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He Wasn’t a Bad Coach, He Just Wasn’t the Right Coach

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

Another game goes by, another loss. Another game goes by, another dismal offensive performance. Another game goes by, another embarrassing showing. The Philadelphia Flyers’ 2021-22 season has completely spiralled out of control and because of that, head coach Alain Vigneault and assistant coach Michel Therrien were both relieved of their duties on Monday morning, while Mike Yeo was named interim head coach. Sunday night’s 7-1 loss to Tampa Bay had reminiscent vibes of the 5-1 drubbing against the Vancouver Canucks that finally cost Dave Hakstol his job in 2018.

It’s very obvious that the Flyers have severe problems, but they’re not going to be an easy fix. Pinpointing the exact department where the problems are coming from is like trying to find a needle in the haystack. It’s because of that reason that it’s going to be very difficult to actually cure this team of the plaguing disease that runs rampant from top to bottom. 

The most obvious scapegoat for when things are in tatters is the head coach and his staff. Whether warranted or not, the head coach is usually the first one out the door. Ron Hextall was fired before Dave Hakstol, but that was mainly because Hextall wouldn’t fire his coach. 

Firing the head coach is usually the move that is required to light a spark in the dressing room and around the arena. You realize that things have reached a boiling point and changes are coming. You also want to play for the new coach, show him what you’re made of, and the new head coach has something to prove as well. 

That spark never lasts forever and sometimes it might only last a week, other times it can last a few months; it’s all dependent on the successor behind the bench. The Flyers should not be in the business of trying to find another out-of-the-box-hiring like Hakstol, or a plug-in interim like Scott Gordon, or a promoted assistant coach who has the ability to coach in the NHL like Craig Berube. They need an established man behind the bench that has the system that can work with the players the Flyers have. However in the meantime, as they conduct a search of their own, Yeo has enough of a pedigree to stand his ground.

Alain Vigneault’s system didn’t work with this team, it barely has at all and if you really think about his tenure in Philadelphia, the Flyers have only really played a very successful brand of hockey for a few months. From January 2020 to the COVID pause was the best hockey we’ve seen them play, and after that the wheels have fallen off. They have had stretches of good play but nothing that lasted more than a few weeks or even a month. 

They started off the 2020-21 season at or near the top of their newly formed division, but you could see that they were playing flawed hockey and it was only a matter of time for them to implode; which they did so eloquently in the month of March. This year the same thing happened, they started the season off seemingly well but they were being backed by sensational goaltending and improved defense. 

Both of those things have subsided and the scoring has become even worse than imagined. After starting the season 8-4-2, they’ve dropped 8 straight to become 8-11-4 and are seriously on the verge of losing 10+ games in a row. 

What about player personnel? Chuck Fletcher turned this roster upside down over the summer in the hopes that he purged the Flyers of their demonic possession. He went after players who were leaders and vocal, so that they could not only help on the ice but as well as off the ice. Some of his moves seemed like slam dunks, others were questioned, while some were detested. However, this was the change that Philadelphia was unwilling to go through since 2011.

I don’t think there is much that Fletcher can currently do in terms of player personnel. They don’t have the salary cap to maneuver a deal and not a lot of teams are currently in the market to flip core pieces or have the salary cap to take on some of the Flyers’ heavy hitters.

Taking off the “homer” goggles and actually inspecting this team for what they are; they have good players. This is not a bad team, this a team that is playing bad hockey. You trade most of these guys, with the exception of a couple, and in true Philadelphia fashion they will be successful and win on their new teams. It has happened far too often for it to be overlooked, so wouldn’t that fall on the system in place? 

You can argue that some players aren’t 1C’s or 2C’s or 1W’s or 2W’s or 1D’s or 2D’s, but the system that is implemented is fundamentally the opposite to what fits their individual games, that it’s not a surprise that the on-ice product is going to look atrocious. The way they control the puck, the way they exit the zone, the way they enter zones, the way they set up offensively and defensively, and the full 60 minute eye-test will tell you that the system in place is flawed and broken. 

That in it of itself falls on the coaching staff. However we are dealing with an organization that seems too skittish in letting some of their office personnel go. CEO Dave Scott will probably not fire President Paul Holmgren. He has been a mainstay in the organization since the 80’s and has held almost every job imaginable, but his relationship with Scott seems very tight. 

It’s not a logical way to do business but Chuck Fletcher seems very close with both Scott and Holmgren and it seems unlikely the Flyers part ways with their general manager of only 3 years. Something absolutely catastrophic has to occur; as if what we’re currently witnessing isn’t good enough recourse.

The GM had a very good relationship with his head coach and his assistants. They are in fact his hand picked coaches after letting go of Hakstol and Gordon. Fletcher was willing to wait and was ready to keep Vigneault behind the bench for as long as he could. However, Scott said enough is enough and pressured his general manager into firing his head coach. This is the second time Scott has had to pressure his general managers into relieving the head coach in four years. This nine-game losing streak isn’t just the Flyers just losing games, but they are being obliterated and outmanned in every possible category. 

After backing his coaches during the off-season and giving them his vote of confidence, it is looking somewhat like a foolhardy idea now. They scored 35 goals in 19 games before rattling off five last night against Colorado, their power play has reached new levels of ineptitude, the defense has reverted back to being filled with holes, and the goaltending that we always knew was unsustainable, is not being helped by the failing defense in front of them. 

Constant turnovers and breakdowns has to mean that the players no longer care or listen to the head coach. You can expect Vigneault was yelling at his team, showing them their mistakes, telling them to fix their game, imploring and urging them to fight a full 60 minutes; yet it was conceivably falling on deaf ears. It also didn’t help that Vigneault hadn’t done much to tinker with his own system. You can keep tinkering with your lines and trying to find the best fits chemistry wise, but if you’re playing the same system that your players don’t comprehend, or better yet, aren’t able to succeed in, why aren’t you adapting yourself?

Mike Yeo steps in as the interim head coach with plenty of experience. He has spent eight years as a head coach with the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues, and he also spent four years as the assistant coach in Pittsburgh. Being behind the bench for Philadelphia over the last three years, coupled with his previous coaching experience, makes this an obvious choice for the present.

Yeo has had success before, leading his teams to playoffs four times, including reaching the second round three times; which seems to be the Flyers’ achilles heal. The players wearing the orange and black jerseys should now start to feel the heat, if they already haven’t been feeling it. The first major domino has fallen and it won’t be far off for the second one to fall soon after if this porous play continues.

It remains to be seen if they have bigger plans for a new head coach this year or over the summer but in the mean time Yeo will have a tall task to bring this Flyers squad back from oblivion.

Their season might be somewhat salvageable, we’ve seen crazier things happen before, but they can’t wait any longer. Up next are the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday, and then a back-to-back with the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes. With nine games already in the books for this losing streak, it is very much possible that it can continue past New Jersey and beyond. Vigneault had to be shown the door after being at the helm and overseeing this mess.

Doing the same things over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, and this is what the Flyers should be labeled as if they keep this mess moving forward. Vigneault is a good coach, has been for a long time, but his system and style didn’t fit Philadelphia and its players. Fletcher has made several moves in his tenure so far and it doesn’t seem like any of them fit the coach’s mold. The writing was on the wall for most of this season, and it’s good to see the Flyers being proactive for once.

Flyers fan born in the heart of Leafs nation

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