The Dirty Half Dozen: Six choices for the next Flyers head coach

No matter which way you figure, the sands in the hourglass of Peter Laviolette’s tenure as Philadelphia Flyers head coach are rapidly descending towards the bottom.

The power vacuum, whether it is created during this six-day block, at the trade deadline or following the completion of this truncated season, will leave a huge question mark as far as discerning which direction the franchise will head going forward.

When it occurs, Laviolette will be the latest in a string of those given the reins, who didn’t manage to make it through four seasons at the helm.

That’s where our feats of prestidigitation and skills for prediction come in handy, since we’ve conferred with the Cosmos and came up with six familiar names who can capably fill the soon-to-be head coaching vacancy.

Thanks to

First, the most obvious choice: Terry Murray

Pros: Former Flyer (defenseman), former Flyers head coach (1994-97), current Phantoms head coach, he’s here for lack of any better immediate option.

Cons: Organizational retread, failed to help Florida Panthers as head coach, couldn’t help LA Kings reach that next level; taciturn tacitician.

I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that Murray left the Kings organization after being fired despite building up an eventual Stanley Cup winner, only to return to the Philadelphia sphere of influence. He’s been involved with the organization in five different capacities over the course of 37 years, and I can’t imagine he thinks this is the final stop before retirement.

If, somehow Murray ends up becoming coach even in an interim role, he’ll be just the second man in team history to be named to the top spot more than once. Bob McCammon was the first, sent packing back to the Maine Mariners of the AHL after just 50 games in 1978-79, but called upon once more from March of 1982 to the acrimonious end of the 1983-84 season.

Anyone who calls the Flyers out on their obviously low-risk, incestuous ways regarding good soldiers being slotted into important hockey positions won’t like this move one bit if it becomes more than temporary. While it can be interpreted in the long view as an olive branch given the way the first Murray era ended after a shocking Stanley Cup Finals sweep 16 years ago, in the short term it smacks of laziness and total lack of foresight.

We’ve covered the Phantoms quite a bit this season, and it appears that Murray’s “forechecking pressure in all three zones to create puck possession and offense,” according to both Phantoms beat writers as well as our man in the press box, has fallen flat on its face. Murray’s attention to defense and a more cohesive system may solve some of the Flyers’  issues, but it remains to be seen how the forwards will react and adapt to the switch and bear their new responsibilities.

Counteracting Murray’s steady hand, is the lack of a fire, an emotional persona the team could hook onto, gain confidence from or be whipped into shape by, like Laviolette displayed at key times.

Courtsey of the CBC

John Paddock

Pros: Former Flyer, former Bears/Wolf Pack head coach and two-time Calder Cup winner, former Phantoms GM and head coach, former NHL head coach.

Cons: Initial NHL experience came with mediocre Winnipeg club, previous head coaching job in Ottawa lasted less than one season, has never guided an NHL team to a playoff series victory.

Paddock, a 58-year-old Manitoba native, is a rare workplace archetype. You know, the kind of guy who does nothing spectacular, always works hard, and though the results are often underwhelming, he does the job he’s asked, never plays politics, manages to make a few friends in high places and always seems to find his feet no matter what happens.

Unfortunately, that kind of resume has ensured success at the Triple-A level but not in the big leagues. Paddock helped the Bears to a perfect 12-0 postseason in 1988, and then took the Rangers’ affiliate to the Calder Cup title in 2000. Incredibly, he holds the distinction of being the only man in club history to be head coach for three different Flyers AHL affiliates (Maine, Hershey, Philly/Adirondack) since his playing career ended. Paddock did an average job holding together a mediocre Jets team in Teemu Selanne’s early years, but managed to squander a 15-2-0 start to the 2007-08 season with Ottawa and didn’t even last to the end of the year.

I simply cannot imagine him rising to the occasion in the Cup-or-bust world of Ed Snider hockey after flaming out in middle-of-the road markets. He’d be immediately set up for failure, as the loyal soldier who would have to fall on his own bayonet for the front office failing to perform due diligence or again unwilling to take a chance. Then again, he’s always been kept around somehow, and if the organization mysteriously decides to undergo an overhaul, Paddock is a good two-year solution when expectations are either lowered or tempered.

Marc Crawford

From the Dallas Stars

Pros: Successful in four stops as NHL head coach, Stanley Cup winner (1996), turned around Nordiques in mid-90s, and Canucks franchise in late 90s/early 2000s, knows the grind well from his days as a player.

Cons: Abrasiveness, never involved in Flyers organization in any capacity, currently a coach in Switzerland.

The first true out-of-the box name on this list, Crawford’s most recent NHL experience was a two-year stint with the Dallas Stars where he won 89 games but failed to gain a playoff berth in the uber-competitive Western Conference. The man dubbed “747″ for his cross-country jaunts between the AHL and NHL as a player with Fredericton and Vancouver in the 80s had to take the fall for a team which was busy bronzing, then dealing with the departure of, franchise icon Mike Modano.

Crawford is a dangerous individual to the Flyers organization as Mike Keenan was a generation ago: a man with drive and intelligence, deeply committed to winning, but also using whatever methods he deems necessary to do so — even if it comes at the cost of alienating his bosses and players.  The Flyers’ brass are a group which wants its coaches to fall in line with the entrenched philosophy, and Crawford will buck the system to get results.

