Ian Laperriere's corner was crowded when it came down to the Flyers' decision to name the 47-year-old the head coach of the Phantoms.
General manager Chuck Fletcher said the Flyers' assistant coach had the support of senior advisors Paul Holmgren, Bob Clarke and Dean Lombardi, while the vote of confidence from head coach Alain Vigneault was "very strong."
"I spoke with a lot of people," Fletcher said Monday. "I don't know that you'll find many people that don't have a lot of respect for Lappy. There will be a lot of people cheering him on here."
And working closely with him, too. The communication and coordination between an NHL team and its AHL affiliate is pivotal toward the progress of the big club. After all, AHL teams have to blend winning and developing with the hope of constantly benefiting its NHL affiliate. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two and it's clear why the Flyers have faith in Laperriere to be a quality liaison at Lehigh Valley.
"A.V. has a tremendous amount of respect for Lappy," Fletcher said. "Lappy's paid his dues. He's 47, he's spent a lot of time working in this game, playing in this game — he's earned the right to have this opportunity. A.V. was very supportive. It's a tough job coaching, it's really tough, and he's done everything we've asked of him as an organization and this was his opportunity now to get in the big chair down here and take a stab at it. He'll bring a lot to the table."
Laperriere had been an assistant coach with the Flyers over the last eight seasons. He joined the club's staff in June 2012 as director of player development and became an assistant coach in October 2013. After working alongside the fellow French Canadian Vigneault over the last two seasons, Laperriere has a good feel for the head coach's system.
The former Flyer Laperriere will replace Scott Gordon, who had spent the last six years in the organization. The Flyers and Gordon mutually agreed to part ways last month. Fletcher called Gordon "one of the most successful coaches in American League history," but obviously having greater shared philosophies was important.
"That certainly was a part of it; I don't want to oversell that," Fletcher said. "I thought Scott Gordon worked hard with A.V., as well. I wouldn't say the systems were identical, but there were certainly a lot of dialogue and a lot of effort on everyone's part to sync things up.
"It even goes beyond the relationship with A.V. Obviously Lappy and A.V. have spoken several times over the last few days about next year, about systems and they have a very strong relationship. But Lappy also has a very strong relationship with our player development staff. I think this move allows us not just to integrate our AHL coaching staff with our NHL coaching staff, but as importantly, to integrate our coaching at the American Hockey League level with our player development model that we've been working hard on for the last year, to continue to have it evolve. The American League is a big part of that development."
Laperriere expressed his gratitude for the opportunity and those that helped pave the way, like Holmgren and Craig Berube. Laperriere has a mix of personableness and stick-to-itiveness. At Lehigh Valley, he will stress professionalism, physical fitness and playing structurally.
"I will bring positive energy and positive feedback," he said. "I don't believe in putting people down deeper when they're down already. I'm a big believer in staying positive. Coming to the rink should be fun. I’ve been in the game for 27 years in the NHL level, I love coming to the rink and it's contagious — I know that and I'm going to make sure our players feel the same."
With the Flyers' hiring of Vigneault, Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien before the summer of 2019, Laperriere's focus shifted to pre-scouting and various other responsibilities over the past two seasons. As Laperriere takes over in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Fletcher said the Flyers will replace his role with the big club.
"We're looking at all of our staffing right now to make sure we're properly positioned," Fletcher said, a day before the Flyers started their pro-scouting meetings. "That's been ongoing and it will continue to be ongoing for the next few weeks."
That will include Phantoms assistant coaches to flank Laperriere, who said he's likely eyeing a somewhat younger staff for the purpose of hands-on development. Laperriere said he hasn't talked to the 70-year-old Terry Murray about being an assistant coach. As we noted last month, it wouldn't be surprising if the Flyers promoted Nick Schultz in some capacity. The 38-year-old is a player development coach, a former defenseman and well-respected within the organization.
"I'm in the process right now but we feel like if I went into July, there would more candidates, like top-notch candidates out there," Laperriere said. "I do have names in my head. For me, a perfect staff would be a D coach who played the position before and does have AHL experience, and a forward, more like a skill player, who does have AHL experience.
"I’m in a tough position to hire a guy who never coached. I want guys that are better than me in certain areas just to make everybody better. I'm not afraid of hiring strong people and people with more knowledge than me. I believe that's what makes a good staff, when you have people with different opinions around you. That's my goal.
"I know there will be head coaching jobs available around the league and some of those coaches are going to go for those jobs. I feel like at the end of June or beginning July, there'll be big names out there and we'll see."
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