Philly free-fall

And we have our first firing and high-profile resignation of the new season.

Off to a 1-6-1 start and on the verge of becoming irrelevant, the Flyers fired head coach Ken Hitchcock on Sunday and accepted the resignation of general manager Bobby Clarke.

Hitchcock, who led Dallas to its only Stanley Cup in 1999 and is noted for having a no-nonsense style, was unable to match that success in Philadelphia -- which hasn't had a victory parade for the Flyers in 31 years. Through the first three weeks of the season, Hitchcock quickly shot up the charts to become the coach most likely to be axed first. I would've thought that honor was being saved for Columbus' Gerard Gallant.

Even more suprising was Hitchcock's dismissal happened after he was given a contract extension through the 2008-09 season during training camp last month.

He spent six successful seasons coaching Kamloops of the WHL to a pair of league championships and spent three seasons coaching two teams in the defunct IHL before joining the big league. While his style may have worked well with young and inexperienced players, he failed to realize for the second time that NHL players quickly tired of his act despite trying to change.

"If you talk to a group of 20 players, there's no impact," Hitchcock said in 1999. "You have to have leaders and let them push the message across. If I think there's a problem, I [bring] the veterans in and say, 'Here's the problem, go solve it.'"

In that interview, he called himself an "old-school" coach trying to live new times.

"This has become less of Xs and Os, and more of a people business," Hitchcock added. "I'm still running drills. Players want a similar routine. [But] I'm adapting to compromise."

The final straw for Hitch probably occurred Tuesday when he left goaltender Robert Esche in for the entire game in a 9-1 loss to Buffalo, the Flyers' most lopsided loss in nearly 13 years. Simon Gagne, Mike Knuble and the injured Peter Forsberg (sprained wrist) have accounted for 10 of Philadelphia's 15 goals in 2006-07.

Forsberg, the new Flyers captain, said he didn't think players tuned out Hitchcock.

“I think everybody knows Hitch. He demands a lot from the players, and he’s been here for a long time. But, 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," Forsberg said.

Clarke, long considered the face of the franchise dating back to days of the "Broad Street Bullies," was in his second stint as GM and got them into the Cup finals in 1985, 1987 and 1997. Overall, he spent 19 years as GM.

"I felt strongly from the end of last season on, I don't know if the right word is burnt out or tired, but the decisions that had to be made, I was not willing to make them," Clarke said. "I was letting other people make them. I know I didn't do the right job for this organization."

That now falls to interim GM Paul Holmgren and new coach John Stevens -- a former Flyer who led at AHL's Phantoms to the Calder Cup in 2005, Philadelphia won't play again until Thursday against Atlanta.

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