You can’t fire all the underachieving players, so the Flyers did what most teams do when they are in a massive nosedive.
They got rid of their coach.
Alain Vigneault, 60, in his third year with the team, was fired Monday, the club announced.
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The Flyers entered Monday in the midst of an eight-game losing streak in which they had been outscored 36-13. Following a lifeless 7-1 defeat Sunday to the Tampa Bay Lightning, they sat in seventh place in the eight-team Metropolitan Division.
Assistant coach Mike Yeo, 48, was named the interim coach. Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher hired Yeo as the head coach when he was in Minnesota. Before that hiring, Yeo had been an assistant with the Penguins while Fletcher was an assistant GM in Pittsburgh, so they have a long history together. Yeo also coached the St. Louis Blues from 2016-18 before being fired 19 games into the season that the Blues went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Fletcher said he wanted the Flyers to “forge a new identity” and “learn to play the game the right way. We’ve got to get guys buying in. It’s a tough day today, but hopefully this is a new beginning.”
Yeo becomes the Flyers’ sixth head coach since the start of the 2013-14 season, following Peter Laviolette, Craig Berube, Dave Hakstol, Scott Gordon (interim), and Vigneault.
After saying it was difficult to see Vigneault and assistant Michel Therrien lose their jobs, Yeo said he had mixed emotions.
“To have an opportunity like this — not only to stay on board, but to have a chance to turn things around and get things going the right way — is also incredibly exciting for me,” Yeo said. “One second my emotions are over here, and then they’re over there.”
He said he wanted the Flyers to be an attacking team that controlled the puck more than its opponents and was “hard to play against.”
Fletcher called Yeo a detail-oriented coach, and someone who “has the ability to get these guys playing better.”
The firings were “more of a wake-up call,” captain Claude Giroux said, adding that the fault wasn’t with the dismissed coaches, but “on our group — players, coaches, everybody who’s involved with us.”
Giroux said things wouldn’t be resolved overnight and that it would be a “process.” He said Yeo, who directed the defense and penalty kill, “is a great guy. He’s a guy you want to play for.”
The Flyers began Monday having gone 17 straight games without scoring more than three goals in a game, and virtually the entire team was in a scoring slump. Most of the Flyers’ younger players showed little improvement during Vigneault’s two-plus season tenure, and many regressed, including Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Travis Konecny.
Therrien was an assistant coach who directed the power play and is Vigneault’s longtime friend. The Flyers’ power play is 30th in the NHL with a 13.4% success rate. For the time being, assistant Darryl Williams, who was also on Vigneault’s staffs with Vancouver and the New York Rangers, will run the power play. Fletcher said he plans to add another assistant.
In a statement, Dave Scott, the Flyers’ chairman and governor, called Vigneault and Therrien “good coaches” and wished them well. “This organization is committed to winning,” Scott said. “Our fans deserve and expect us to be in the playoffs and to compete aggressively every season for the Stanley Cup. It became clear we needed to make significant changes in pursuit of our goals, and Chuck has my full support in making these decisions.”
The Flyers compiled a 41-21-7 record in Vigneault’s first season in 2019-20 — they were the NHL’s hottest team when the regular season ended — and lost in the second round of the playoffs, falling to the Islanders in seven games. After some wins, the jovial Vigneault liked talking about having “a good martini.” They went 25-23-8 last season and missed the playoffs for the fifth time in nine years.
This year, they were 8-10-4 under Vigneault after an 8-4-2 start.
All told, Vigneault compiled a 74-54-19 record (.568 points percentage) with the Flyers; he is the eighth-winningest coach in NHL history with 722 victories. Vigneault was in the third year of a five-year, $25 million deal, so the Flyers are on the hook for the remaining two and a half years of his contract.
Yeo, a Toronto native, directed the team Monday against visiting Colorado. He coached for five years in Minnesota (173-132-44 record) and two-plus seasons in St. Louis (73-49-11) and has a career .567 points percentage. Vigneault has a career record of 722-489-35-117 (.585).
‘Digging a bigger hole’
The Flyers have suffered through numerous injuries and are now without Ryan Ellis, Joel Farabee, Derick Brassard, and Wade Allison. Kevin Hayes has returned to the lineup but missed 18 of the first 22 games because of abdominal surgery and related issues.
“I was hoping we could get some people back and get our group together and find out what we have,” Fletcher said. “But we just keep digging a bigger hole right now. As a group, we’ve got to find an identity to play the game the right way. To me, our process has been off all year.”
Fletcher said in “an ideal world, we could have bought more time, but I just felt we couldn’t wait anymore.”
Asked if Vigneault had lost the room, Fletcher said, “I honestly don’t know that. I certainly know that he tried. You go back to the 2020 season and his message was really well-received. Right now, we’ve lost our way. We have to get guys playing better, playing a little bit differently, and right now I think a new voice is needed.”
Fletcher said he was not starting a process to look for a full-time coach — Rick Tocchet and John Tortorella are among the big names available — and that he was just focused on “getting this team back on track. I’ve spoken to Mike and he knows there’s no promises going forward. He has his hands on the wheel now and it’s his opportunity to help this team get going in the right direction.
“The focus right now is not on interviewing people and rushing to hire a head coach,” Fletcher added. “Right now it’s to support Mike and get this team playing the right way, and we’ll make the decisions we have to make at the right time.”
Translation: Yeo likely has the remaining 60 games to impress his boss.
Heading into Monday, the Flyers had a slew of players struggling offensively, including Sean Couturier (no goals in the last 12 games); Giroux (two goals in last 14); Konecny (one goal in last 13); Cam Atkinson, whose goal Sunday was just his second in the last 17 games; Scott Laughton (one goal in last 13); and James van Riemsdyk (one goal in last 16). In addition, Sanheim (22 games), Keith Yandle (22 games), and Oskar Lindblom (21 games) have not scored this season.
During their losing streak, the Flyers’ forecheck has been ineffective. Ditto their zone entries, and opponents have been beating them with their speed. The defense and goaltending, which gave the team an identity earlier in the season, have dipped dramatically.
“Clearly, we are chasing a lot of games right now,” Fletcher said. “Whether we’re falling behind in games or we don’t have the puck enough. We’re defending too much.”
Fletcher said the team has good chemistry off the ice, and “this isn’t a case where the room has fallen apart. There are no fractures in there.” But the players have lost their confidence, he said. “You give up a goal and you give up a second, and you can see the air come out of the tires.”
Yeo will try to fill them up.
The interim coach called it an “unbelievable opportunity” not only for himself, but the players, “to turn this around. This is not a very good story right now, this season,” Yeo said. “The nice thing is we have the opportunity to change that, so let’s get to work.”
Three years ago, the Blues had the fewest points when Berube replaced Yeo. St. Louis charged into the playoffs and won the Stanley Cup. Six teams had fewer points than the Flyers before Monday.
“We know what kind of team we are,” said Giroux, whose team entered Monday seven points out of a playoff spot with two games in hand. “We know we can get back in the playoff race and make the playoffs. ... It’s not going to be easy. ... It’s going to be a process, and I still believe that when we win one, we’re going to win a few.”