The Flyers hired some assistant coaches on Monday.
Under most circumstances, this is not a big deal. It’s usually some up-and-coming guys in the coaching ranks who tend to be sounding boards for the players because at one point or another, players get mad at the head coach and need someone to complain to about them.
Sometimes, these assistants develop into head coach material, and a few of them actually go on to become top end coaches in the NHL.
But this is Philadelphia, where everything matters. And the Flyers announced who their five assistant coaches are going to be for the 2019-2020 season and in doing so, shined the spotlight on themselves a bit harsher than ever.
The Flyers hired former NHL head coaches Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien as assistant coaches and retained Ian Laperriere, Kim Dellabaugh and Adam Patterson.
Patterson is the video coach and has been with the organization for two decades. Dellabaugh is the goalie coach and liked his work with Carter Hart, so he stays, which isn’t a surprise.
The rest though, were basically like shouting “dracarys” on Flyers twitter.
Because it was set ablaze.
We’ll start with Laperriere, who is the lone bench assistant to keep his job. Kris Knoblauch and Rick Wilson were not retained.
Despite being a defense whisperer, Wilson not returning is not a surprise. He was asked to come out of retirement by Dave Hakstol and he wasn’t actually hired by Chuck Fletcher. With no connection to current coach Alain Vigneault or Fletcher and the fact that he was enjoying retirement, his return was an extreme long shot.
Ditto Knoblauch. He was a Ron Hextall guy, who was supposed to be one of those next up-and-comers, but he didn’t really impress Fletcher, had no ties to him, and really failed to find a way to jump start the Flyers power play, which was infinitely better under former assistant coach Joey Mullen than it ever was under Knoblauch.
But Laperriere was the whipping boy for Flyers fans for the last two years – and sometimes, deservedly so. The Flyers penalty kill, which is managed by Laperriere, was dreadful in 2017-18 and was on pace to be historically bad through the first three months of the 2018-19 season.
Some coaches aren’t given that much rope, yet Laperriere was – and to his credit, he did get the penalty kill on track in the second half of last season and it was one of the best in the NHL in that span – which is why he was likely given another chance.
That’s not going to quiet the fans who continue to blame the Flyers for offering patronage jobs forever and ever.
Of course, that’s a big misnomer. Their last three head coaches had no previous ties to the team, their current GM has no previous ties to the team, and now there are two new assistants with no previous ties to the organization.
But hey, Laperriere will continue to suffer the slings and arrows of public perception until he is no longer an assistant coach whether that’s one year, five years, or 20 years. That’s the nature of the beast these days.
But the other coaches are the ones that I find more interesting.
Let me start with Yeo, because that will be a quicker conversation than Therrien.
Yeo was hired by Fletcher as a head coach in Minnesota. He lasted there five years before Fletcher fired him. He then coached in St. Louis before being canned last November.
All told, Yeo has a 246-181-55 record as a head coach. He also served as an assistant in Pittsburgh under Therrien – so there is some familiarity in working together among the two new assistants.
Now, while the Flyers didn’t announce who will be responsible for what, it seems like Yeo will be in charge of the power play, Therrien the defense and Laperriere will stay with the PK.
Here’s the thing – As an NHL coach, Yeo’s power plays were… uh… not good:
Season Team PP% NHL Rank
2011-12 WILD 15.7 27
2012-13 WILD 17.9 16
2013-14 WILD 17.8 16
2014-15 WILD 15.8 27
2015-16* WILD 17.3 15 (fired after 55 games – PP was 15.5% in final 14 games – team was 1-11-2)
2016-17* BLUES 21.3 8 (assistant coach)
2017-18 BLUES 15.4 30
2018-19* BLUES 24.2 (Fired after 19 games – team was 0-for-17 on the PP leading up to his firing)
That track record doesn’t necessarily excite.
But, at least Yeo has a record of being a likable coach. Shame the same can’t be said about Therrien.
Despite being a head coach in the NHL for 12 years and reaching the Stanley Cup Finals once (with the Penguins in 2008), Therrien, 55, has a reputation for being a hard ass.
His head coaching record with Montreal and Pittsburgh, while not terrible (406-303-23), also didn’t lead to any really great runs outside of the 2008 berth in the Finals (with a Penguins team that was on the verge and needed a different voice to push them to winning the Cup) and the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals with Montreal.
And did I mention he was hated?
This is how he treated P.K. Subban in Montreal – and Subban was a Norris Trophy winner:
And for those of you who will say that’s just a coach being a coach, I offer you someone you should know and trust a lot more:
Now I reached out to Briere because I knew he played for Therrien in Montreal and I knew the relationship was quite strenuous.
