VOORHEES – The search to find a new Flyers coach has already begun, but scratch what might have been the prime candidate off the list.
When the Florida Panthers hired three-time Stanley Cup champion Joel Quenneville as their new head coach on Monday, it suddenly threw the Flyers’ competition wide-open.
It was believed Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher had Quenneville prominently placed on his radar screen.
He sort of denied that at an end-of-season press conference at the Skate Zone late Monday morning.
In indicating that, he insisted there are still a number of worthy candidates out there, including interim head coach Scott Gordon, who inspired the Flyers to an 18-4-2 run before falling short of the playoffs late in the season.
Fletcher was peppered with questions about Quenneville right out of the gate, starting with whether he was disappointed about not having the chance to formally negotiate with Quenneville.
“Disappointed? I’m happy for Joel,’’ Fletcher insisted. “We’re less than 48 hours since the end of our season and the process of identifying the next head coach of the Flyers will start today.
“We’ll start the process. I had a conversation with Scott this morning, who remains a strong candidate. Talked to him about what I’m going to do. My plan is start my due diligence and reach out to some people and also spend some time with Scott. Hopefully at the right time, name the right person.’’
Fletcher would neither confirm nor deny he had previously spoken to Quenneville, who won three titles with the Chicago Blackhawks.
As for which other candidates might be under consideration, Fletcher stopped short of naming names.
That included Stanley Cup-winning coach Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh, 2009), who is now an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings.
“I’m not going to speculate on names or people who may be available or were available or available in past years,’’ Fletcher said. “It’s a big decision for the Flyers.’’
Fletcher praised the work of Gordon, who stepped in the spot left vacant by Dave Hakstol’s departure and had his team chop what was a 16-point playoff deficit down to three.
“I want to take the chance to recognize the job that Scott did,’’ Fletcher said. “You look at the job he did with our young players. You look at the job he did with our veteran players. I thought both groups, if you want to call them groups, played well.
“I thought we defended better. Obviously, the last few games at the end there, once we fell out of it, we seemed to lose a little bit of our structure and our discipline, but we had a pretty good push there for a couple months. He deserves a lot of credit.’’
Fletcher said he really hasn’t had time to pick Gordon’s brain about his vision for the future. During the season, it’s been more about day-to-day operations.
“The interesting thing is, I was talking to him this morning,’’ Fletcher said. “All our conversations all year have been about who’s going to be in goal or who’s a healthy scratch tonight, how so-and-so is doing injury-wise, what are your lines going to be or what are your power play.
“We haven’t had a lot of conversations about how we would build this and the expectations for next year, setting up training camp, staff, all kinds of issues. I need to spend some time with Scott and kind of get his vision going forward. That’s always difficult coming in mid-stream. I thought he handled it very well. Having said that, I owe it to the process, to myself, and to the organization to reach out to speak with a couple people as well and make sure we’re getting the right candidate at the right time.’’
Although a number of players said they would like to see Gordon return, Fletcher isn’t putting much weight in their opinion.
“Not really,’’ he said. “I believe they enjoyed playing for Scott and as I mentioned earlier, I thought they played better the second half of the year.
“Regardless of what they say, I think how they played indicates normally what they feel about a coach. I’m not looking for input from our players. I was able to watch Scott for a long time. I’d like to sit down with Scott and I will talk about the future, the makeup of the team and what he feels we need. There are certain things I think we need to do starting in training camp next year to make us more competitive. Making sure we share the same vision. That’s something that will be part of the process like it would be with any coaching interview.’’
As for qualifications for a new head coach, Fletcher appears to be keeping an open mind about anyone and everyone. No Stanley Cup required.
“I don’t think it’s real important,’’ Fletcher said. “I think somebody that you share the same philosophy with is important. I think experience can be important, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be experience at the NHL level.
“I think just coaching experience in general, intelligence, ability to communicate. If you communicate well, you can often motivate. I think it’s a host of factors. Certainly experience is a part of it. I think you want to sit down and talk to people. It comes down to guts too. Just having a conversation with somebody and sharing philosophies, being impressed with somebody’s approach, or an answer to a question. There’s a host of factors.’’