Coaching matters. Especially how the coach interacts with his players. Mike Babcock was given the biggest contract in the history of the sport (8 years, $50 million) and he did not last through half of the contract because of some of the negative relationships he had with his players. This seems to be a similar situation to what transpired the last couple years in Philadelphia with Alain Vigneault.
There were rumors of feuds between Vigneault and players like Jake Voracek and Carter Hart. The team looked lost under Vigneault and even though they have been just as bad under interim head coach Mike Yeo, some of the younger players have produced better since he took over. This is not a pro-Mike Yeo article because he is one of the worst coaches with game plans. However, Yeo just seems like he positively connects with his younger players and that is what an assistant coach or developmental coach should be able to do properly. The Flyers need better talent and better players, but they also need the right coach to add stability.
The Flyers will have a full-scale change in their coaching department going into the 2022-23 NHL season. Yeo has been a lame-duck coach since taking over after the Flyers fired Vigneault. The Flyers need to target the correct coach to go along with the team the front office wants to build. Coaching is more about the right guy than the best guy.
For example, Alain Vigneault was a very successful coach. He has won almost 60% of the games he has coached. He has taken multiple teams to Stanley Cup Finals and has been a coach for almost 20 seasons. No one is going to tell you that Vigneault was not a successful NHL coach, but perhaps he was not the right coach for this Flyers team.
Some of the top teams in the NHL this year are Toronto, Colorado, Carolina, and Tampa Bay. They all have one thing in common as well, they are all lead by first time (first time meaning that the current team they are with is their first NHL coaching stint) NHL coaches in Sheldon Keefe, Jon Cooper, Rod Brind’Amour, and Jared Bednar. Cooper and Bednar won championships in the AHL and ECHL before becoming NHL coaches. Brind’Amour was an assistant coach for Carolina for several year before becoming an NHL coach. Keefe won championships in the AHL and CCHL (Central Canada Hockey League) and had many successful seasons in Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL. The constant is that all these coaches cut their teeth in the lower levels of hockey, building their way up and gaining experience with younger players.
The Flyers need to identify a coach that has been successful and that has a game plan on how they are going to maximize the talent the Flyers currently have. Great coaches get the most out of middling talent, and sometimes will beats skill. Head coach of the Islanders, Barry Trotz, gets the most out of his team no matter if it was the expansion Nashville Predators or the current Isles. Trotz won a Stanley Cup with Washington. Washington letting him become a free agent and go to a division rival was a huge miscalculation. Trotz followed that with two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Isles. There is not currently a Barry Trotz out there for the Flyers to scoop up.
But one of the Trotz disciples could be. Lane Lambert is currently the assistant coach of the Islanders. He has been on Trotz’s staffs since Nashville. He has never had an NHL head coaching gig but having learned under Trotz and having multiple years and teams elevates his experience. Lambert was a former player and could be a similar coaching hire as Rod Brind’Amour.
Another former player and current head coach of Boston’s AHL affiliate Providence Bruins, Jay Leach, is another coach that has been on successful staffs like under Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan and Calgary’s former coach Geoff Ward.
Another coach that could be ripe for the Flyers is Ottawa’s AHL affiliate Belleville Senators head coach Troy Mann. He has done a really solid job getting current NHLers Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, and Alex Formenton ready for the top level. Developing the in-house talent has been a real problem for the Flyers. Mann would help the Flyers navigate the younger players becoming full time NHL players.
Whoever the Flyers choose as their future head coach, we know that person has many hurdles to overcome. Lambert, Leach, or Mann would be solid and oddly not headline-grabbing selections to be the next bench boss. Also, the cost-conscious Comcast would not have to break the bank for any of those coaches.