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"950 ESPN's Flyers Reporter Mike Mreczko"
Philadelphia, PA • United States • 23 Years Old • Male
Let me start off by saying I like John Stevens a lot and I think he is a promising young coach... But when you look at the Flyers struggles this season and factor in the personnel that was brought in, it seems that the philosophy is flawed and/or the message is not getting through. Either one of those explanations starts with the coach.

A team can take a night off here and there or have mental lapses for stretches in games. But this team has had way too many nights where we have heard the same mantras repeated over and over about "attention to details" "playing hard for 60 minutes" "matching the intensity of the other team" and the like... Often for several consecutive games in a row. Think about the long February and pre-Christmas losing streaks for this team, many of the other losses they have suffered and even some of the games they won this year and you find some very common themes: Slow starts, too many guys on their heals, and lack of urgency in crucial times (particularly in 3rd periods).

I have tried to figure out other explanations before blaming a coach in his first full season, including:
* Could a team who added in so many new faces be going through an extended feeling out process for each other?
* Could the players be overconfident? Either in their abilities going in to the game or because of how they have been able to come back so often?
* Do the players need to be faced with adversity to get going?
* Is leadership lacking on this team? (that went out the window real fast)

I think if you look at those possibilities, you see that the answer is no, or at least not enough to explain why this team has underachieved for much of this season. No, I didn't expect a Stanley Cup year--in fact, I had the Flyers pegged for 6th in the East. But a team of this talent should never go through the types of droughts they have; they should never squander as many opportunities for winnable games as they have; and they should never have the same over and over again.

The first red flag that went up for me to think Stevens might be the cause was when he said that the team had executed their game plan after the February 23rd game... That game was another blown HOME game against an inferior opponent playing their backup goalie. You remember that one? When the Panthers scored with 3 seconds to go in the 3rd and then won it in overtime?

Briere and others have also talked about playing "their game" and making other teams make mistakes and then capitalize. But there's a fundamental flaw with their approach: This team plays its best when it forces the issue and toes the line, even if at times it crosses the line.

The Flyers need to force the issue, right from the drop of the puck. They don't need to bait teams into mistakes, they need to force teams into mistakes. And I believe Stevens isn't coaching them to do that. The Flyers need to play with a furious forecheck and be more aggressive further on the periphery of the zone rather than concentrate on "protecting home plate" as Stevens has called it.

Urgency isn't just a matter of mindset that you can flick a switch internally. You need to do things on the ice. Either Stevens doesn't preach that to his team, or his message isn't getting through. But both explanations fall on the coach.

In his defense, Stevens has done a good job of keeping the team together and the locker room in order. He has kept the team thinking positive and challenged them to pick it up.
But when the same problems happen as often as they have this year for this group, something isn't getting across to the players to have them prepared and playing more consistently. Or if it is the wrong message is being sent.

I'm not saying Stevens should go, but he could. Not in the style of Claude Julien down the stretch run, but if this team should miss the post-season, it is a distinct possibility. Remember--he only got a one-year extension in December.
What I am saying is that some changes are needed, in philosophy... This team needs to be coached to play with an edge. Downie and Cote should never be benched on the same night, because some spark is needed.

Before you look at Biron who hasn't been a #1 before but has the capability, before you look at Briere's -24 when over 30 of his points have come on the power play, before you look at the injuries that has plagued this team, look at the way this team plays night in night out and how they are preparing for the game and the gameplan once they take the ice. And ask: does the man behind the bench have the right philosophy to get the most out of this team?

