If it all sounds like a broken record, you probably have been around the block with the Flyers long enough to know coaches come and go but the cast members have a tendency to stay the same.
Which could help explain why veteran players such as Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk are still around the past decade or so while Peter Laviolette, Craig Berube, Dave Hakstol, Scott Gordon and Alain Vigneault aren’t.
Including interim coach Mike Yeo, the merry-go-round of the past eight years continues to revolve.
What gives? When team founder and chairman Ed Snider passed away in 2016, many people thought the Flyers might be a little more patient with the process.
But that really hasn’t been the case.
“I can only speak for the last few years and two years ago we did win a playoff round,’’ general manager Chuck Fletcher said at Monday’s press conference at the Wells Fargo Center to announce the firing of Vigneault. “We lost to a pretty good Islander team. We played hard, we played with structure. We have good players, good people here. To me the process isn’t right. We have to get back to playing the right way. Whether it’s our forecheck, our defensive zone coverage, our transition game. I would just like to see some changes in how we play the game.’’
In truth, it’s unfair to pin all this on Fletcher. But it might be fair to ask him how much of the blame rests with the players and not just the coaches.
“I haven’t been here eight years, so I don’t know (about what happened before 2018),’’ Fletcher said. “AV was my first big hire. We had a pretty good stretch there in ‘19-20 and weren’t able to get it back. It’s a combination of probably everything. I can’t go back beyond a couple years. Right now, we’ve lost our way. There’s no question. It’s not just all on AV or (ex-assistant coach) Michel (Therrien). It’s on all of us, but I needed to make changes. This is the decision I made today.’’
OK, so now it’s on Yeo to shut down the carnival music for awhile. What makes him think he can achieve something with this group that others haven’t?
“The biggest thing for me is having watched the Flyers, having coached against the Flyers, been on the other side when you come into this building, it’s not fun,’’ Yeo said. “We have to make sure that it’s not fun for other teams, whether we’re on the road or at home to play against the Philadelphia Flyers. Does that mean that we go out and fight everybody every shift? No, it doesn’t. It means that we’re very hard to play against. That can be physicality, that can be the way you defend, the way you pressure, the way you attack. The way that you play as a five-man unit all over the ice.’’
Yeo’s teams are known for their compete level. By all accounts, he was a pretty feisty player himself back in the day.
For now, it’s about the will to win. The Flyers seemed to have that going in March, 2020 when the pandemic hit. Philadelphia just completed a nine-game winning streak prior to a loss to Boston before the virus shut everything down. When play resumed, they finally won a playoff series but that was it. The magic disappeared.
Again, it goes back to perhaps what is best known as Flyers brand of hockey. Make it tough to play against Philly, be it home or away.
“There’s a lot of teams out there that maybe aren’t the most physical team in the world, but they’re very difficult to play against,’’ Yeo said. “That’s where we’re going to start. The way that we approach the game, we’ve got to be physically engaged, but we’re going to defend. We’re going to check and the way that we’re going to attack is going to be organized. We’re going to be on the same page. For me, I love to play with the puck. I want us to spend time in the offensive zone. I want us to grind the other team down. I want us to attack the net and when we lose the puck, we want to get it back very quickly.’’
If there’s a silver lining to this, it’s that Yeo understands a coach can change his stripes with age. He knows every coach is hired to be fired. So make the best of the time you have.
“I’m not a young pup anymore,’’ Yeo said. “I’ve been around in the league for a long time, so I’ve seen obviously when times go poorly and why that is and how things can get turned around. I believe in this group. I believe in where we’re going to get to. For me personally, I’ve learned lessons from the past. Coaches can learn. Coaches can grow. I’ve had some success. For me, in my opinion, my best days are yet to come. Again, this is a very difficult time. It’s emotional, yet this is an unbelievable opportunity. That’s what all the players in the room have, is an unbelievable opportunity to turn this around. This is not a very good story right now, this season. The nice thing is we have the opportunity to change that.”
Maybe Yeo can accomplish something his predecessors couldn’t. But you can be sure the Philadelphia hockey community won’t believe it until they see it.