A 7-1 loss elicited sharp boos from Flyers fans Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
For Chuck Fletcher, he had seen enough to bring the gavel down on his decision.
The general manager fired head coach Alain Vigneault on Monday morning, along with assistant coach Michel Therrien. Assistant coach Mike Yeo will take over behind the bench in the interim.
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Fletcher's club is 8-10-4 and mired in a troubling eight-game losing streak, which ultimately led to Vigneault's axing.
With Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott looking on, Fletcher, alongside Yeo, fielded questions in a press conference Monday morning at the Wells Fargo Center. The GM addressed what went wrong and what must change for the Flyers.
"Alain came here to try to win a Stanley Cup. He’s disappointed he wasn’t able to deliver," Fletcher said. "In turn, I’m disappointed, too, that I couldn’t do more for him to avoid being in this situation. He’s a professional guy, he’s a classy guy."
Let's get into five takeaways from Monday's press conference.
1. Why fire Vigneault now?
Fletcher said it three times, that the Flyers have lost their way — the way in which they want to play and once played under Vigneault in 2019-20.
"To me, our process has been off all year," Fletcher said.
The Flyers were hoping they could stay afloat amid their injuries. They were hoping three days between games would allow for a reset ahead of Sunday night's matchup with the two-time defending champion Lightning.
"I just felt watching our team last night that we needed to make a change," Fletcher said, referring to the 7-1 loss to Tampa Bay. "We need to find a way to spark change with our group. In an ideal world, we could have bought more time and waited, but I just felt we couldn’t wait anymore."
Losing streaks are dangerous because they can put a team in a complete tailspin in which the only answer left is to make changes. Having coached in three pressure-filled markets before coming to Philadelphia, Vigneault was very aware his seat was hot. Injuries and a challenging schedule aside, the Flyers were desperate for better results after the magnitude of the letdown from last season that left fans frustrated.
But instead, Vigneault got stuck in his longest losing streak with the Flyers and it cost him his job before the calendar even flipped to 2022.
2. Message not received?
It's truly astounding how quickly things unraveled for Vigneault in his Flyers tenure.
In 2019-20, his first season with the Flyers, Vigneault finished as the runner-up for the Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year). Fans seemed to love his French Canadian blend of toughness and lightheartedness. Before the regular season was paused because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Flyers were projected to finish with 104 to 105 points, which would have been their most since the 106-point 2010-11 campaign.
When the season resumed with the return-to-play 24-team tournament, the Flyers won their first playoff series since 2012 and came one win short of the Eastern Conference Final. They had grasped Vigneault's hard-on-the-attack, pin-you-back system that's predicated on forechecking and possession.
For some reason, the Flyers did not play that way whatsoever last season when they allowed an NHL-worst 3.52 goals per game. This season, there were early glimpses of Vigneault's preferred style, but the Flyers then started to slip. They have a minus-21 goal differential after sporting a minus-38 mark in 2020-21.
Did Vigneault start to lose the locker room this season when the process went south?
"That’s a hard question," Fletcher said. "I don’t know that, I honestly don’t know that. I certainly know that he tried and certainly you go back to the '19-20 season, his message was really well-received, we were a really good team. Right now, we've lost our way. We have to find out how good our group is, but we have to get guys playing better, playing a little bit differently. Right now, I think a new voice is needed."
3. Who's the next bench boss?
For now, Yeo will lead the Flyers. Assistant coach Darryl Williams, a longtime right-hand man of Vigneault and in his first year with the Flyers, will take over Therrien's power play responsibilities.
Yeo will get a solid shot to show if he can be the long-term guy because Fletcher isn't currently in search of a head coach. In many ways, Yeo will have a head start on any potential candidates to come down the road.
"I’m not starting any process right now other than trying to get this team back on track," Fletcher said. "I’ve spoken with Mike, he knows there are no promises going forward, but he has his hands on the wheel now. It’s his opportunity to help this team get going in the right direction.
"As I said last week, I still don’t know truly what we have here, what our group is. As we go forward, I think things will become clearer on what we need to do. The focus right now is not on interviewing people and rushing to hire a head coach. Right now, it’s to support Mike and get this team playing the right way and then we'll make the decisions that we have to make at the right time."
Fletcher's patience here makes fine sense. The Flyers have a lot of questions and they need to figure out what they have with their roster — especially when they get healthier — before they try to land a permanent head coach. Like Fletcher noted, the Flyers "have to find an identity."
The GM said the Flyers will look for a new assistant coach to join Yeo and Williams.
4. Yeo's mindset
The 48-year-old Yeo owns 482 games of head coaching experience and was the bench boss for parts of five seasons with the Wild under Fletcher.
So Yeo has quality experience and works well with the GM. He was a Pittsburgh assistant when the Penguins won the 2009 Stanley Cup and had worked for Therrien in the past. He knows the Flyers' roster well. Yeo had overseen the penalty kill and defensemen as Vigneault's assistant.
"I can tell you that I didn’t sleep very well last night," Yeo said. "It’s a very, very emotional day for me. Both of those guys treated me unbelievably. A.V., I have a ton of respect for him. He was really, really a great person to work with. Mike, my history with him goes back a long time. That part, I’m still a little bit emotional about it."
Yeo wants the Flyers to return to their tough-to-play-against ways.
"There are a lot of teams out there that maybe aren’t the most physical teams in the world, but they’re very difficult to play against," Yeo said. "That’s where we’re going to start. The way that we approach the game, we’ve got to be physically engaged, but we’re going to defend, we’re going to check and the way that we’re going to attack, it's going to be organized. We’re going to be on the same page. For me, I love to play with the puck. I want us to spend time in the offensive zone, I want us to grind the other team down, I want us to attack the net. And when we lose the puck, we want to get it back very quickly."
5. A salvageable season?
Fletcher is going to get a close read on the Flyers to see what direction they need to take moving forward. It's early enough that the Flyers have reason to believe they can make something of this season. Health will be important. So will the resolve of the team and the question of if Yeo can rebuild its confidence.
"The group cares about each other, there’s good chemistry," Fletcher said. "This isn’t a case where the room's falling apart, there's no factions in there.
"Before this eight-game streak, we were in a playoff spot. We weren’t playing perfectly, but we were a decent team, a decent team that needed to get better. Now we’ve just completely lost our way."
Do they have the right personnel? Top-pair defenseman Ryan Ellis remains the most important piece to the Flyers' chances this season. When Vigneault had two top-pair defensemen, the Flyers were pretty good. He had that in 2019-20. But he had only one last season and he had two for only four games this season.
The 30-year-old Ellis is an all-situation, team-changing player. He has been out because of a nagging lower-body injury and could be back around late December or the beginning of January.
Fletcher said the Flyers still believe in clinching a playoff berth.
"Right now, it sounds like clichés, but we've got to make sure the process is strong, we've got to get back to playing the right way," Fletcher said. "If we do that, then we have a chance to be a good team. We’ll see — that’s certainly our goal."
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