Mike Mreczko is the Flyers reporter for Sports Radio 950 in Philadelphia. Send questions or comments to [email][email protected][/email]
Filed Under:   Flyers  
March 13, 2008 9:38 PM ET | Delete
Mike, good blog. I am debating the coaching question in my mind for the last few days. I had been defending Stevens for most of the year, but he was blatantly outcoached by Paul Maurice, who is a pedestrian coach. I just can't be sure that firing Stevens is the ONLY answer.
March 13, 2008 9:40 PM ET | Delete
I browsed your blog. I agree. I do like Stevens, but he just isn't getting his message across for some reason. I loved Hitchcock, but thats in the past now. The talent that we have is great, and could make a run in the playoffs if the teams starts playing well. Stevens has done a good job with all of the injuries, but there is on thing that I think he has done a complete terrible job on. Line Juggling.Stevens is always mixing up the lines trying to make things happen, but doesnt stick with them long enough for the line mates to get a good chemistry going. Also, his healthy scratches just amaze the hell out of me. Play Kukkonen and Downie. Kukkonen is always laying his body out for the team, and Downie is nitty gritty. Play Cote too, he isnt taking back penalties anymore and keeps playing hard and fighting.I do like Stevens, but he cant beat Defensive hockey (Montreal and Jersey), and I hate the scratches that he picks.
March 13, 2008 10:05 PM ET | Delete
I agree with JS - shocker - that Paul Maurice ran circles around Stevens in those two games and he is no HOF coach. That being said, removing Stevens and brining in coach X isn't going to make this team a cup contender. We have much bigger issues like lack of puck possession and forchecking in the offensive zone, hidiously bad defensive zone coverage, inability to clear the puck, lack of consistent effort from period one through three. The list goes one and on. Would replacing John Stevens FEEL better - yes. Would it make the team measurably better - I am not so sure.Nice blog, Mike.SYF
March 13, 2008 10:42 PM ET | Delete
That's my reason for being on the fence. Say Stevens gets fired Monday. Does dressing Kukkonen more often make the team better? No. Does dressing Downie every night? No. But, when you botch a line change during a 4 on 4, late in the third period of a one goal game...I don't know. Words fail me
March 13, 2008 11:05 PM ET | Delete
I disagree. I think Kukkonen has proven himself, especially over Modry or (Vandameer). I like Downie over Tolpeko. I guess the players may be an opinion thing, but I do believe there will be a lot of changes in the summer.
March 13, 2008 11:13 PM ET | Delete
I prefer Kukkonen over Modry and Downie over Tolpeko. But, it's not as if you are sitting Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky to play Shawn Cronin and Al Conroy. Kukkonen might make the team slightly better, same with Downie. But I have also seen Kukkonen and Downie be non factors, too.
March 14, 2008 5:34 AM ET | Delete
Coaching is a very big problem. Modry is almost useless. My Flyer buddies down here in Texas and I all agree: Kukkonen is a preferred starter over half of the guys Stevens starts. I think Tolpeko was an ok move. He seems like one of the only guys that came out in the Leafs loss that tried. With Stevens, instead of sitting sullen with what doesn't even appear to be a grimace, perhaps it's time to get angry? Motivate maybe? I was questioning Stevens when the Flyers got it into the Leafs zone with an upcoming offensive faceoff and he didn't pull the goalie then. (1:40 on the clock). If your team hadn't scored by then, might as well pull the goalie. The Flyers are notorius for not getting the puck back into the zone when they need to get the goalie off the ice. Injuries aside, I think Stevens needs to let these guys play together without jumbling them into a new line set after two or less games. There are plenty of good coaches on the bench and plenty of good ones that don't have a job right now. Stevens is just lucky that he took the worst team in the league to a mid-level one in one year with a chance to make the playoffs. I know Gagne, Lupul, and Richards injuries aren't his fault...but come on...lame excuse. It doesn't change the fact that your club is coming out flat and emotionless. I don't think it is all Stevens, but a lot of his roster moves just seem questionable.
March 14, 2008 5:36 AM ET | Delete
Good blog btw. Thanks for the good bit of writing.
March 14, 2008 9:20 AM ET | Delete
Nice blog.
March 14, 2008 10:07 AM ET | Delete
Great article! I am sick of hearing people defend Stevens like he is infallible. It's the reason I stopped going to the Flyers forum. Stevens isn't an awful coach by any means but I think he's too young to be coaching such a young team. I think we need someone with more experience behind the bench right now.
March 14, 2008 10:46 AM ET | Delete
Nice job Mike. I feel Stevens will not be canned this year as the Flyers aren't a cup fav and I don't see Homer pulling a Lamerillo b/c of that. It's obvious Stevens has no clue on how to get this team going, nor do I think he has the right "gameplan" in mind if he could. It's on the veteran leaders now to pick up the pieces and get this team pointed in the right direction again IMO.
March 14, 2008 12:27 PM ET | Delete
Nice blog. I agree completely. I believe that Stevens has a great hockey mind and I have heard from Clement how analyical he is. However, hockey is a passionate sport, with passionate fans (especially Flyers fans), and this team needs a passionate coach.
March 15, 2008 9:32 AM ET | Delete
The things is, after watching him get badly outcoached by Paul Maurice-who I consider to be an average, at best, NHL head coach, and seem him pull defense pairs out of a hat form most of the year, I am not sold on Stevens' great hockey mind. The most troubling things is that the guy doesn't seem to be learning a whole lot from his mistakes.
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