Now, it’s important that we realize where the Flyers franchise stood in the league. They were on their fourth coach in four years having just embarrassingly dismissed Roger Neilson as he fought cancer. In the summer, Lindros was exiled, awaiting a trade that wouldn’t come for more than a year. The Flyers were tagged as the most dysfunctional franchise in all of sports. Even those of us who were dogged supporters of the team were having a hard time showing pride in the chaos that was happening at Broad and Pattison. After an ugly start to the 2000-2001 season they hired their fifth coach in five seasons, Bill Barber.
Sixteen Months of Bill Barber
Neilson was the tactician, Ramsey was the players coach and now Barber would be the disciplinarian. The vets balked almost immediately. There was an infamous meeting on the ice between Primeau and Barber that year in which they attempted to clear the air in Tampa. It was hard to argue the results as the Flyers went 31-16-7 and over came a poor start to make the playoffs. They lost in six games to the Sabres, Primeau (their leading goal scorer in the regular season) had a familiar three assists. Barber went on to win the Jack Adams trophy as coach of the year.
With Lindros still on the block the Flyers began the 2001-2002 season. By November it was apparent something was going on with the team, the players knew it, the media covering the team knew it and the front office knew it. The fans were being told it was a privacy matter. Bill Barber’s wife had cancer and it was just a matter of time. Now, I’m not sure how it was handled but it couldn’t have been easy. The Flyers were coming off the Roger Neilson fiasco, they were on their fifth coach in five years, how could they handle this without coming off even more dysfunctional. Barber wanted to stay on, he would later say that his wife wanted him to continue doing what he loved so he didn’t concentrate on her disease. Bill Barber was a member of the Flyer’s family, not some hired gun from the outside. They wanted to take care of him. He kept his job. He lost his wife in December of that year. Missing just a few games to attend to family business.
Six weeks to go in the season Barber went to Clarke and told him he felt like he was losing the team. The team was tired of his rants on the bench, tired of having every mistake pointed out to them. They were a veteran team who didn’t need the constant harassment. Barber promised he’d adjust and according to Clarke he did. He was calmer behind the bench. They went to the playoffs that year and met the Senators in the first round. What followed was perhaps the biggest playoff embarrassment in Flyers history. They scored two goals in a five game series, managing to win a game on Roman Cechmanek’s stellar goaltending.
The embarrassment didn’t stop when the playoffs ended. The players lashed out at the coach, claiming they were unprepared to face the Senators. Barber failed to make adjustments. While Mark Recchi and Brian Boucher (who was ticked because he saw very little playoff action) whined, Keith Primeau took the point. The man who was coach of the year in 2001 was now Primeau’s target.
“We had the worst power play in the league, why are we not practicing it? (the Flyers were out scored 4-1 on the power player and 4-1 even strength, 3-0 with the goalie pulled. Their goal scorers in that series were Dan McGillis and Ruslan Fedotenko). The tirades on the bench. All season long we said if someone makes a mistake, they’re getting yelled at.”
We say when we come to the bench, make that adjustment. He wants the player to make the adjustment. Our job is to play. I felt like I was having to make the adjustments on the bench. I don’t feel that’s part of my job description.”
Please, someone tell me what he was talking about here and why players shouldn’t make adjustments and how something that needed to be handled on the bench was outside the job description of the team captain? And who says that on a team? It’s not my job description, you’re kidding me right? Doing what it takes to help your team win is not in your job description so you’re not doing it… That’s great. Is it in your job description to score? A five game point scoring slump during the regular season is disturbing, a five game point scoring slump in the playoffs from your top six forwards is a disaster. Can you imagine any team in the NHL at any time going through a five game period where not ONE of their top six forwards registers a single point and that team winning those games?
“I know I had an off year. I accept that I was terrible in the playoffs. (Five games, zero points) I know other guys will too. I’ve seen a few players on good teams have off years. Explain to me why every one of our top players had off years.”