Mike Yeo

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

Chuck Fletcher was brought in because things weren't going well enough and quickly enough for the Flyers.

The predicament he inherited required eventual change.

After all, sitting alongside team president Paul Holmgren back in November, Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said the Flyers were eyeing a general manager with a "bias for action," among other qualities.

With time and evaluation, Fletcher has begun providing the desired action.

A new head coach is on board, bringing extensive experience and outside perspective, while two new assistants with strong pedigrees have been hired.

But perhaps the most influential part in shifting the Flyers' course has remained mostly intact: the roster. That could drastically change this upcoming offseason with free agency and potential trades. However, Fletcher, facing his first offseason as the Flyers' GM, doesn't see an exodus needed with the current roster — or at least not yet.

"The Flyers are a great opportunity. You guys are in this market, for me coming in from the outside, I know when Paul Holmgren approached me about being the general manager of the Flyers, I'm like, 'Wow.' This is a premium job in the National Hockey League and we're set up where we should have an opportunity to get better quickly," Fletcher said April 18. "I know we need more good players, but we have a lot of good players. It's not like you have to gut this thing — we have cap space, we have picks. We have really good staff, really good staff. On the scouting and management side, I've added one person, I haven't subtracted anything. There's a good group here and we have the ability to get better quickly if we all do our job."

Therein lies a poignant and undeniable pressure on Fletcher in Year 1 with the Flyers under Alain Vigneault's watch.

Aside from Wayne Simmonds, who became an inevitable piece to move given the circumstances, the Flyers' core has survived. So, too, has the overall makeup of the roster.

Fletcher, Vigneault and the Flyers believe this team can win with a refined system and different guidance. They don't exactly see a team that has missed the playoffs every other season since 2012-13, a stretch consisting of three first-round exits.

Will Fletcher add this summer? Of course — the ability to do so is one of the reasons why Vigneault found the Flyers as an attractive destination. When Fletcher was hiring Vigneault, the two established a list of areas in which the Flyers can improve.

"We're looking at some options and if we can put the right things in place," Vigneault said at his introduction, "it's going to be a lot of fun."

Significant subtraction was not featured on the list.

"There's some solid youth with a lot of upside here that is coming into its own," Vigneault said. "There's great goaltending, being one of those youth pieces. There's a solid core group that, in my mind, needs the right direction. And you've got the combination, also, of some solid veteran players that have been in the league a few years, that can still contribute at a high level in this league. … After discussing it with a lot of people that I respect their opinion in the NHL, I feel that the Flyers are a very good team that with the proper direction, proper mindset, proper culture and people working together, will be a very good team in the near future."

That's why Year 1 will be so telling.

Vigneault is a coach with a tremendous track record of winning during his first season on the job. He did so at three separate stops (see story). Michel Therrien has 38 postseason victories under his belt as a head coach and took a team to the Stanley Cup Final. Mike Yeo owns three playoff series victories as a head coach and has a ring as an assistant.

If this group can't produce the results with the Flyers' roster, Fletcher will have to take a longer, much more serious look at the players in place and make his hardest decisions yet.

At that point, it may be the only action left.

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5 takeaways from Alain Vigneault's breakdown of Flyers' 2019-20 coaching staff

5 takeaways from Alain Vigneault's breakdown of Flyers' 2019-20 coaching staff

Chuck Fletcher and Alain Vigneault built a 2019-20 staff with a mixture of head coaching experience and Flyers experience.

"We're all in this for the same thing and that's to win," Vigneault said Wednesday in a conference call. "I believe that Chuck and I have put a solid staff together that's going to permit us to do this."

After speaking with Vigneault, here are five takeaways on the coaches:

1. 'This was myself and Chuck'

Fletcher and Vigneault worked together in naming the coaching staff. Both the general manager and head coach were going to have input.

As they came together and highlighted Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo as candidates, it's clear who likely made which suggestion. 

Vigneault said he has known the 55-year-old Therrien "for a long time." 

"I know the type of hockey person he is, I know the type of person he is, I know what he can bring," Vigneault said.

Fletcher gave the 45-year-old Yeo his first NHL head coaching job back in 2011 with the Wild.

"I've known Mike Yeo through coaching against him, but Chuck Fletcher had a real good relationship with him," Vigneault said. "I felt real strongly about what he could bring to our coaching group."

The fact that both Fletcher and Vigneault could listen to each other's suggestions in constructing the staff is a major positive for the GM-coach relationship. Fletcher is a big listener and Vigneault values advice, as well. It's why both targeted experienced guys for the staff.

2. Role changes

When the Flyers announced the additions of Therrien and Yeo, it would have been surprising if either of the two guys with a combined 1,296 games of head coaching experience wouldn't oversee a special teams unit.

That means the role of Ian Laperriere — who was brought back along with goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh — was going to change. Laperriere will no longer be in charge of the Flyers' penalty kill, which ranked in the bottom 10 of the NHL in each of the past five seasons.

Yeo will coach the penalty kill and defensemen, while Therrien will lead the power play and work with the forwards. Laperriere's focus will shift to pre-scouting and focusing on the next opponent. He will move from the bench to the booth during games.

"I've always been a believer that the coach that's running the defense should be running the penalty killing also, and the coach that's doing the power play is a little bit closer with the forwards," Vigneault said. "That's how I've always spread my roles and my tasks in the past and that's how I'm doing it this year."

3. 'Faith in Ian Laperriere'

Vigneault spoke highly of Laperriere, who has often been the subject of criticism for the Flyers' penalty kill struggles, a unit that has ranked 30th in the NHL since 2014-15.

