John Boruk

It's not just a quick roster fix, it's a mentality overhaul with Flyers

It's not just a quick roster fix, it's a mentality overhaul with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Claude Giroux didn’t just go from a 102-point season to forgetting some of the most basic elements of fundamental hockey.

In the span of nine months, Sean Couturier didn’t go from a Selke finalist to rediscovering what makes a sound, solid two-way hockey player. 

But you would think after listening to general manager Chuck Fletcher’s press conference Monday that some of the most basic principles of playing hockey at the highest level were being taught for the first time under Scott Gordon.

Sure, Jakub Voracek coughs up the puck too easily at times, Giroux may be coasting on a backcheck or Couturier attempts an errant pass, but these are occasional lapses — not systematic, careless mistakes that take place on a nightly basis.

The Flyers' underlying problems go way deeper than this, starting with the younger players on the team.

“I think everybody understands theories. It’s in the heat of the moment, what are you going to do?” Fletcher said. “I’m not trying to overplay this, but it’s habits. It’s building habits in practice because you revert to what you know in stressful situations. It’s more the mindset, it’s habits. We make the game difficult at times.”

The most revealing part of two days and several hours of quotes from the players, staff and front office personnel is that the Flyers, a team that has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in four of the past seven years, have developed bad habits, some really bad habits, that require a complete detoxing.

You almost wish the Flyers could start their rehabilitation with training camp on the Monday after Labor Day weekend.

“It starts with me, then it goes to the coaches, then to the leaders and the players,” Fletcher said. “It’s not just mindset, it’s actual details. It’s doing things the right way repeatedly. That’s how you gain confidence and that’s how you learn to play the right way.”

It’s the realization that while former GM Ron Hextall appeared to be more concerned over the intake of inflammatory foods in their postgame meals or who resided in the players' lounge after games, the nuts and bolts of what really mattered was being neglected under the previous regime.  

“It’s not just systems. It's puck management, game management, being in the right spot, holding onto the puck offensively, making more plays offensively, retrieving pucks and winning battles,” Fletcher said. “There’s a whole host of things that go into it. We have some bad habits right now, flying into the zone before we have possession of the puck, not getting in shooting lanes, not keeping the third guy high, turning pucks over in the neutral zone when there’s no time and space to make a play, and just recognizing things.

“It’s mindset, but you need the mindset to embrace the habits.”

Fletcher just rattled off a laundry list of items that make it sound like the equivalent of teaching the golf swing to a 7-year-old picking up a club for the first time. It sounds alarming, and perhaps it should. Even Nolan Patrick mentioned he was exposed to parts of his game for the first time in his career.

“[Gordon] showed me things not many coaches have showed me,” Patrick said. "He helped me a lot with video and stuff I haven’t been shown in a while. Even things on the offensive side of things. It was pretty impressive to see the stuff he was showing me. He’s a smart mind."

The leadership group has to step up 

But it can’t just be on Gordon to do the preaching or whoever the Flyers eventually tab as the next head coach. 

There’s only so many times a coach can get in the ear of a younger player and repeatedly relay the same message. That’s why coaches are “tuned out” when the leadership group doesn’t reinforce the message with players who are developing bad habits or there’s a refusal of buying into a coach’s philosophy of playing the right way.

“I think it’s a question of consistency and doing the little details. We have some young players that are still learning,” Couturier said. “They’re great and they’re skilled. We’re going to have to be more consistent in doing those little things on a nightly basis. It starts from the leadership group as well. We need to be better consistently and everyone has to be pushing in the right direction.”

In doing so, it sometimes requires difficult and uncomfortable conversations.

And if the Flyers' current leadership group doesn’t feel as if it can carry out this responsibility, then it’s up to management to find those who can.

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5 takeaways from Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher's 2018-19 end-of-season press conference

5 takeaways from Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher's 2018-19 end-of-season press conference

VOORHEES, N.J. — Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher spoke for 35 minutes Monday morning addressing the coaching search, his pursuit of free agents and the continuous problems plaguing the Flyers.

Here are five takeaways from his press conference: 

Coaching search starts today

Fletcher was asked if he was disappointed that Joel Quenneville chose the Florida Panthers, but only responded by saying, “I'm happy for Joel.” There’s been speculation surrounding Quenneville and the Panthers for several months, so I believe Fletcher knew the Flyers were never really on Quenneville’s radar.

“I’m not going to speculate on names or people who may be available or were available or available in past years. It’s a big decision for the Flyers,” Fletcher said. “Obviously, I’m going to take the time to get it right.”

Fletcher said the process of finding the team’s next head coach started Monday, a list that includes interim head coach Scott Gordon.

“I had a conversation with Scott this morning, who remains a strong candidate,” Fletcher said. “Talked to him about what I’m going to do. My plan is start my due diligence and reach out to some people and also spend some time with Scott. Hopefully at the right time, name the right person."

'OK, not elite free-agent market'

Fletcher will be looking to add a second-line center, a top-four defenseman and a backup goalie. Those will be the priorities heading into the offseason. How he acquires those players will be the interesting element to this offseason, whether it’s through trades or free-agent signings. The Flyers' general manager also labeled this year’s free-agent crop as “OK, not elite.”   

Right now, the biggest potential UFAs are defensemen Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers and Anton Stralman, and forwards Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, Jeff Skinner and Kevin Hayes.

“We’re going to be active in trying to improve our team,” Fletcher said. “How that translates this summer, we’ll find out. You can’t control the marketplace, you can’t control the trade market."

