Next Flyers head coach must regain fans’ trust

The Flyers will stay at No. 12 for next month's NHL Draft.
      It’s no mere coincidence the Flyers have enjoyed their greatest franchise success in seasons where they had not only tremendously talented players but some legendary coaches as well.
       The Flyers’ two Stanley Cup championships came under Hall of Fame bench boss Fred Shero. They went to the Cup Finals in 1980 with Pat Quinn, to a pair of Finals by way of Mike Keenan in the ‘80s and another Finals courtesy of Peter Laviolette in 2010.
      Which brings us to the organization’s current status. Some would say it’s one of the low points in the team’s history going back to the late ‘60s.
      The 2021-22 season is just about over and people are already speculating on what moves general manager Chuck Fletcher will make this summer – from personnel to who runs the show at ice level next season.
      Fletcher could bring back interim head coach Mike Yeo, who has tried his hardest despite all sorts of injury problems and player turnover.
      Or he might look elsewhere. The rumor mill tosses around names like former Flyer Rick Tocchet, Stanley Cup-winning coach John Tortorella or another Cup winner, Claude Julien.
      Whichever candidate lands the job will have his work cut out for him.
      What is priority one? For that we went to TNT/NBC Sports Philadelphia hockey analyst Keith Jones to get his take.
      His answer might sound a bit surprising.
      “I think it’s important that whoever is coaching this team next year, number one, has the trust of the fans,’’ Jones said the other night at the Wells Fargo Center. “I think they really have to establish that. I think they (the fans) have to believe in what’s happening, that the team is headed back in the right direction.’’
      The Flyers usually average around 19,000-plus attendance per game. The pandemic and the subsequent vaccination/mask rules for much of the season played a role in lowering that number this season but the product on the ice also must be factored in with a drop to about 15,500 per game.
      “I think that type of messaging has to come to the forefront,’’ Jones said. “That’s probably one of the most important priorities.’’
      Experience, says Jones, particularly the winning kind also should be on the next coach’s resume. No Dave Hakstols, please.
      “You want somebody who’s done it before,’’ Jones said. “I don’t think it’s the place for a first-time coach. It’s got to be somebody who’s been around the block and understands the importance of coaching in a market that wants more. That’s what this city deserves. So that’s the direction I think they should go.’’
      Jones should know because he played here, including a stint on the Eric Lindros-John LeClair line. He knows Flyers fans are loyal, passionate and have high expectations. After all, the Flyers have the second-highest winning percentage in NHL history.
      When the Flyers lace up their skates in October, they will be coming off their first back-to-back playoff-less seasons since 1992-94. It’s imperative the team gives the local hockey community some hope.
      “This type of (2021-22) season following a season where they didn’t make the playoffs makes next season a real important one,’’ Jones said. “They have to re-establish themselves and gain some traction in a more positive direction.’’
      Of course, Yeo can’t be fairly judged by what took place the last four months of the season after he replaced Alain Vigneault in early December. The Flyers were already decimated by injuries and were without stars Ryan Ellis and Sean Couturier for most of the season. Other players missed time due to COVID.
      “Clearly this year didn’t work out,’’ Jones said. “There are plenty of reasons why and I’m not sure coaching tops the charts. But it’s going to be part of the solution moving forward.’’
      Ownership only has to look around the WFC at the vast amount of empty seats to see that things have to improve around here. The team is about to set, or come close to setting, franchise records for ineptitude in a number of categories.
      “I think it’s important that fans are pleased with whoever is behind the bench,’’ Jones reiterated. “And believe that person is capable of doing all the things necessary to getting the team back to where it should be.’’
      Jones believes ownership is aware of the public mood toward this team right now.
      “I think there’s a real feeling here that this needs to be corrected fast,’’ he said. “From everything I’ve read and heard, that’s the message. So I would think that’s the way this process is going to take place.’’
      As far as Xs and Os go, the next coach must find a way to get the Flyers’ goals-against number back down to a realistic level. Going into weekend action, the Flyers had surrendered a Metropolitan Division-worst 269 goals (and a glaring minus-79 plus-minus number).
      “When your goals against are way up and your goalies haven’t played poorly, you want to make sure you correct that,’’ Jones said. “Whatever message you use, that also has to be a priority. Get the special teams fixed, especially the power play.’’
      Jones expressed optimism things can (and will) be turned around.
      “I’m sure,’’ he said, “it’s going to happen.’’
      >Bossy a true champion
      The hockey world was greatly saddened by news of the death of former New York Islander superstar Mike Bossy, who passed on Thursday night after a battle with lung cancer. He was 65.
      Bossy was a class act who scored 573 goals in a Hall of Fame career. He was a key element in the Islanders’ four consecutive Stanley Cups (1980-83), including the first one against the Flyers.
            While he scored 50 goals in nine straight seasons, Bossy never came across as a self-promoter. He made players around him better and that’s the highest praise you can bestow on a hockey star.
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About Wayne Fish 2452 Articles
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.