VOORHEES, N.J. – After announcing Mike Yeo will not be returning to coach the Flyers next season, general manager Chuck Fletcher revealed his plan for finding a new bench boss.
At a Tuesday press briefing in the Flyers Training Center, Fletcher said the first step is to put together an “ideal candidate profile.’’
How that fits into the pool of potential coaching candidates out there remains to be seen. But it’s clear Fletcher wants to bring in someone who can change the direction his team has taken the past two seasons.
Yeo took over as interim head coach in early December and had to deal with a much depleted roster for the remainder of the season. Under Yeo’s watch the Flyers went 17-36-7 and finished last in the Metropolitan Division.
“I met with Mike yesterday (Monday) and advised him that he won’t be our coach for next season,’’ Fletcher said. “I want to start off by saying we dealt Mike a real tough hand. He’s a good coach. I thought he did a really good job under the circumstances.’’
The Flyers just didn’t have enough firepower, both on offense and defense. Key defenseman Ryan Ellis, first line center Sean Couturier and strong two-way player Kevin Hayes all missed big portions of the season.
“He (Yeo) kept our players competing and playing hard to the end,’’ Fletcher said. “He made some adjustments and we started to see some progress – in particular holding onto the puck a little bit more, zone entries, scoring a little bit better, five on five. He’s a good hockey man, we’re going to continue to talk, see how things go over the next five, six weeks. He’s the type of person we would love to keep in the organization.’’
Fletcher said his staff will meet on Wednesday to officially begin the process of finding the next coach.
If he decides to go with a veteran, names out there include Paul Maurice, John Tortorella and Rick Tocchet.
“The profile will go through a very thorough discussion of what we’re trying to achieve, what we’re looking at,’’ Fletcher said. “At this stage, all options are open. Once we build that candidate profile, we’ll start to reach out to candidates we want to interview.’’
According to Fletcher, Yeo is free to speak to other teams about a possible position. But the GM added he “would love’’ to have Yeo stick around, be it in coaching, player development, front office or scouting.
Whichever new candidate is hired, he will have his work cut out for him. Fletcher’s first big hire, Alain Vigneault in 2019, experienced some initial success but that regime fizzled out.
“There are certainly areas we have to improve upon as a team,’’ Fletcher said. “You go back to that first (full) season (2019-20). . .we played really well, we played the right way. Prior to the (pandemic) pause, we were one of the best teams in the league. The process was good, the results were good, we were clicking. The last two seasons, for whatever reason, we haven’t been able to get back to that level. Certainly that’s our goal.’’
How much of this lack of improvement weighs into the next coaching hire?
“We have to really drill down in terms of what we’re looking for,’’ Fletcher said. “The important thing is to get the right coach, the right fit, the right chemistry. As long as it takes, that’s what it will take.’’
Fletcher has been evaluating the direction of this team ever since a promising 6-2-2 start went by the wayside.
“It goes a little bit deeper than that (injury situation),’’ he said. “We struggled this year, we were not defending all the time. And that’s something we have to look at. Exiting D-zone well enough. There are certainly things we have to look at in terms of our structure, our details. We didn’t have the puck enough. When you defend all the time, bad things happen.’’
Special teams, to put it kindly, were brutal.
“At the time we made the coaching change (in December), I believe our penalty kill was 11th,’’ Fletcher said. “We started well. I believe our PK and our goaltending were why we were hanging around a playoff spot until early December. The PK fell apart. We have to defend less. I have to think a healthy Ellis could help.’’
In some quarters, there’s a belief Fletcher better hit a home run with this next coaching hire. In the NHL, general managers only get so many kicks at the can.
At midseason, Flyers governor Dave Scott gave Fletcher a vote of confidence. But things can change.
Fletcher acknowledges he’s feeling the pressure to get the team turned around.
“Of course,’’ he said. “We’re in the business of winning. When you don’t win, there’s pressure. That’s the job. I don’t think I feel any more pressure than any other offseason. I’ve fortunate Dave has given me all the resources to bring in the staff we have. We have a lot of opportunities here. There’s challenges but I look at them as opportunities that will make us a better team.’’