Head coach Alain Vigneault was fired Monday morning by the Flyers. Also let go was assistant coach Michel Therrien. Assistant Mike Yeo takes over as head coach starting tonight, but only on an interim basis, I’m told.
This is what happens when you have an embarrassing performance like a 7-1 loss to Tampa Bay on home ice to extend a losing streak to eight straight games.
“Shore Night” was the big promotion for the Flyers on Sunday. They just didn’t tell you the shore experience was going to be akin to summer Friday rush hour traffic on the A.C. Expressway.
In the end, this was the last straw, but it was certainly brewing for a long while. Likely, when you get down to it, the root of the problem here isn’t going to be the coaching situation.
This is a move that Chuck Fletcher felt had to be made now to try and salvage a season in which he overturned 45 percent of the roster in an effort to go all in after multiple seasons of mediocre drafts and even more mediocre play at the NHL level have left the Flyers stuck in hockey purgatory.
It really is a last gasp for Fletcher now, who will likely only get one more crack at this as GM with another coach before people start to wonder if his job is at stake (or if it should be already).
But Vigneault got the kind of players he wanted in the offseason and couldn’t get them to produce, and even in recent games, be competitive.
In his defense, injuries and a brutal schedule were working against him. Not many teams would have had a better record than 8-10-4 in the 22 games against the teams the Flyers played. Maybe a couple more wins, but truly, not much better.
It was the fact that when desperation really started to set in for the Flyers – when the team really needed to show spirit, desire and a will to win, even if they came up short because of their situation, that they didn’t seem to have the drive to do so.
The first half of this losing streak wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible. They were at least competitive in three games. There was a shootout loss to Tampa that was an exciting game in which Claude Giroux led a comeback. There was a 5-2 loss to Boston that was closer than the final score would indicate and the 2-1 overtime loss in Florida was a well-played game.
But since then, since it became apparent that they needed to stop a losing skid so they could stay in the playoff race, it started to get uglier and uglier.
The 6-3 loss to Carolina on Black Friday wasn’t pretty, but at least it was a good team. The 5-2 loss to New Jersey two days later was really concerning because the compete level just wasn’t there. A 4-1 loss to the Rangers in New York had fits and starts for the Flyers, but certainly not enough desperation over the full 60 minutes to end the drought.
And then there was Sunday, which was an absolute debacle. They were down 5-0 after Tampa took just 15 shots. The defense was terrible. The goaltending was last-season bad. The offense was missing for the 17th straight game.
While Fletcher may have originally been willing to wait longer before having to make this decision – to see if things could right themselves against lesser competition later this month and as players regained their health, the rapid decline into uncompetitive hockey by a team that lacked serious confidence and was quickly drifting toward irrelevance in the standings hastened his decision.
Vigneault originally signed a five-year contract with the Flyers in April 2019 worth $5 million annually. That means the Flyers owe him a little more than two-and-a-half years of salary – roughly $13.5 million – to no longer coach.
Vigneault’s coaching record with the Flyers was 74-54-19 in just 147 games.
Yeo won’t be behind the bench very long, but the Flyers need him there for now because it’s a very busy week playing five games in seven days, starting with tonight against Colorado before a three-game road trip to New Jersey (Wednesday), Vegas (Friday), and Arizona (Saturday) before having back-to-back days off to start next week.
The Flyers can’t have a very long list of coaches they would want to hire to replace Vigneault – as it’s especially hard to bring in an outside guy mid-season. But, they won’t ride with Yeo very long.
The names everyone will be talking about are recent Flyers Hall of Fame inductee Rick Tocchet and John Tortorella, who most recently coached the Columbus Blue Jackets, but has had a colorful NHL coaching career elsewhere in Tampa, where he won a Cup, New York with the Rangers, and Vancouver.
I know Tortorella has some support among some in the organization with a voice, but, the Flyers would likely have to pay bigger dollars for either him or Tocchet, and with the team already on the hook for that excess money to Vigneault, they may look instead to a guy who would cost less.
The first name I would expect is actually a former Flyer – Jim Montgomery. Montgomery was a hot candidate a few years ago after a wildly successful coaching career at the University of Denver. He was hired by the Dallas Stars and in his first season with Dallas (2018-19), he led them to the playoffs and a second round exit, losing to eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis.
In the 2019-20 season, Montgomery had Dallas off to a good start (17-11-3) through 31 games when he was fired because of a “personal behavioral issue.” Out of respect for privacy for his family, the issue was never specifically disclosed, but Montgomery did immediately check himself into a rehab center to deal with alcoholism.
Upon his release, he was hired by St. Louis as an assistant coach to Craig Berube in September, 2020. He is currently in the second year of a two-year contract.
David Quinn is a more under-the-radar candidate. He’s a highly respected younger coach who didn’t have much success in his first go-round as head coach of the New York Rangers during their rebuild.
He went 96-87-25 in three seasons in New York with one playoff appearance.
The Flyers may also consider recently fired Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green, who was unsuccessful in four-plus seasons with Vancouver going 133-147-34 with just one playoff appearance two seasons ago. Ravaged by COVID-19 a season ago, Green was given another chance this season with the Canucks, but they struggled even more than the Flyers and he was fired after an 8-15-2 start.
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