head coach who replaced him.

It does not break the NHL franchise lunacy record.

That's still held by the 1973-74 Vancouver Canucks, who wanted to fire coach Bill McCreary in mid-season, couldn't find a replacement, and so assigned general manager Hal Laycoe -- himself once fired as head coach and not interested in doing it again -- to do double duty as an assistant coach to help McCreary.

Picture it: The GM who is the coach's boss simultaneously becomes an assistant coach bossed by the coach. Unless, of course, he uses his status as GM to overrule the coach, in which case he's not an assistant coach but a head coach, which he was fired as once and now says he doesn't want to be again. Strangely enough, it didn't work.

It won't work in Philly, either.

Exactly how is Neilson, the former assistant coach, supposed to assist his former assistant? Tape the sticks? Go for coffee? Take the old Captain Video costume out of mothballs and break down tape?

How are the players supposed to react to a man who was head coach until cancer treatments forced him to the sidelines, particularly since, coincidence or not, they've had more success since he left than they had when he was there?

How can they avoid the Lindros question when this man who was and is his friend is back in the mix?

Roger Neilson is a class act whose view of the situation is simple: He was the head coach. He got sick. Ramsay was named to take over until and if he came back. He's back. So why isn't he behind the bench running the show?

The Flyers may have a lot of reasons for wanting to park him deep in the background.

He is clearly aligned with Lindros in a situation that is bound to get messy. Team owner Ed Snider, incensed at Lindros' attack on the team medical staff over the diagnosis of his concussion, reportedly is determined that the former captain will never don the Flyers uniform again. And that's assuming he wants to, which may be setting leap-of-faith records.

But they have a defensible position: They're hot, they're winning, and you don't break up a winning combination in mid-playoffs.

There's even a precedent Neilson cannot dispute.

In 1982, when Canucks coach Harry Neale was under suspension, Neilson took over, the team got hot and, when Neale's suspension was over, he agreed to step aside rather than rock the boat. The Canucks under Neilson went all the way to the Stanley Cup final.

But that merely begs the issue.

Morality and ethics say give Neilson back his job, or pay him off and say good-bye. The Flyers, lacking the jam to do either, have opted to go into full waffle. Roger Neilson, ailing or healthy, deserves better than that.

More hockey from SlamSports    

Related information
Flyers' Neilson to assist remainder of playoffs
Neilson isn't thrilled about coaching situation
SI's Michael Farber: Flyers did what they had to do
SI's Leigh Montville: Neilson in wrong place for job security
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