What can we expect from Stevens?

PATRICK WILLIAMS -- For SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 12:09 PM ET

VOORHEES, N.J. -- What should be expected from new Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Stevens?

Stevens walks directly into the hornet's nest known as the Philadelphia Flyers and does so very much an unknown quantity to those outside of AHL circles.

Stevens, who replaced Ken Hitchcock as head coach of the 1-6-1 Flyers on Sunday morning, has flown under the radar of most Philadelphia hockey fans and media for years. This, despite Stevens running the Flyers' AHL show for six seasons as head coach of the Philadelphia Phantoms at the storied old Spectrum just across a parking lot from the Wachovia Center.

Well, for one thing, the Flyers have themselves a coach who has handled far more sticky and delicate situations than most 40-year-old coaches have seen. Between championships, last-place finishes, winning streaks, losing streaks, phenomenal chemistry, dressing-room politics and so on, Stevens has seen much in his time.

The situation that Stevens now finds himself immersed in is one in which he has already dealt with at the AHL level. His Phantoms limped out to a 2-5-1-1 record to start the 2003-04 season and played a soft brand of low-scoring hockey in doing so.

Along with a few additions aimed at toughening up his roster, including adding current Phantoms head coach Craig Berube, Stevens righted the Phantoms' ship in taking the Phantoms on a 44-20-6-1 roll over the remainder of that season for a 101-point first-place divisional finish.

In that six-season span with the Phantoms, Stevens experienced the gamut of professional success and failure. Under Stevens, the Phantoms won a Calder Cup in 2005 but also twice missed the Calder Cup playoffs.

Stevens coached veteran-laden teams, and he guided a young, inexperienced group. He pushed complacent AHL lifers, he nurtured 20-year-old rookies fresh out of the Canadian Hockey League and he dealt with a wide range of players and personalities that ranged from blue-chip talent to ECHL weekend recalls.

Last season in the AHL, Stevens was presented with what was mostly a patchwork, rag-tag line-up of has-beens, projects and journeymen that struggled early and often. The Phantoms ultimately did not earn a playoff berth. But even after being eliminated from AHL playoff contention, the Phantoms battled to the finish (literally, as they had a season-ending skirmish on the road with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to close out their season finale).

So what can those around the Flyers and the NHL expect from Stevens?

For one thing, do not expect a fire-and-brimstone personality, but do expect a calm, collected demeanour from Stevens. Some Phantoms fans took umbrage with Stevens' seemingly placid style, but in reality Stevens simply is a head coach who did not lose his cool on the bench.

And frankly, a Flyers team that is a wounded, fragile bunch these days can stand to benefit from some of Stevens' calm, measured presence.

That said, Stevens' calm should not be misinterpreted. Stevens is an ultra-prepared, almost obsessive hockey junkie who would use long AHL bus rides to dissect video from that night's game.

Stevens' AHL teams nearly always competed. On the odd night when they did not, such as a gruesome 8-2 home mauling at the hands of the Hartford Wolf Pack last March, Stevens reacted quickly. With some tough love and some teaching from Stevens after that Hartford debacle, that same collection of players proceeded to win six of their next eight games during the thick of the AHL playoff stretch drive.

Systems-wise, Stevens' Phantoms team played a style relatively close to that which the Flyers have employed. No NHL-AHL relationship is closer than the one between the Flyers and Phantoms, and so the teams' systems are closely related. Expect a defensively responsible approach that relies upon a strong transition game.

Secondly, Stevens can relate well to today's player. He is less than a decade removed from his own playing days. Along with his championships, he brings the credibility of someone who played the game for 15 professional seasons.

Stevens played briefly alongside current Flyers Geoff Sanderson with the Hartford Whalers during the early 1990s and played in that same organization when new interim Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren was manning the Whalers' bench.

Moreover, Stevens is intimately familiar with the current Philadelphia roster. Eleven players on the current Philadelphia roster played for Stevens at some point with the Phantoms, nine of them playing major roles with Stevens' 2005 Calder Cup championship team.

Expect a team-first approach. Stevens is almost fanatical, a zealot, in preaching the team-first gospel. In other words, anything like the commentary that Robert Esche has dished up lately is not likely to go very far with Stevens.

Then there is the issue of team toughness, an issue that has caused much consternation for Philadelphia fans. This year's edition of the Flyers has not been particularly impressive in their willingness to mix it up and get their noses dirty.

Stevens' teams, while they for the most part do not generally go looking for trouble, they are not wallflowers, either.

The shenanigans on display from Buffalo's Andrew Peters last Tuesday are not likely to go unchallenged by a Stevens-coached team. In the third period of the blowout, Peters delivered a (clean) hard hit on Philadelphia captain Peter Forsberg that drew only a tepid response from the Flyers.

"New NHL" or not, with Stevens coaching, such behaviour from an opponent is sure to be challenged.

In today's era when NHL teams are dependent upon their AHL affiliates more than ever, one cannot have a true grasp on the NHL without at least having a working knowledge of the AHL.

So, Stevens now joins a rapidly growing fraternity of AHL coaches who have jumped to the NHL to run their own shows. Paul Maurice, Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien and now Stevens all were AHL head coaches as recently as last season.

In fact, Stevens' NHL head-coaching debut on Thursday night at home versus Atlanta will see him go up against Bob Hartley, who cut his teeth with the Hershey Bears and the old Cornwall Aces. Stevens will follow up his debut by butting heads with Pittsburgh's Michel Therrien and Chicago's Trent Yawney, both familiar foes from Stevens' AHL days.

In all, 18 of the NHL's 30 current head coaches have AHL head-coaching experience. Stevens is one of six current NHL bench bosses to have won a Calder Cup as a head coach.

Now, having spent years in the AHL as a player and then as a coach quietly toiling away, Stevens finally joins that fraternity.


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