One has to wonder how much of Flyer GM Chuck Fletcher’s “ideal candidate profile’’ approach for the team’s next head coach went out the window the other day when the Barry Trotz firing was made public.
If you go by public reaction to the surprising news about the dismissal of the accomplished coach from the New York Islanders, hiring him to run the Philadelphia bench would seem like a no-brainer.
In some respects it probably is.
Trotz, the third-winningest coach in NHL history, has already won a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals and most recently got the Isles to the Eastern Conference finals in back-to-back seasons.
Bringing him on board would give the team with the fourth-worst record in the NHL almost instant credibility.
He’s perceived as a no-nonsense guy who knows how to get the best out of his players.
Yet if that’s the case, why did he wear out his welcome so quickly in New York? Yes, the Islanders missed the playoffs this past season but much of the blame for that is placed on the late opening of the new UBS Arena – resulting in a season-starting 13-game road trip – plus a larger-than-average COVID outbreak and an assortment of injuries to key players.
Strangely, when general manager Lou Lamoriello made the announcement, the only reason he gave for the firing was “the players needed a new voice.’’
We’ve heard that one before, right here in Philadelphia as a matter of fact. If you set aside the late, great Fred Shero’s seven-year tenure as coach of the team (which won two Stanley Cups), no Flyers coach has ever made through a fifth complete season.
The perception was players always started to tune out their coach, be it Ken Hitchcock, Peter Laviolette or Mike Keenan.
And maybe that’s all it was with Trotz and the Islanders – that veteran players simply weren’t hearing the message anymore.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s what happened when the Flyers decided to part ways with veteran coach Alain Vigneault back in early December. Fletcher mentioned the Flyers had “lost their way’’ and appointed Mike Yeo as interim head coach. But things didn’t get any better as the Flyers continued to make the same mistakes on the way to a last-place finish in the Metropolitan Division.
At his getaway day press briefing on May 3, Fletcher made it a point to state there would be a comprehensive vetting process before he makes his next hire.
“We’re going to sit down and try to build that ideal candidate profile and really keep all options open, maybe look at it from a little broader perspective,” Fletcher said.. “Clearly we have to sit down and really drill down in terms of what we’re looking for. I’m sure there will be a lot of quality candidates we’ll speak to.”
There’s plenty to like about the 59-year-old Trotz, a two-time winner of the Jack Adams Award (coach of the year), one each with Washington and New York.
He brought both structure and good work habits, with a special emphasis on defense, something a team like the Flyers (minus-87) could certainly use.
Fletcher has to be feeling a bit of pressure from ownership, something he acknowledged in his last meeting with the media. So, with the Flyers having missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 1992-93 and 1993-94, there must be some urgency to get this team turned back in the right direction in a hurry.
On the other side of the coin, there could be a number of reasons why Trotz would not be a good fit here.
For one, his moves from Nashville to Washington and later from D.C. to the Isles centered around his ability to get things back on track in a short timeframe. The Caps had Alex Ovechkin. The Isles had a bevy of top-notch players. The Flyers, however, do not appear to be anywhere near contention.
Why would Philadelphia be an attractive landing spot for Trotz, if he decides to stay in coaching?
There’s nothing to suggest on his resume he wants to take part in a long-term rebuilding program.
Vigneault had similar qualifications to those of Trotz and ultimately that didn’t work.
So, maybe Fletcher rolls the dice, goes to a young, up-and-coming candidate who has shown a knack for developing prospects.
Or possibly he makes a sincere attempt for Trotz’s services.
When all is said and done, the Flyers might be looking for a coach who can work with both veteran and inexperienced players.
As TNT/NBC Sports Philadelphia hockey analyst Keith Jones pointed out in a recent interview, the top priority for the next Flyers coach should be someone who can “regain the trust of the fans in Philadelphia.’’
No doubt Trotz would bring that credibility to a town which appreciates hockey played the right way.