In nearly 10 years as an NHL GM, Fletcher has never extended an offer sheet to a restricted free agent and I don’t see him traveling that path this summer, even with some high-end RFAs (Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Brock Boeser, Zach Werenski, Patrik Laine) looking for that next contract.

Fletcher very critical of team's bad habits

I considered this a reflection against the previous regime, especially head coach Dave Hakstol and how the Flyers haven’t been ready at the start of games (falling behind 2-0 in 32 games) and even slow starts to each season.

“We have some bad habits right now, flying into the zone before we have possession of the puck, not getting in shooting lanes, not keeping the third guy high, turning pucks over in the neutral zone when there’s no time and space to make a play, and just recognizing things,” Fletcher said. “It’s mindset, but you need the mindset to embrace the habits.

“It’s about making sure going into camp next year, we have to change some details, change our mindset and have a good start. A lot of reasons we fall behind in games is because we give up easy goals. It’s not about effort. It’s about thinking, about working smart and playing better.” 

Don't have players in Lehigh Valley who can challenge for jobs now

When asked directly whether some of the current Phantoms can challenge for full-time positions with the Flyers next season, Fletcher redirected his answer toward the need for outside help. 

“Obviously, somebody can come in and make the team, but they’re going to have to earn it,” Fletcher said. “We’re not looking just to put players on the team. I hope we’re a little deeper up front and on the blue line and it will be a little tougher to make the team. That would be ideal.”

A lack of forward depth at the AHL level is one reason why Fletcher re-signed Michael Raffl as there really isn’t a player ready to step up and fill that role.

No surgeries and likely no buyouts

Outside of goaltending, the Flyers were relatively healthy this season with the majority of players dealing with minor issues throughout the course of the season. The Flyers don’t anticipate any offseason surgeries, but they should know definitively after some follow-up exams. 

Fletcher also added he’s "not a big fan of buyouts." In buying out contracts, teams stretch out the cap hit over future seasons and that’s not an ideal situation for the Flyers' GM. Defenseman Andrew MacDonald would appear to be the likely candidate with one season at a $5 million cap hit. 

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With Joel Quenneville off the board, where else could the Flyers look for a coach?

With Joel Quenneville off the board, where else could the Flyers look for a coach?

Updated: 2:02 p.m.

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers' offseason is already off to an undesirable start.

Not long after the Flyers skated off the Wells Fargo Center ice, we've learned that three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville is joining the Florida Panthers. 

Quenneville would have brought an excitement to Flyers Nation similar to the energy Bryce Harper has unleashed on Philadelphia. Quenneville is the next head coach of the Panthers, but it’s not because GM Dale Tallon beat Chuck Fletcher to the punch. 

Clearly the Flyers organization, from CEO Dave Scott on down, was locked into the idea of bringing Quenneville aboard. However, Tallon and Quenneville are good friends as Tallon promoted Quenneville to the position of head coach with the Blackhawks in 2008.

The Panthers reached out to the Blackhawks for permission to speak with Quenneville, but it’s believed the two sides had been in serious negotiations with a press conference scheduled for Monday.

With Quenneville out of the mix, Fletcher had better act quickly if he wants to get one of his desirable candidates. A quarter of NHL teams entered Sunday searching for a new head coach and it looks like Todd McLellan could be off the board, as well.

With Quenneville off the radar, where does Fletcher direct his search? 

Here are some potential candidates:

Dave Tippett — senior adviser to Seattle’s NHL team

Tippett was fired by the Arizona Coyotes following the 2016-17 season and five straight non-playoff appearances and replaced by Rick Tocchet.

Prior to the recent lockout, Tippett guided the then-Phoenix Coyotes to the Western Conference Final in 2012 after winning the Pacific Division. Between coaching stints with the Coyotes and Stars, Tippett’s teams reached the playoffs in eight of his first nine seasons.

What makes Tippett attractive?

The Flyers finished 29th in goals allowed, a number Fletcher has been adamant in cutting down. In the eight years Tippett’s teams made the playoffs, they finished third, second, sixth, fourth, sixth, third, 13th and fifth in overall team defense. That’s appealing for a team that was horrendous on the defensive side of the ice.

Alain Vigneault — head coach Team Canada’s World Championship team

Vigneault was relieved of his duties with the New York Rangers following the 2017-18 season after the team proceeded to sell off its best players as part of a rebuild on Broadway. The 57-year-old coach may have the opportunity to coach fellow French Canadians Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier at the upcoming World Championships.

What makes Vigneault attractive?

He’s a proven winner. Vigneault won six divisional titles in Vancouver, including a President’s Trophy with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. In his first season in New York, Vigneault led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 20 years. He’s coached his teams to eight 100-point seasons over a 10-year period.

Guy Boucher — fired as Senators coach on March 1, 2019

Boucher was put in an untenable position after the Senators proceeded to sell off the organization’s best players, starting with defenseman Erik Karlsson last summer. Boucher has had a short shelf life, coaching just three seasons in Tampa Bay and Ottawa. Karlsson excelled in Boucher’s first season in Ottawa and perhaps hiring Boucher could be a way of luring Karlsson to Philadelphia, who the coach labeled "the best player in the world" in 2017.

What makes Boucher attractive?

He may be a short-term fix, but in his first full season with the Lightning in 2011 and the Senators in 2017, he guided both teams to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. The 1-3-1 neutral zone trap Boucher is known for is the same system the Flyers had success with this season under interim head coach Scott Gordon. 

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