Making Sense Of The Philadelphia Flyers Coaching Situation

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 15: New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault looks on in the first period during a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Rangers on November 15, 2017, at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 15: New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault looks on in the first period during a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Rangers on November 15, 2017, at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Flyers supplemented their recent hiring of head coach Alain Vigneault with assistants, and former NHL head coaches, Mike Yeo and Michel Terrian. With a crowded coaching staff, can Philadelphia succeed?

Even though the Philadelphia Flyers season might have ended just short of the playoffs, that’s not to say their fans left completely disappointed. Their late-season push, along with the play of rookie goaltender Carter Hart, signaled sunny skies ahead for the franchise.

With the foundation seemingly in place for a strong team to be built, the Flyers next step was to find their next head coach. Then-interim head coach Scott Gordon, who replaced the underperforming Dave Hakstol mid-season, was the one who oversaw the Flyers late-season push back to relevancy and an almost comeback.

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Unfortunately for him, in the offseason, Philadelphia management chose former head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, but most notably Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers, Alain Vigneault as their new head coach.

By all means, Vigneault seemed like a logical choice. He comes to the city of brotherly love with a resume that includes taking his teams to two previous, but losing, efforts in the Stanley Cup Final. That might be a reason that Rangers and Canucks fans seemed to be the only ones around the NHL unimpressed with the decision.

As we previously noted on Puck Prose, Vigneault’s team’s play with a strength to defense, which should be music to emerging goaltender Carter Hart’s ears. That and Vigneault is the first Philadelphia head coach since Peter Laviolette to become Philly’s bench boss with previous NHL head coaching experience.

This past week, the Flyers have also announced who will join Vigneault as assistant coaches: Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien. Both are former NHL head coaches themselves, and Therrien and Vigneault share the distinction of once being Montreal’s head coach in common. Mike Yeo, once the NHL’s youngest head coach, has only dealt with the Western Conference with the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues. This will be his first foray into the Eastern Conference.

On paper, this coaching trio looks great and brings the type of experience team’s dream of, but then the questions start piling in. First, let’s start with Yeo. While head coach of the Minnesota Wild, his team never missed the postseason on his watch, except in his rookie season of 2011-2012. Yet they fell victim to playoff disappointment each year.

His ascension as Minnesota’s head coach directly coincided with the highly touted arrivals of free agent signings Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The two golden boys were joined by Thomas Vanek later on, yet Yeo’s team never lived up to the fanfare and potential the state of hockey expected from him. He also served a brief, and completely forgettable, tenure with the St. Louis Blues.

If there’s one person who should be thrilled to see Yeo come to Philadelphia, it’s Carter Hart. No matter how much Suter and Parise were overhyped, the Wild always had problems in-goal. It was under Yeo that Ilya Bryzgalov was able to go on a run to push Minnesota to the 2014 playoffs, and a year later rescued Devan Dubnyk from the NHL’s goaltending depths to be the Wild’s long term solution in goal. By no means is Yeo a goalies coach, but he’s one they thrive under.

Now enter Michel Therrien. Therrien, much like Yeo, fell victim to the high hockey expectations of his market, with his NHL coaching experience being two stints with the Canadiens bookending his work with the Pittsburgh Penguins during Sidney Crosby’s formative years.

In years where he was employed for a full season and didn’t fall victim to a mid-season firing, Therrien never missed the playoffs. He was a half a season away from winning a Stanley Cup in 2009 until a treading water record midway through that season led then general manager Ray Shero to show him the door. A few short months later, Dan Bylsma would raise the cup with the team Therrien had helmed since Crosby’s rookie year.

The Therrien and Crosby connection is an interesting one. Therrien was the coach with whom Crosby broke in the league and was led to his first Stanley Cup Final. But considering the number of coaches Crosby has gone through, how he has grown as a player since then, and the fact that it wasn’t until after Therrien left that Crosby reached his peak. that should prevent any high hopes from Flyers fans he can turn former second overall pick Nolan Patrick into the next Crosby.

Therrien, like Vigneault, also shares his disappointment in the Stanley Cup final. While Vigneault’s team posted losing efforts in 2011 in Vancouver and 2014 with the New York Rangers. Therrien’s Penguins lost in 2009 to the Detroit Red Wings. A year later, those teams would rematch with a different result, but the winning head coach was a fresh face.

Therrien’s departure from his last head coaching gig is an interesting story to tell. When he was fired mid-season in 2017, his Montreal Canadiens were sporting a strong record of 31-19-8. Granted, the Canadiens had begun to go on a skid since their strong start but were still far from a dire position.

When the rival Boston Bruins fired their head coach and Claude Julien was on the market, Canadiens brass couldn’t resist and quickly tied to upgrade. Why fire Therrien when the Canadiens were in a pretty strong position?

No doubt Julien has an impressive resume, but not one so much different from Therrien’s, minus the missing piece of his Stanley Cup championship with Boston (over Vigneault’s Canucks) in 2011. Maybe Montreal just loved Julien too much to let him slip away? Or maybe there were bigger problems at play with Therrien, perhaps losing control of his locker room that the Julien hiring took care of. These are the question Flyers fans might be asking for themselves.

Even though the Flyers say Alain Vigneault is the head coach with Theiren and Yeo as assistants, it appears at least the trio will have more pull than the usual assistant title. Having former NHL head coaches serve as assistants on other teams is nothing new, but having three is a separate story.

The New Jersey Devils in 2014-2015, falling far out of playoff contention, fired then head Coach Peter DeBoer, and replaced him with a trio of equal head coaches in then general manager Lou Lamoriello, former defenseman and assistant coach Scott Stevens, and former Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates.

For the Devils, it was an interesting experiment, but a complete failure. The Devils were at that lost season, they could have afforded to take the risk to try a completely different coaching system the NHL has never seen.

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While different, and the Flyers have a much more talented roster than the devils had at that point, the similarities between the two should at least draw a cautionary comparison.