Sources: Flyers interview Kris Knoblauch for Phantoms' coaching job
Knoblauch coached top draft prospect Connor McDavid on the OHLs Erie Otters this year.
BUFFALO - From Bill Barber to John Stevens to Terry Murray, just one man without a tie as a Flyers player has been head coach of the Phantoms in the 19 years since the Flyers purchased managing control of their American Hockey League affiliate.
That may change this summer.
The Flyers interviewed Kris Knoblauch, who coached Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters to the Ontario Hockey League championship series this spring, during the NHL combine in Buffalo last week, according to sources.
Knoblauch, 36, also interviewed with Toronto and a third Eastern-based team, believed to be Buffalo or Detroit, for openings at the AHL level.
This is interesting because technically, Murray is still employed as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms' head coach. So, the Flyers seem to be preparing to promote Murray to the NHL again, or Ron Hextall will be moving the Phantoms in a different direction.
Murray's three-year contract with the Flyers expires at the end of the month. Murray, 64, previously served as the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings. He has 1,012 games worth of NHL head coaching experience and could be a valuable tool for rookie coach Dave Hakstol as he makes the transition from the NCAA to NHL.
Murray could not guide the Phantoms back to the Calder Cup playoffs last season. The Phantoms have not qualified for the postseason since leaving Philadelphia for Adirondack in 2009 when the Spectrum closed.
Hextall declined to comment to the Daily News yesterday about Knoblauch's interview, which was conducted by director of scouting Chris Pryor. Hextall did not make it to Buffalo after a series of flight delays early in the week.
No man in the Flyers' front office has Hextall's ear more than Pryor, who could be in line for a promotion in short order. Pryor, 54, will begin his 16th season with the organization in September - joining the front office as a United States amateur scout in 1999, the same year Hextall became a pro scout for the club.
Since Hextall took over as general manager on May 7, 2014, they have operated with just Barry Hanrahan - who mainly manages the salary cap and contracts - as assistant general manager.
A source characterized the Flyers' discussion with Knoblauch as "doing their due diligence should there be an opening."
To this point, no final determination on Hakstol's stable of assistant coaches has been made, which may or may not include Murray. The fate of current assistants Ian Laperriere (forwards/penalty kill), Gord Murphy (defense) and Joe Mullen (power play/systems) has been left in the hands of Hakstol and Hextall.
Hextall said on Friday only that the process was "ongoing."
Knoblauch grabbed the attention of the hockey world with the help of McDavid and fellow 2015 lottery pick Dylan Strome in Erie. He took over for former NHL head coach Robbie Ftorek in 2012 and posted back-to-back 50-win seasons in his only full years with the Otters. Before that, Knoblauch was the head coach for the Western Hockey League's Kootenay Ice, where he won a league title in his first full season in 2010-11.
The only other Phantoms head coach without experience playing for the Flyers was Greg Gilbert, the former Calgary Flames head coach, who lasted just 93 games with the organization. Gilbert, who coached against Knoblauch the last few seasons in the AHL, was fired by Paul Holmgren four games after prospect Pat Maroon was abruptly dismissed from the team. Maroon, now 27, was a key piece for the Anaheim Ducks in their run to the Western Conference final this spring with 11 points in 16 playoff games.
Phantoms assistant coach Riley Cote, who now has five seasons of AHL coaching experience, is also a candidate to replace Murray.
With a lifetime of connections around the league, Murray might have more than one assistant coaching opportunity for next season.
Last week, the joint NHL-NHLPA competition committee met in New York, with Flyers chairman Ed Snider still as the only owner represented on the 10-member committee.
The committee, which includes five current NHL players, did not come to a resolution on how to handle overtime next season. That does not mean there will not be a denouement in time for next season, as one is expected in the next few weeks.
The sides seem split, according to reports, on whether to switch directly to 3-on-3 play at the start of overtime, or keep the current 4-on-4 setup before switching to 3-on-3 at some point during the extra session to increase scoring odds. With the league's worst all-time record (30-62) in shootouts since 2005, it's likely Snider will be pushing for any sort of change for next season to produce more overtime wins.