As expected, interim boss Mike Yeo will not return to the Flyers in a head coaching capacity next season, general manager Chuck Fletcher announced Tuesday.
With Yeo, who replaced Alain Vigneault in early December, officially not returning, attention now turns to who could replace him behind the Flyers bench. Will the Flyers opt for someone with NHL head coaching experience or look for a young up-and-comer to take charge? Here are five of the biggest available names the Flyers could target for their head coaching vacancy.
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The name most often linked to this job, Rick Tocchet would be a popular pick with fans. A fan favorite as a player during his two spells and 11 seasons with the organization, Tocchet amassed 508 points and 1,815 penalty minutes in 621 games while wearing the Orange and Black. A person Philadelphians can identify with, the Flyers Hall of Famer recently said he is interested in coaching again.
Currently an analyst at TNT, Tocchet, 58, last coached the Arizona Coyotes from 2017-21, compiling a 125-131-34 record, and leading Arizona to a playoff berth in 2020. Before that, he coached the Tampa Bay Lightning for two seasons (2008-10) and has an overall head coaching record of 178-200-60. Tocchet won two Stanley Cups as an assistant under Mike Sullivan with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
A no-nonsense person and coach, Tocchet certainly would bring an element of discipline and accountability to the Flyers bench, hallmarks of his coaching tenure in Arizona. Short on high-end individual talent in the desert, Tocchet’s Coyotes teams forged an identity of being “hard to play against” and often were some of the stingiest teams defensively because of Tocchet’s system, which was predicated on defensive coverage and grit. That said, as an assistant for the Pens between 2014-17, Tocchet oversaw one of the league’s top power plays, working closely with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang.
If the Flyers are looking to make a splash, hiring John Tortorella certainly would be that. The lightning rod and often quotable coach has been out of coaching since the Columbus Blue Jackets opted to part ways with him following the expiration of his contract last season.
Tortorella, 63, also is currently working in TV, with ESPN, but is expected to be a candidate for several of the coaching vacancies this summer. The former Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, and Blue Jackets boss ranks 14th all-time in head coaching wins with 673 and has a .548 points percentage overall. Tortorella also has Stanley Cup experience, winning hockey’s ultimate prize as the coach of the Lightning in 2003-04.
Tortorella has a reputation for getting the most out of his players but also being demanding, a line he has at best flirted with for much of his career. For this reason, and for how hard he generally is on his players, even his stars, Tortorella tends to have a shorter shelf life. No stranger to confrontations with the media, Torts isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but has been successful everywhere he’s been, minus his one season in Vancouver.
Tortorella also was an assistant for the silver medal-winning USA Olympic team in 2010 and was the head coach of the U.S. at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Another coach with Flyers connections, Jim Montgomery would check several boxes for the Flyers: a winning pedigree, NHL head coaching experience, familiarity, and someone who preaches puck possession — Fletcher said Tuesday that finding a way to play with the puck more is an offseason priority.
A former Flyer as a player, Montgomery played 13 games for the Flyers between 1994-96, most famously coming up with the nickname the “Legion of Doom” for the line of Eric Lindros, John LeClair, and Mikael Renberg. Montgomery’s coaching chops were cultivated in the college game, where he led the University of Denver to two Frozen Four appearances in five seasons and the NCAA title in 2016-17. Montgomery guided the Pioneers to a 125–57–26 overall record before being hired by the Dallas Stars on May 4, 2018.
The 52-year-old led the Stars to the second round of the playoffs in his debut season but then was fired 31 games into his second season for “unprofessional conduct.” Montgomery later revealed that he had checked himself into rehab for alcohol abuse. “I let them down,” Montgomery said in May 2020. “That firing was deserved. I wasn’t doing the right things.”
Montgomery, who posted a 61-43-10 record with the Stars, currently is an assistant with the St. Louis Blues under former Flyers enforcer and coach, Craig Berube.
A bit of a left-field choice, given Mike Babcock has faded from the public eye in recent years after being forced out as Toronto Maple Leafs coach in November 2020, but the veteran head coach likely will get another chance in the NHL at some point, even after complaints of creating a toxic work environment in Toronto.
Why? Babcock usually wins. Currently the head coach at the University of Saskatchewan, Babcock is 10th in NHL history in wins (700) and points percentage (.608) among coaches who have coached 500 games. Babcock, who oversaw the Detroit Red Wings’ Stanley Cup win in 2008 and a return trip to the finals in 2009, also led the then-Anaheim Mighty Ducks to the finals in 2003, where they lost in seven games to the New Jersey Devils.
NHL teams will be doing their due diligence on Babcock and will have to open their own independent investigations into the person as well as the coach. That said, if teams are confident he’s learned from his shortcomings and has evolved, he could be back on an NHL bench next season, given his pedigree and tactical acumen. The Flyers have shown interest in Babcock before, too, as he was a top target for the organization in 2015 before he took the Toronto job. However, he’s probably an unlikely candidate, given he would be an unpopular choice with players after what went down in Toronto and allegations of verbal abuse and manipulation from past players.
Rikard Grönborg would seem the unlikeliest name on this list, as he has never coached in the NHL and would be a bit of a risk. The Flyers seem poised to go with a safer option, and when you add in that the Flyers roster is composed primarily of North American players, the odds of Grönborg being the next Flyers coach decrease further.
But if the Flyers truly are looking to rock the boat and change the current path of the organization, they could do a lot worse than the Swede. Currently the coach of the ZSC Lions of the Swiss National League, Grönborg widely is considered the best coach currently based in Europe. Grönborg has led the Lions to the playoffs in each of his three years in charge and has built an accomplished résumé with the Swedish national team. The 53-year-old was the head coach of Sweden’s World Junior Championship team between 2014-16, winning a silver medal in 2014, and coached the senior team to a third-place finish at the 2016 World Cup, as well as back-to-back gold medals at the World Championships in 2017 and 2018. Grönborg also was the head coach for Sweden at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.
On Tuesday, Fletcher said the Flyers need to find ways to score more goals, and hiring an innovative offensive mind like Grönborg could help in that regard. Grönborg’s role in helping build Sweden back up into a world power, and his success developing young players should also be appealing to a team like Philadelphia, which has struggled in that regard.
Grönborg, who attended St. Cloud State, has a reputation as a master communicator (he majored in communications) and has worked with players of all ages and skill levels. He also is a proponent of using analytics and has shown to be adaptable regarding his systems, depending on where he’s coached and the talent on hand.
Other names potentially in play this summer: Paul Maurice, David Quinn, Travis Green, Joel Quenneville, Nate Leaman, Claude Julien, Lane Lambert, David Carle.