What Coaching Options Remain for the Flyers?
Chuck Fletcher opened his end-of-year press conference on Monday by saying a head coaching search was starting that day. That came hours after the people’s choice for Flyers head coach, Joel Quenneville, had signed on with the Florida Panthers, taking the big free agent coach off the board less than 48 hours into the offseason.
The Flyers are left to explore other options for their next head coach. Here are a few options that still remain for the Flyers.
Gordon is obviously at the top of the list because he’s already here. There’s no guarantee that he’s going to have the interim tag removed and become the full-time head coach, but Fletcher called him a strong candidate and rightfully so.
A lot of things got better under Gordon’s direction. The penalty kill improved, the defensive play was somewhat better and the goaltending was certainly better. The Flyers had an 18-4-2 stretch that got them back into the playoff race and had Gordon carving out a path to keep the job.
A 3-10-0 finish to the season may have done enough to sink Gordon, even with the second-half tear.
The one thing Gordon has going for him is the developmental approach he takes and has used on so many players in the system already. He knows so many of these younger players from their first days as a professional. That familiarity with the youth of this team that they are going to be so dependent on may help him win the job.
Tippett is the outside name that seems to carry the most traction so far. Currently, he is tied to the Seattle franchise in a consultant role of sorts and the thought is that he was there to eventually move into a management position, but the rumor is he may have the bug to get back behind the bench.
Tippett comes with a solid resume. For six seasons from 2002 to 2009, he coached the Dallas Stars, reaching the playoffs in each of the first five seasons, winning 50 games twice and winning the Pacific Division twice, and reaching the Western Conference Final in 2008. Following his firing in Dallas, he became the head coach for the Coyotes, spending eight seasons with the franchise. Again, Tippett led the Coyotes to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, including a Pacific Division title and Western Conference Final appearance in 2011-12. In the five seasons that followed, the Coyotes were bottom-feeders of the league, failing to reach the playoffs in each season and finishing no better than fourth in the division.
Tippett’s teams have typically adapted well to the roster makeup, showing offensive skill at times, but being a team that primarily takes pride in the defensive play first.
Nelson is very much in a similar situation to Gordon. For now, Gordon remains the head coach in the interim. Nelson was named the interim head coach of the Oilers for the same amount of time in the 2014-15 season, taking over for Dallas Eakins on Dec. 15 and serving out the season as the interim before the team hired Todd McLellan.
Nelson has also been a head coach at the AHL level, with the Grand Rapids Griffins from 2015 to 2018, before joining the Dallas Stars as an assistant coach last season. While the Oilers failed to make the playoffs out of his 51 games with a 17-25-9 record, he did lead the Griffins to three playoff appearances and a Calder Cup title in 2016-17.
Another AHL riser is Sheldon Keefe, the head coach of the defending Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies. Keefe has been a success story, rising through the ranks from Canadian Juniors to the AHL.
The big question with Keefe, especially after the fallout with Dave Hakstol, is if the Flyers want to bring in a coach with no NHL experience. Gordon and Nelson aren’t veterans behind an NHL bench by any means, but they have at least held the role before.
Keefe may be a leap of faith, but someone’s going to take it eventually. He’s highly respected, and though he is supposedly working on a contract extension with Toronto, he’ll get his day in the NHL soon enough.
Vigneault is among the most veteran options available with his head coaching career going back to 1997-98. Vigneault spent five seasons as the head coach of the New York Rangers from 2013-14 to 2017-18. In his first two seasons with the Rangers, Vigneault led the team to the Eastern Conference Final, including reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. The Rangers missed the playoffs for the first time under Vigneault in 2017-18, his final season with the Rangers.
Prior to getting the Rangers job, Vigneault spent seven seasons as the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 and making the playoffs in six of his seven seasons there.
He will coach Team Canada at World Championships this year after taking the 2018-19 season off from coaching in the NHL.
Boucher comes with less of an NHL career than others, but has experienced extreme highs and lows in his coaching career. With the Tampa Bay Lightning for three seasons from 2010 to 2013, Boucher led the team to the Eastern Conference Final in his first season, then missed the playoffs in the second year and was fired 32 games into the lockout-shortened 48-game season in 2013.
Boucher was with the Ottawa Senators from 2016 to 2019 for three seasons. Similar to his time in Tampa, the Senators reached the Eastern Conference Final in 2017, taking the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to double overtime in Game 7. The following season, Ottawa finished with 28 wins. Boucher was fired after 62 games during the 2018-19 season.
Bylsma started his tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins midway through the 2008-09 season. In 25 games, the Penguins won 18 and finished second in the Atlantic Division, going on to win the Stanley Cup that season. Bylsma and the Penguins reached the playoffs in each of the next five seasons, but Bylsma was fired after the 2013-14 season. The Penguins won 51 games that season, winning the Metropolitan Division, but lost in the second round of the playoffs.
Bylsma took the 2014-15 season off before joining the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres won 68 games combined over the two seasons before Bylsma was fired following the 2016-17 season.
Bylsma shares a connection with Fletcher. Fletcher was the assistant GM of the Penguins in 2008-09 and recommended Bylsma for the coaching position with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Yeo’s NHL coaching career starts with Fletcher, who hired him as the head coach of the Minnesota Wild in 2011. In his first season, the Wild missed the playoffs, but they did make the playoffs in each of the next three seasons, losing in the first round in the 2012-13 season and the second round in each of the next two seasons. After 55 games in the 2015-16 season, Yeo was fired.
Yeo joined on as an assistant coach under Ken Hitchcock with the St. Louis Blues the following season and took over as head coach when Hitchcock was fired after 50 games. In the final 32 games, Yeo and the Blues had a 22-8-2 record and finished third in the Central Division. They lost in the second round of the playoffs. In his first full season as head coach of the Blues, St. Louis missed the playoffs. After 19 games this season, Yeo was fired with a 7-9-3 record.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.