And then there were none.
The number of minority head coaches in the National Hockey League zeroed out Friday when the Philadelphia Flyers did the expected and fired Craig Berube after the team failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Berube, who is part Cree, joins former Buffalo Sabres Head Coach Ted Nolan, who’s Ojibwe, on the unemployment line. The two made history in November 2013 when they became the first two First Nations members to coach against each other in an NHL game.
“Do I think he did a good job last year? Yes,” Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall said of Berube. “And this year things didn’t go so well. So you take the whole piece of the pie. I don’t think you can evaluate a coach on 20 or 40 games; you have to evaluate him on the whole ball of wax. We felt over two seasons that a change was needed.”
The Flyers tapped Berube, 49, to replace Head Coach Peter Laviolette in October 2013. About a month later, Buffalo brought Nolan back for a second stint behind the Sabres bench.
Now the two have received their walking papers nearly a week apart. Neither firing was unexpected. Flyers management felt it had a playoff-caliber roster. But the team finished sixth in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division with a 33-31-18 record that wasn’t Stanley Cup Playoffs-worthy.
The team was plagued by inconsistent play – world-beaters against top-tier NHL teams, doormats against lesser opponents – and some questionable coaching decisions. Berube mismanaged goaltender Steve Mason, arguably the Flyers’ best player in 2014-15. Berube appeared to rush Mason back between the pipes early after the goalie suffered injuries.
Nolan’s canning wasn’t a shocker but the rationale for it was. The Sabres, at 23-51-8, had the NHL’s worst record, a dubious distinction that now puts the team in the best position to land the first overall pick in June’s NHL Draft, which will likely be Erie Otters forward Connor McDavid.
After putting an underwhelming product on the ice, and after a season of fan and media talk about the Sabres tanking for the best shot at McDavid, Buffalo General Manager Tim Murray said he let Nolan go because he thought the team was better than its record indicated.
“I didn’t foresee us being a 30th-place team,” Murray said at a news conference. “Certainly after the trade deadline, trading out guys I had a big part in that, there’s no question and I own that. But up to the trade deadline I was open to keeping guys, I was open to maybe discussing with guys that were coming due, but the place we were in was the place we were in.”
Whatever the rationale, both Buffalo and Philadelphia are in the market for head coaches. Both teams may take runs at Detroit Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock, whose contract in the Motor City expires soon.
However, Babcock will be in high demand – Detroit, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins will surely be interested – and he’ll demand to be paid, at least $5 million per season.
The Flyers may take a look at former Pittsburgh Penguins and U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team coach Dan Bylsma; St. Louis Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock; former Flyer player and Gold Medal-winning Canadian Olympic women’s hockey team coach Kevin Dineen; or even former Flyers Head Coach John Stevens, currently a Los Angeles Kings assistant coach.