Vigneault and Fletcher likely heard plenty of good things about Laperriere. He has great relationships with the players, has been around the current roster and knows the organization. He can still help in a lot of areas and the Flyers saw that.

"This is about me bringing in people that bring different characteristics, different qualities to the Flyers," Vigneault said. "I've got a lot of faith in Ian Laperriere. I had a good talk with him and I know what he can bring to the Flyers. He's a true Flyer, he wants to be here, he wants to help the team in any way he can. 

"After thinking it through and talking with Chuck, I felt we needed an eye in the sky that was relaying what he was seeing to one of the coaches and that coach is going to be Michel Therrien. And I needed somebody to help us out with our advanced scouting, and that's going to be Ian."

4. 'The two best candidates'

What Vigneault really liked about hiring two former head coaches as assistants is that Therrien and Yeo know what is needed from those roles. A former head coach understands what works with an assistant, which made Therrien and Yeo popular choices.

"I felt that both Mike and Michel were the two best candidates right now that were available to do this job," Vigneault said. "If you look at my pedigree and the coaches that I've worked with in the past, I've always worked with strong, capable coaches."

Following the regular season, Fletcher lamented "bad habits" on the ice that resulted in the Flyers' inconsistency and missing the playoffs for the fourth time in the last seven seasons. The Flyers believe Therrien and Yeo will go a long way in cleaning things up by working closely with the team's personnel.

"This is about giving our players coaching, this is about giving our players direction," Vigneault said. "Both guys, they've been head coaches before. Nobody understands more of what's needed from an assistant than a head coach. So they understand their roles, they know that part of being an assistant is being closer with the players, you have to have an open mind about hearing their concerns sometimes and they bring different situations to me, and it's my job as the head coach to handle the different situations. 

"That experience that both of those guys are going to bring is going to be beneficial throughout the organization — not just me, but to the pro scouting, to the management staff and especially to the players."

5. Special adjustments

The Flyers' power-play percentage of 17.1 this season was the club's worst mark since 2010-11, when the unit was at 16.6.  The Flyers' penalty kill, despite significant improvement down the stretch, finished 26th at 78.5 percent. 

"No doubt that with the stuff that we're bringing to the forefront here, there will be some adjustments as far as philosophies and what we need to do," Vigneault said of the special teams. "I don't want to get into the specifics here on a conference call, but I have certain aspects of penalty killing that I believe in, that have been very effective in the past, just like power play. 

"But I also know Mike Yeo will bring something to the table, as will Michel Therrien and Ian Laperriere. So I want to have the opportunity to sit down with my coaches and brainstorm and look at the personnel that we have at our availability and come up with the best possible system for the power play and penalty killing that will help us."

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Back to the old ways? Flyers say look at us now

Back to the old ways? Flyers say look at us now

When Paul Holmgren made the call to relieve Ron Hextall of his duties as general manager, there was a common refrain among fans fearing of win-now, shortsighted decisions.

Here we go, the Flyers are headed back to their old ways.

Well, in reality, the Flyers weren't a whole lot different to begin with. Hextall deserves credit. He did many positive things. He changed the Flyers' way of thinking and operating. He fixed a troubling salary cap situation and built up the farm system.

But in the business of winning, the Flyers very much stayed the same. In Year 5 of Hextall's process, the Flyers were in last place of the Metropolitan Division at Thanksgiving for a second straight season. Twice they had missed the playoffs and twice they had lost in the first round after squeaking into the tournament.

Less than five and a half months following Hextall's firing in late November, the Flyers, an organization often criticized for a reluctance to steer from the past, look awfully different, fueled by outside perspective and experience.

Did you ever think two coaches with a winning pedigree from days with the hated rival Penguins would be brought in with open arms as assistants?

Here we are.

How about hiring a head coach who was working in the division just over a year ago and beating the Flyers in a huge Game 7 during the 2014 playoffs?

Here we are.

The hiring of Chuck Fletcher as general manager created a trickle-down effect of change, with fresh faces and potentially new ways to drive a team into contention.

Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr come from a background with the Wild in Minnesota, where they rekindled a buzz in a passionate hockey market.

Alain Vigneault is now the head coach. He arrived to the Flyers with two Stanley Cup Final appearances, three Presidents' Trophy winners and a Jack Adams Award (top coach).

Fletcher and Vigneault hired two assistants Monday with notable track records. Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo have a combined 1,296 games of NHL head coaching experience. Therrien led the Penguins to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, while Yeo won a ring with Pittsburgh in 2009 as an assistant.

Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott spearheaded this outside perspective. All along, it may have been a part of their vision when they hired Fletcher. No, the team hasn't made wholesale changes and Fletcher isn't looking to do so (or at least not yet), but the Flyers are different.

On April 18, the day of his introduction as head coach, Vigneault said he was aware of the frustration among Flyers fans with the state of the team.

"I understand people's disappointment, but I would say that's all behind us," he said. "Chuck is here, he's new. I'm here, I'm new. Nothing I can do about what happened in the past. I can focus on the present and hopefully make the future what we all want it to be. I'm going to be on high alert, I'm going to work my butt off to get this done and I'm very confident that it's going to work out."

Fletcher knows the Flyers' past.

"For me coming in from the outside," Fletcher said, "I know when Paul Holmgren approached me about being the general manager of the Flyers, I'm like, 'Wow.' This is a premium job in the National Hockey League.

"It has happened long before I got here, but the Flyers have always done things the right way and we'll continue to do that."

With new, outside point of views from Fletcher, Flahr, Vigneault, Therrien and Yeo.

Yes, the Flyers are hungry to win again, sooner rather than later. But you can't say they're back to their old ways.

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