Flyers change coaches again and fire Barber

Wednesday, May 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

VOORHEES, N.J. (AP) _ From the players to the executive suite, the Philadelphia Flyers admit a mistake: Bill Barber was not the right coach for this team.

Barber was fired by the Flyers on Tuesday, one day after players blamed him for their second straight first-round collapse in the playoffs.

``It's tough when you're a coach and lose respect from your players, and sometimes those things come out on the ice,'' forward Simon Gagne said.

Barber, the NHL's coach of the year last season, is the fifth coach fired by general manager Bob Clarke since 1997.

``We've made mistakes in the selection of coaches,'' team chairman Ed Snider said. ``The goal is to win. The situation with our coaches is not something we're proud of.''

Assistant coaches Mike Stothers and E.J. McGuire also were fired. Clarke said Barber would be offered another job in the organization.

``We just felt that there was no way of being able to heal the wounds that had developed between the coach and the players,'' Clarke said. ``They felt Billy needed to be calmer behind the bench and they needed a system put into place that they can all follow.''

Snider met with several players on Monday, and said they all agreed on the team's problems.

While Snider said he is considering other changes, Clarke's job is safe, even though the team has failed to get past the first round of the playoffs in four of the last five years.

``He's an outstanding GM,'' Snider said.

The Flyers won the Atlantic Division with 97 points, earning the second seeding in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But they lost to seventh-seeded Ottawa in five games, scoring a record-low two goals.

With a payroll of $55.5 million and a roster that included seven All-Star players and three former 50-goal scorers, Philadelphia was a favorite to reach the Stanley Cup finals.

``If we did overrate this team, then everybody in hockey overrated them,'' Clarke said.

The Flyers were 31-16-7 after Barber took over for Craig Ramsay in December 2000, but they lost in six games to Buffalo in the playoffs.

Keith Primeau, the team captain, was among the players who criticized Clarke on Monday.

``We say when we come to the bench, make that adjustment. He wants the player to make the adjustment. Our job is to play,'' Primeau said. ``I felt like I was having to make the adjustments on the bench. I don't feel that's part of my job description.''

Barber played his entire 12-year career with the Flyers, winning Philadelphia's only Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990. He has been with the organization for 30 years and is the team's career goals leader.

He spent four years as coach of the Philadelphia Phantoms, the Flyers' AHL affiliate, and led them to the championship in 1998 before becoming Ramsay's assistant.

Barber's wife, Jenny, died of lung cancer in December, but he didn't miss any games despite Clarke urging him to take time off.

Clarke spent $101 million on long-term contracts last summer, including a $45 million, five-year deal for John LeClair, who scored just 25 goals and had no points in the playoffs. He also swapped a top prospect and three draft picks for 39-year-old center Adam Oates at the trading deadline.

The Flyers struggled at the start, and were 15-10-5-1 by the middle of December. But they went 18-5-1-2 the next two months, and had the best record in the East at the Olympic break. Philadelphia won just nine of its last 26 games.

Clarke fired Terry Murray after the Flyers were swept in the 1997 Stanley Cup finals. His replacement, Wayne Cashman, lasted only 61 games into the 1997-98 season before Roger Neilson took over.

Neilson underwent treatment for cancer after coaching 57 games in the 1999-00 season. Ramsay filled in on an interim basis and led the Flyers to the conference finals, where they blew a 3-1 series lead to New Jersey.

After the playoff run, Ramsay was retained. But 28 games into the next season, Clarke replaced him with Barber.