Nonetheless, he took a young and raw Nordiques team and molded them into champions as the Avalanche, then reassembled the mess Keenan left in Vancouver in 1998 and turned the Canucks into the finely-tuned “West Coast Express” before falling victim to the pressures of winning hockey in the West. He also presided over a prickly time in Kings history (2006-08), when it transitioned away from its veteran core to the current crop which eventually won it all last year.

If the Flyers come calling, you can bet he’d bail from die Schweiz in a microsecond to get another shot in the NHL. He will be a great short-term solution for a club on the cusp of reaching elite status if Paul Holmgren elects to keep “going for it.”

Lindy Ruff

Thanks to Allbuffalosportsblog

Pros: Managed to stay a head coach in the NHL for a decade-and-a-half, grinder’s heart and spirit, demands accountability from his players and himself.

Cons: Antagonized Flyers at every turn as a Sabres/Rangers player and as Sabres head coach since 1997, viewed as too entrenched with one organization

Ruff is the definition of a Buffalo Sabre, through and through. That’s one strike against him in Philadelphia as far as a head-coaching vacancy is concerned. But perhaps recalling his nasty spirit and take-no-prisoners attitude which defined his playing career, he’s somehow the first name on the lips of a certain number of frustrated Flyers fans as Laviolette’s replacement. The organization has a well-documented history of signing players who once antagonized their own, but in 46 years this hasn’t trickled down to a leadership role.

Let’s not argue, though, over the merits of a man who has accumulated 571 regular-season wins and 57 playoff victories through near-constant ownership drama in Buffalo. If ever there was a man who could keep an even keel while turmoil abounds, it’s Ruff. That’s key, since Ruff’s tenure with the Sabres’ top on-ice began in the midst of internal strife and media-player acrimony and was steady as she went through three different ownership changes and multiple GMs.

Let’s argue, though, over the fact that our city is not one that rewards getting close, doesn’t hold parades for losers, and doesn’t put much stock in one man doing a mere good job for very long. Ruff will feel the heat from Day One as head coach here. Good ain’t good enough for the front office or the fans, and it remains to be seen if Ruff can really hack it in a major market despite his one-stop coaching experience.

Craig MacTavish

Pros: Former Flyer, played game as a former Flyer would have when not with organization, Four-time Stanley Cup winner, can defend players against renegade mascots.

Cons: Working in cushy high-level hockey operations job with the Oilers, previous cushy job in Canadian TV, may not want to take on a high-pressure position in a high-pressure city.

A real dark horse. Has anybody out there actually seriously considered a veritable “Return of the Mac” for the vacant Flyers head coaching job? He’s got the perfect temperament — calm on the outside but always waiting to Hulk out when necessary to the officials or his own team. He’s a multiple winner as a player, one-time finalist as Oilers head coach and was a universally-beloved veteran figure when he played here in the mid 90s. He’s another guy eventually given the boot due to the vagaries of the Western Conference, but 301 wins in eight years behind the bench aren’t a fluke.

Right off the bat, no matter what the plan on reshaping the roster will be, you can rest assured MacTavish will have the trust of the Holmgren-Clarke-Luukko-Snider conglomerate as well as their confidence — but it remains to be seen what, if anything the franchise can do to lure him away from the team which gave him a home following a dark period in his life, one which has made him Senior VP of hockey operations. Edmonton has been home for many ex-players both in and out of the game, and Crazy Craig will have to be rewarded handsomely to head back into the frying pan.

Thanks to Regan Bartel

Brent Sutter

Pros: He’s one of the famous Sutters, brother to former Flyer twins Rich and Ron. Won 97 games in two seasons with New Jersey.

Cons: Failed to lead the Calgary Flames to a postseason berth in three full seasons, former Devils head coach who did not win a playoff round, not a former Flyer.

There’s nothing the Flyers like more than a hard-working man from northern Canada, and the 50-year-old Sutter fits the bill. One of the six members of the competitive Sutter clan to roam NHL rinks, Brent (who won two Cups with the Islanders), knows the city as a former opponent, knows the division (as former New Jersey head coach) and his temperament and work-ethic dovetails nicely with the organization’s principles.

Nonetheless, he’s had more success at the junior level, leading the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League to a league crown, Memorial Cup and almost 300 wins in eight years. In addition, Sutter led Team Canada to Gold Medals at the 2005 and ’06 WJC’s. All he has to show for 410 NHL victories are two first-round playoff losses in 2008 (to the Rangers) and ’09 (to Carolina) and one division title.

That lack of playoff success will not sit well with the higher-ups, who we’re all sure have had their fill of the standard 40-plus-win, 90-plus-point seasons year after year with no significant payoff despite the healthy bottom line that record of steady winning has produced. In the traditional mold, Sutter isn’t an out-of-the-box thinker who can strategize his clubs beyond a certain point no matter how much talent a roster possesses.

Honorable Mention: Todd MacLellan,  Rick Tocchet, Keith Acton, John Stevens

  • steve beck

    how about Dave Poulin?

    • Bob H

      Poulin’s carved out a path as an executive. He’s too damn smart to be a head coach. He’d be at the top of my list as next Flyers GM.

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