Briere politely declined to speak about Therrien as a coach, likely because Danny is a really good guy who is taking the high road now that Therrien is with the Flyers, who are owned by his employer, Comcast-Spectacor.
But a little less than two years ago, when Therrien wasn’t in the NHL and Briere had just published his French-language hockey-life biography titled Mister Playoffs, Briere shared stories about all his NHL stops – Arizona, Buffalo, Philly, Montreal and Colorado – and the part about Therrien wasn’t flattering.
In an interview he did at the time with CBC reporter Antoni Nerestant in Montreal this is what he said about Therrien:
AN: In your book you go into your relationship with former coach Michel Therrien. You talk about a lot of clashes you had with him. What was your relationship like?
DB: We didn’t talk a lot. Michel was an old-school type of coach, intimidation was a big part of his coaching tactics. I wasn’t the only one. But in the book, I talk about my relationships with my coaches starting in Phoenix, Buffalo and Philly, even with Patrick Roy at the end of my career in Colorado, so I thought that to be fair I had to tell the facts the way they were.
Unfortunately, that’s what people are focusing on, but what I hope that people remember is that I was a huge fan of the Montreal Canadiens growing up. It was a thrill for me to wear that uniform, and no one can ever take that away from me.
I was really proud to play for the Canadiens, what we did in the playoffs that year, when no one expected us to get through the first round, to make it all the way to the conference final….
I saw a lot of games growing up, watching the rivalry between the Habs and the big, bad Bruins. To have the chance to play in one of those playoff series, to go into Boston in Game 7, to win that game and have a big say in that game, for me is one of the highlights of my career.
AN: Going back to your relationship with Therrien, you mentioned things as far as him calling you out in film sessions, you mentioned that he told you your teammates don’t respect you, don’t want to play with you…. How was it, as a veteran, dealing with that?
DB: It was tough because I wasn’t used to it. Like I said, I wasn’t the only one, he did the same thing with a lot of guys. It was just his way of coaching.
For me, it wasn’t about calling out Michel Therrien in the book, it was just telling the facts the way they were. I can’t talk for the other players, and I don’t want to go into what happened with the other guys. That was my part, what happened with me in Montreal. I wish it could have been different with Michel, but that was his way.
AN: You touched on it — I’m sure a lot of people are wondering, well, if that’s how he was with Danny Brière, I wonder how he was with other players. Some names like P.K. Subban come up. You don’t know how he was with those players?
DB: Oh I saw it firsthand, different ways he acted [with] or treated certain players. But I didn’t want to talk for those players or put anyone in a tough situation. If they want to talk about it one day, maybe they will. This was my book, my story.
I understand we’re in a hockey market, and the Canadiens are very important, so what’s sticking out is the relationship with Michel, but he wasn’t the only one. A lot of coaches are using those tactics. It’s just the way it is. I’m over it, it’s fine, I’m just telling the story.
AN: Did it make it hard for you to establish yourself as a veteran presence in that locker room?
DB: Yeah, I wished I would have been able to help a little bit more. I feel that my voice was taken away from being able to be a leader and being able to help out as much as I could with such good young players. When I think of guys like David Desharnais, who was having a tough time that year, Ryan White, you had Gallagher, Galchenyuk — I wish I would have been able to do a little bit more for them as a leader, but at the same time I felt like my voice was taken away at times in front of all the guys.
Oh, that ought to go over well with the Flyers young defensemen, eh?
Look, the hockey world is a small one. I get it. Therrien replaced Vigneault as head coach of the Canadiens in 2000-01, but that’s not their only link. The two have known each other for a long time and are friends.
Vigneault has also always had a veteran coach with NHL head-coaching experience on his staff, which is why Therrien is here.
Meanwhile, Fletcher hired Therrien as a part-time pro scout in Minnesota when he hired Yeo as head coach, so there is an existing relationship there among those three as well.
All of that suggests how this collection of coaches have come together to helm the Flyers moving forward, but it also reeks of a coaching staff that won’t be as patient with mistakes or “lack of seasoning” by certain players.
Players will be held accountable. There will be very little leeway given to players. It’s a very old school mentality. One that as an old guy I can appreciate but one I’m not sure will work with today’s young player.
Of course, I was under the impression the team wouldn’t be as young next season once they hired Vigneault and believe even more that the Flyers will be chasing some veterans here in the next seven weeks to give the roster a face lift.
Nevertheless, this is definitely going to be an interesting experiment. Could it work? Yes. You put together a staff with that kind of experience, you damn well better expect it to work.
But there’s an even more fine line between success and failure when you try to have contrasting personalities try to mesh – and do so under the harsh spotlight of an impatient fan base in a sports-crazed city.
Thus, the announcement of these assistant coaches matters – far more than maybe ever before for the Flyers.