Ian Laperriere has emerged as one of the leading candidates to replace the highly successful Scott Gordon as coach of the Flyers’ top farm team, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, according to an NHL source.
A former Flyers player, Laperriere, 47, has been an assistant with the team for the last eight seasons.
Gordon confirmed late Tuesday that he and general manager Chuck Fletcher mutually agreed that it was time to move on after a six-year stint in which he compiled a 186-121-40-1 record with the Phantoms.
His contract expires after next season, and Fletcher was not prepared to give Gordon an extension now. As he drove back to his home in Atlanta on Tuesday, Gordon said he had no bitterness toward the Flyers
“I loved being there and had a great six years,” he said. “I don’t think I could have envisioned how great it was. You coach in the minors for as many years as I’ve coached, and you get to Lehigh Valley and see the facilities and the owners and how passionate they are, and the sold-out building. Everything far exceeded my expectations.”
Gordon thanked Ron Hextall, the former Flyers general manager who hired him, and executives Fletcher, Paul Holmgren, Bob Clarke, and Barry Hanrahan for their support over the years.
“Everybody treated me excellently,” he said.
Gordon, 58, was asked if he was disappointed that the organization didn’t want to give him a contract extension.
Looking at the ‘other side’
“I think sometimes you have to look at things objectively, or at least see the other side of it,” he said. “This is Chuck’s third year and he inherited a lot of people. At the end of the day, I’ve been here for six years and, coming in, we didn’t know each other, and he gave me the opportunity to go up coach the Flyers [on an interim basis in 2018-19] and he extended my contract after I coached the Flyers. So we worked well together.”
With Phantoms assistant Kerry Huffman stepping down, Fletcher said he didn’t want to hire his replacement and have Gordon going through the 2021-22 season as a lame-duck coach.
“We had a good conversation and I think it all made sense when it was all said and done,” Gordon said of his talk with Fletcher.
Terry Murray, 70, a former head coach of the Flyers, Washington, Florida, and Los Angeles, is expected to replace Huffman, according to InsideAHLHockey.com. Murray was the Phantoms’ head coach in their first season in Lehigh Valley in 2014-15.
Gordon, the New York Islanders’ head coach from 2008-09 to early in 2010-11, wants to remain in coaching. After he was beaten out by Alain Vigneault for the job as the Flyers’ head coach two years ago, Gordon had opportunities to be an NHL assistant. He turned them down because of his love for developing young players.
“I wanted to go back to the American League and be a head coach,” he said. “It was the best thing for me to get back to being behind the bench and being my own boss. It was something I needed. I didn’t expect to get back to the NHL the way I did, and that was a bonus I didn’t expect.”
Gordon replaced the fired Dave Hakstol in 2018-19 and directed the Flyers to a 25-22-4 record. Under Gordon, the Flyers got back into the playoff hunt with an 18-4-2 run before fading at the end of the season.
As for his future, Gordon sounded as if he was open to a job as an NHL assistant or as an AHL head coach. “I don’t know what will be out there in the AHL; it’s kind of a timing thing,” he said. “It’s not like you send your resume out and yours stacks up better than others. The reality is that different teams look for different things and it’s not only about your resume, so we’ll have to see how that goes. It comes with the territory.”
Six years ago, Gordon chose to work for Flyers over two other offers “because of who I was working for.”
Gordon is close with Hextall, who is now the Penguins’ general manager and whose team is in a playoff battle with the Islanders.
Asked if Hextall had contacted him, Gordon chuckled. “I think he’s got bigger fish to fry right now,” he said.
Gordon said he took pride seeing many of his Phantoms become NHL players over the years. Fourteen players on the Flyers’ end-of-season roster played for him with the Phantoms.
“The best thing was turning on a Flyers game and seeing all the players you coached,” he said. “And that’s not just the guys on the Flyers. Like having had the opportunity to coach guys like Nick Cousins and Anthony Stolarz and guys who are gone from the organization and got their start with us. That’s one of things that endears me to coaching in the AHL — the opportunity to see guys achieve their dreams, and this year was great for that and seeing guys like [Egor] Zamula and [Tanner] Laczynski and [Wade] Allison go up.”
Gordon said he only had defenseman Cam York for a short time and was impressed by “how quickly he adapted. Some guys take a half season to assimilate what he did, and to be able to see him go up [to the Flyers] and not miss a beat was pretty cool.
“And it’s not just seeing guys get to the NHL,” he added. “We had two players this year — Max Willman, who was in the East Coast League last year, and he earned an NHL contract, and Brennan Saulnier, who signed an AHL contract and he didn’t play major junior. ... That to me is just as impactful as seeing a guy go up and play his first NHL game. Sometimes, that has more of an impact on you because they’re not a high-round draft pick that is expected to make the NHL.”