Posted by Katie Peverada
On Monday morning, Oct. 7, the Philadelphia Flyers fired head coach Peter Laviolette, just three games in to the 2013-14 NHL season. Granted, the Flyers are off to their second-straight 0-3 start, which follows a dismal 1-5-1 preseason. But firing Laviolette means firing a coach with 389 career victories, which is second-most all-time for American-born coaches. And weren't the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Finals a few years ago? Yes, but contrary to popular belief, Flyers' general manager Paul Holmgren might have made the right choice.
Laviolette had 146 wins-98 losses-29 ties over the course of his stint with the Flyers, taking them to the playoffs three straight years, including the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. His career winning percentage of .570 is 13th among active coaches (minus Patrick Roy, who is 2-0 in his first year behind the bench). But that Laviolette's success wore out should come as no surprise.
Laviolette is known for getting off to great starts in his coaching stints. In his first act as a head coach in 2001, he took over a futile New York Islanders team that had not reached the playoffs since 1994 and took them there two years in a row.
Laviolette parted ways with the Islanders after the 2002-03 season, and took over the 8-12 Carolina Hurricanes partway through the 2003-04 season, finishing 20-22-6. The next season, Carolina tied for the second-best winning percentage (.683), made the playoffs and ended up winning the Stanley Cup. However, despite finishing with respectable 40-34-8 and 43-33-6 records in 2006-07 and 2007-08, respectively, Laviolette failed to guide the former champions back to the playoffs. It marked the first time in modern NHL history that a team missed the playoffs two years in a row after winning the Cup. And, during his fifth year as the coach in the 2008-09 season, Laviolette was let go by general manager Jim Rutherford after a 12-11 start.
A coach of Laviolette's success was not going to be out of work long, and during the 2009-10 he again took over for a team after the season had started. Laviolette went 28-24-5, guiding the 13-11-1 Philadelphia Flyers he had inherited to not only the playoffs, but also to the Stanley Cup Finals. In Laviolette's first full season as the head coach, his team finished first in the Atlantic Division, but lost to the eventual champion Boston Bruins in the second round of the playoffs. But another second round playoff loss to the New Jersey Devils in 2011-12 had some calling for his job, questioning his ability to win it all. During the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Philadelphia could not find its groove, finishing 23-22-3 and missing the playoffs. Fans and pundits wanted and/or predicted Laviolette's firing before the current NHL season was over.
And, of course, Monday's firing came just three games into the young 2013-14 season. According to NHL.com, this is the quickest firing of a coach since Oct. 19, 1969, when the Detroit Red Wings fired Bill Gadsby two games into the season.
However, just as Laviolette has showed twice in his career, some mid-season firings and hirings end up benefiting the team in the long-term.
During the 2008-09 season, Dan Bylsma took over for the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins in February. Under Bylsma the team surged and finished 18-3-4, winning the Stanley Cup. Bylsma has guided the Penguins, many times amid injury turbulence, to the playoffs every year since.
Bruce Boudreau has done it with two different teams. First, Boudreau took over for a 6-14-1 Washington Capitals team during the 2007-08 season. The Capitals went 37-17-7 the rest of that season, making it to the conference quarterfinals. Boudreau and the Capitals returned to the playoffs the next three years before Boudreau himself was fired 22 games into the 2011-12 season. But, like Laviolette, Boudreau didn't last long on the market, taking over the 7-13-4 Anaheim Ducks that same season. The Ducks missed the playoffs but finished a respectable 27-23-8 in the remaining 58 games. And in 2012-13, Boudreau took the Ducks to the playoffs with the third-best record in the league.
There are a lot of success stories of midseason takeovers, from Bylsma and Boudreau to Larry Robinson and Daryl Sutter. Robinson took over the New Jersey Devils with eight games left in the 1999-2000 regular season and led them all the way to a title. Sutter, more recently, led a struggling Los Angeles King team from their December turmoil to a Stanley Cup title in June.
From 2000-2011, NHL teams went a combined 971-943 after a coach's firing, a significant improvement over the 771-896 record of the coaches they replaced.
The Flyers, then, made the move that appears to be the best in the long term, and Laviolette is most likely going to be the first coach called when a team undoubtedly makes another change this season.
Who knows, maybe the Flyers will face Laviolette and his new team in the playoffs.