Mark Twain certainly didn’t have hockey coaches in mind when he coined the expression “lies, damned lies and statistics’’ but one could apply it to Mike Yeo’s 2021-22 coaching record.
While his ledger as interim head coach of the Flyers might be a rather mediocre 17-35-7, those statistics don’t take into account the incredible number of injuries, illnesses and trades which have decimated his roster.
After the final morning skate of the season on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center, Yeo made it clear this was the most challenging season of his career (he previously was a head coach at Minnesota and St. Louis).
That said, he indicated he would like nothing more than to have general manager Chuck Fletcher remove the “interim’’ tag off his title and make him a full-fledged coach behind the Flyers bench next season.
“I love coaching this group,’’ he said. “I love coaching in this market for this organization. Honestly, I feel like my best days of coaching are ahead of me. At my age (48) I think there’s sort of a misconception that a coach is what he is. The reality is we have the opportunity to grow, to evaluate yourself properly, you’re forced to kind of look at the areas you need to improve. If you’re willing to improve those, why can’t you get better with age?’’
Yeo does have several things going in his favor. He’s tremendously liked by his players, he’s a good communicator and his player compete hard for him.
“I’m 48 years old,’’ Yeo said. “I think a lot of coaches that sort of reach their better points when they get into their 50s. I really do think that you look at this year and there were a lot of positives. If you probably talk to guys, the consistency of the message was there. I feel certain things have been building. It does take time but when you have that many guys out – I don’t care, you could have (legendary coaches) Toe Blake, Scotty Bowman, it doesn’t matter who your coach is; you’re not going to win, you’re not going to be successful. I think we kept saying focused, kept having a good attitude. So yeah, I’m hopeful (of coming back).’’
It goes without saying this has been the most challenging season of Yeo’s coaching career.
“By a long shot,’’ he said with a grin. “Not even close. The things we’ve dealt with, there’s no question it’s been the toughest, most trying. But for me it’s been a tremendous experience. I honestly feel I’m a better coach for going through this. The one thing is, when you’re having a season like this, you have to do a lot more coaching than you do when things are going well.’’
If given another chance, Yeo believes both he and his team can do some good things next season.
“It’s almost tough to evaluate where we’re at,’’ Yeo said. “At the start of the year it looked like we really had the pieces in place. I know we have a lot of really good players, good people here. A guy like G (Claude Giroux) has left. Through free agency, it’s what can you do to maybe add in that capacity as far as a high-skilled guy that can add in different areas of your game?.’’
Remember, the Flyers were within one game of the Eastern Conference finals in 2019-20. The core of that team is pretty much intact.
“When you have the injuries we’ve had this year, I don’t care, nobody is going to survive,’’ said Yeo, mindful of the Flyers’ last-place finish in the Metro Division. “It’s hard to go into games when you have 10-12 guys that aren’t in the lineup, you have to look at your game – there are young guys who are going to be further ahead next year. I do believe this group can turn things around quickly.’’
Some of that will depend on complete recovery from injury for players such as Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis.
Yeo believes Ellis, who played only four games this season, can get back to a high level again,
“I’m very confident,’’ he said. “I have no reason to believe that he can’t. That’s his only mindset now, his only focus. I’ve known him for a while, I know what a competitor he is. Coots is skating, it looks like he could play right now. Those two guys are drivers of your team. That would be a major plus to get those guys back. It would paint a completely different picture for our team.’’
Scott Laughton, a possible candidate to replace Giroux as captain next season, believes in Yeo’s coaching ability as it applies to the Flyers.
“I think he cares a ton about us about the way we play and the Flyers,’’ Laughton said. “He’s been handed a pretty tough hand with all the injuries and the way the season’s gone when he stepped in. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s always trying to have one-on-ones and making sure you feel good about your game. He really cares about us.’’
>Frost making progress
Yeo was asked which young players caught his eye as far as making progress this season. The first player he mentioned was center Morgan Frost.
“I think his development this year has been a huge plus for us,’’ Yeo said. “He looks so much more confident in so many areas. This is kind of what we envisioned. I know there’s a lot of debate and discussion about where his development was at the time (he missed nearly the entire 2020-21 season due to shoulder surgery). We just talked about patience, he hadn’t played (since 2019-20). The way we see him competing, with and without the puck, the way we see him defending.’’