SUN Hockey Pool

Fall of the Flyers

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

That Ken Hitchcock was fired yesterday as coach of the Philadelphia Flyers and Bob Clarke resigned as general manager was not too surprising given the club's brutal start.

But what has been hard to digest for Flyers fans was the fast rate at which the club fell. After all, Hitchcock signed a three-year contract extension in training camp, a move that made it clear no one with the organization had any inkling a 1-6-0-1 season-opening run was coming.

Said captain Peter Forsberg: "I'm not putting all the blame on Hitch or anybody else. I look at myself. I don't think we tuned him out, and I think Hitch is a good coach, but sometimes you need a change."

There were predictions the Flyers would fall off the map somewhat this season, and perhaps right out of the playoffs, which would end their 11-year post-season streak.

Clarke's signing of big and slow Derian Hatcher in the summer of 2005 came back to bite him. Not exactly suited for a faster NHL, Hatcher presently is 615th in the league in plus-minus at minus-10. The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder is the only NHL player who is in double digits in the minus category.

Sophomore Jeff Carter has two points in eight games and another, Michael Richards, has none in eight games. Only three teams, and the Flyers are one of them, do not yet have a goal from a defenceman.

The situation last week in which goalie Robert Esche took verbal shots at Hitchcock and then was left in net in a 9-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres was an embarrassment for the club.

Though Paul Holmgren and John Stevens have replaced Clarke and Hitchcock respectively, it did not take long for the rumour mill to spit out Mike Keenan, Colin Campbell and Ron Hextall as possibilities to surface in Philadelphia if little improves. Holmgren is in on an interim basis.

About the only factor the Flyers have to look forward to is sleeping in their own beds for awhile. On Thursday against the Atlanta Thrashers, the Flyers begin a five-game homestand. Their next road game is Nov. 6 in Toronto.

MCCABE MUST DO MORE

Bryan McCabe said something after scoring his first goal of the season on Friday night that might be a concern to the Maple Leafs coaching staff and probably will bring a smile to the Leafs' opponents.

"You get in trouble when you try to do too much," the Leafs defenceman said. "I am the same player and I have not changed a bit since last year."

McCabe is right. He has not changed since last year, which is why other teams having an easy time checking him on the Leafs' power plays. When McCabe's bread-and-butter -- his one-timer from the point while the Leafs have a man advantage -- is gone, it's hard to differentiate him from a number of defencemen. McCabe is being paid $7.15 million US this season. With one goal and five assists in nine games, McCabe is on pace for nine goals and 46 assists.

Given a five-year, $28.75-million contract that he signed in June after putting up career numbers in 2005-06, that's not good enough.

BRULE HOLDS HIS GROUND

Gilbert Brule is finding it has taken him a while to come around.

The Columbus Blue Jackets rookie, who looked good in an abbreviated shot in 2005-06, scored his first goal of the season Saturday night in a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In five games, Brule, who has been a healthy scratch once, has one goal and is minus-4.

But Blue Jackets general manager Doug MacLean said Brule, a potential candidate for the Calder Trophy, will not be going back to the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. Speculation has persisted that might happen.

"He is going to be a big-time player, because he has the heart of a lion," MacLean said. "It is not the ideal situation to send him back. We want him to play more here. I am going to let it play out and it will sort itself out."

Brule, 19, is eligible to play for Canada at the world junior in Sweden this winter. But Brule, who led the Giants to the Memorial Cup last spring, has had his fill of junior hockey.

"I want to be here the rest of the year," Brule said."(The Blue Jackets coaching staff) told me I have to earn everything I am getting. They are not just going to give it to me."

ICE CHIPS

Trade rumours are swirling around the Boston Bruins, who have two wins in seven games. One bit of speculation has winger Glen Murray joining his good friend Joe Thornton with the San Jose Sharks. Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov could go the other way ... Two nights after being booed at home, the Ottawa Senators' Jason Spezza had a goal and two assists in a crushing of the New Jersey Devils. "We relaxed and made the plays we used to make," Spezza said of the 8-1 blowout. It was New Jersey's worst loss since going down 9-2 to Washington on Jan. 1, 1993.

THE WEEK AHEAD

On Wednesday, Chris Pronger of the Anaheim Ducks meets the team he turned his back on, the Edmonton Oilers, for the first time since demanding a trade. But the Ducks' first game in Edmonton is not until Nov. 28 ... The Capitals begin a four-game trip on Wednesday in Colorado that also has stops in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary ... In a possible Western Conference final preview, the Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Thursday.


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