Flyers fire Vigneault because a ‘direction change’ needed

Mike Yeo (right) at Monday's press conference.
      PHILADELPHIA – Chuck Fletcher has seen this happen before so he didn’t need a handbook to realize a change had to be made.
      Just a week after telling anyone who would listen the Flyers wouldn’t be making any changes until some of their key injured players returned, Fletcher did exactly that on Monday, firing head coach Alain Vigneault and naming assistant coach Mike Yeo as his interim replacement.
      Also let go was assistant coach Michel Therrien.
      The Flyers, winless in their last eight games with a current record of 8-10-4, probably sealed Vigneault’s fate with a brutal 7-1 loss on Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
      After a brief five-minute spurt at the start of that encounter, the Flyers simply curled up and let the Lightning skate at will, possibly a sign the team had simply quit on its leader.
      Vigneault coached here in parts of three seasons, with a record of 147-74-54 (.568 winning percentage). The Flyers did well his first season (2019-20) in Philadelphia, competing hard during the pandemic-shortened campaign and getting to within one game of the Eastern Conference finals before bowing to the New York Islanders in Game 7.
      Yeo has head coaching experience from tenures in Minnesota and St. Louis. Whether he can get this particular group of Flyers back on track remains to be seen.
      “I was hoping we could get some people back (defenseman Ryan Ellis, center Kevin Hayes, forward Derick Brassard, etc.) and get our group together,’’ Fletcher said at a noon press conference at the Wells Fargo Center. “And find out what we have. But we just keep digging a deeper hole right now.’’
      Team governor Dave Scott was in attendance. He did not speak but the message from ownership is fairly clear: The product on the ice right now simply is not good enough.
      “As a group, we have to find an identity,’’ Fletcher said. “Play the game the right way. Our process has been off. I’ve asked Mike to come in, he’s a detail guy, has had success in this league. . .right now we have to forge a new identity. Play the game the right way and get the guys behind him.’’
      Fletcher wouldn’t commit to how long Yeo will remain as the interim coach but the two worked together as GM-coach back in their Minnesota Wild days, so there is a connection.
      “He knows there are no promises going forward,’’ Fletcher said. “But he has his hands on the wheel now. The focus now isn’t on interviewing people and rushing to hire a head coach. Right now it’s to support Mike.’’
      Yeo, 48, grew up in North Bay, Ontario, played minor league hockey and gravitated to the coaching ranks in 1999. He was an assistant coach on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup championship team.
      He was hired as head coach of the Wild in 2011 and after experiencing some success, was later fired by Fletcher on Feb. 13, 2016. Some of his best work came after he replaced Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis around mid-season, finishing with a remarkable 22-8-2 run to make the playoffs.
      Later, Yeo was fired and replaced by Craig Berube in November, 2018. The Blues went on to win the Cup under Berube.
      Yeo’s NHL coaching record is 246-181-55 for a .567 winning percentage.
      Yeo just found out late Sunday night and said he didn’t sleep much. He hasn’t had time to think about a staff. For now, Yeo is turning power-play duty over to another assistant coach, Darryl Williams.
      “Chuck and I talked about let’s get into tonight (vs. Colorado) and do what we have to do to make sure we’re ready to go,’’ Yeo said. “It’s a very emotional day. Both those guys (Vigneault, Therrien) treated me unbelievably. Being a member of this organization is really special. To have an opportunity like this, not only to stay on board but a chance to turn things around, that’s also incredibly exciting for me.’’
      Fletcher indicated the Lightning game was the tipping point in the coaching decision.
      “I just felt watching the team last night (vs. Tampa Bay), we needed a change,’’ Fletcher said. “In an ideal world, we could have bought more time and waited. But I just felt we couldn’t wait anymore.’’
      The GM said he’s going to stick with this current group of players and see how things go under a new coach.
      “We made a lot of changes in personnel last summer,’’ Fletcher said. “I do believe this group can be a better team. It’s everything. Our details are lacking. Our confidence is lacking. Guys are struggling, they care, they try. Right now I just feel Mike can help us get back that energy we need to win games.’’
      The gravity of the situation was evident in the timing of the move, right in the middle of a back-to-back.
      “There’s never a good time to do this,’’ Fletcher said. “We’re all complicit. As I said last week, I’m the one who’s responsible. But we need to play differently and now is the time.’’
      Having taken over for Hitchcock in St. Louis in mid-season and later getting dumped unceremoniously in mid-season in favor of Berube, Yeo knows the entire experience.

“I’ve been on both sides,’’ he said. “My experience in St. Louis could help this year. We were able to make the playoffs, win a round and I think I can learn from that. And I’ve been on the other side. That can allow you to reflect. I’ve had a couple years to reflect and get a different perspective. This is an opportunity to prove that I’ve grown.’’

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Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.