With the Flyers off to a terrible start this season and the fans once again calling for Dave Hakstol’s head, now is a good time to examine what the Flyers options might be for a new head coach. Changing coaches mid-season is extremely difficult, considering many other candidates are under contract even with minor league affiliates throughout the year. Below is a list of candidates for a mid-season coaching change.
Knoblauch was considered an excellent hire for the Flyers back in 2017. He was coming off a successful stint as a coach for the OHL’s Erie Otters. Knoblauch is still fairly young and, at the time of his hire, was considered one of the coaches of the future, part of the “new wave” so to speak. Knoblauch was famously Connor McDavid’s coach and was considered responsible for developing the likes of Blackhawks rising star Alex Debrincat and Leafs defenseman Travis Dermott.
However, judging by the fact that Knoblauch helps with the Flyers’ special teams and the Flyers have many system and structural issues, some of his glamour seems to have faded. That being said, matters can change when a coach has the ability to make drastic changes to both playing minutes of personnel and overall systems. As I already mentioned, changing coaches mid-season can be difficult because many other candidates are coaches in different leagues or are under contract as assistants or head coaches in other places. This means teams often have to look internally to hire or promote a candidate or find someone who is not currently hired or under contract. Knoblauch checks out as one of those internal candidates. If the Flyers continue to free fall this season, he might be worth a shot in a head coaching role.
Gordon is another internal candidate that is a viable option for the Flyers. A former Islanders head coach, Gordon has experience at the NHL level and led a highly successful Lehigh Valley AHL team into a deep AHL run last season. Gordon has been credited with helping younger players develop in the Flyers’ system and may be a strong candidate to continue the Flyers’ build. He may be ripe for a return to the NHL and, similar to a Mike Sullivan situation in Pittsburgh a few years back, may find himself in a positive overall position to promote solid AHL players and get higher than expected value out of this players (like Sullivan did with Sheary, Kuhnhackl, and Guetzel in the Pens playoff runs). Gordon is a possible short-term candidate. However, the jury is still out on whether or not he would be a viable long-term solution for this franchise.
Keefe’s name is in constant rumor circulation as a possible NHL head coach. Keefe is currently the head coach of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, last year’s AHL champions. Keefe’s teams play an up-tempo offensive game. He loves to use the stretch pass and his teams thrive in both the cycle game and in zone entries through the neutral zone. Keefe patterns much of his coaching style and system after Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, which is a mostly positive thing considering the success Babcock has had at the NHL level. Keefe has won every possible trophy in every league he has coached in so far. He is currently under contract with the Leafs and may not be considered a reasonable candidate mid-season, but Keefe would be an excellent fit for an offense heavy Flyers team.
Vigneault has the experience many of the above head coaches are missing. He has been to the Stanley Cup Finals multiple times (though on losing teams). Most recently, Vigneault coached the New York Rangers, so Flyers fans are accustomed as to what to expect from Vigneault. His teams play a more defensive brand of hockey, and he heavily emphasizes the importance of structure in the neutral and defensive zones.
However, Vigneault’s teams also tend to give up a high number of dangerous scoring chances. Most of Vigneault’s critics suggest his success has mostly come because of strong goaltending (see Robert Luongo in Vancouver and Henrik Lundqvist in New York). In fact, Vigneault himself has stated that his teams will win if his goalie outplays the other team’s goalie. On a Flyers team thin in the goaltending department, Vigneault may not be the best option considering. That being said, he is currently not employed in a head coaching position and would be an easy hire, though he would likely be looking for a long-term mult-year contract.
Therrien is a similar coach to Vigneault stylistically. His teams tend to play a more tight defensive structure and game. Therrien has also been to the Stanley Cup Finals, but never won. Therrien last coached the Montreal Canadiens and was famously fired even though his team was in playoff contention in favor of Claude Julien. Therrien’s tenure as a head coach has been a mixed bag of overachieving and underachieving teams. Therrien famously took a mostly underdog Canadiens team to the Conference Finals in 2013. Yet, his 2016 Canadiens team with “high” expectations missed the playoffs and vastly underachieved. Therrien is a coach who is occasionally considered to have his coaching “voodoo” wear off quickly. In other words, Therrien’s teams tend to respond well when he first takes over, but they can sour on his style and system quickly. Therrien is scouting currently but would be available for a head coaching position. He might be an option for the Flyers, but similar to Vigneault, he might not be the best viable long-term option.
Tippett is currently working as a consultant for a group of investors that are planning on bringing the NHL to Seattle. Tippett seems to be enjoying this advisory role and may not be interested in an NHL head coaching job.
Tippett and the Arizona Coyotes mutually parted ways in the summer of 2017. Tippett famously had success as a head coach for the Dallas Stars over a decade ago. However, Tippett’s last tenure left much to be desired as a Coyotes coach. Tippett’s coaching style has struggled to transition to today’s game. He has historically been a strong structural coach and has loved to play a hybrid style of defensive hockey that includes clogging up the neutral zone and relying heavily on defensive-minded centers. However, Tippett is also known as being somewhat inventive and his time away from coaching may pay off a bit, as he has had the time to reexamine systems and other systemic styles. Tippett is a valid, both shore term and long term, option for the Flyers.
The Flyers likely need to do something to spark this team. If it’s a head coaching change, there are options available. However, finding the right one to help get the Flyers over the hump will be a massive undertaking for GM Ron Hextall. The question yet to be answered: is he willing to take that risk?