Yeo on Flyers' injuries: ‘I don't care, nobody's going to survive that'


As the final game day mercifully arrived for the 2021-22 Flyers, interim head coach Mike Yeo was asked if this had been the toughest season in his coaching career.

"By a long shot," he said with an honest laugh. "Like, not even close, let's put it that way."

His candor was telling. Yeo is no newbie. He has been a head coach of the Wild and Blues. He has gone to the playoffs four times and won three series. He has more regular-season games of experience and victories than guys like Jared Bednar, Craig Berube and Rick Tocchet.

But his Flyers record ...

"I try not to look it up. ... Not good, yeah," he said Friday morning before his club's season finale against the Senators at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

The Flyers have had one of their worst seasons in franchise history. They entered Game 82 at 25-45-11. They were derailed by injuries, underperformance and two double-digit losing streaks. Attendance has suffered.

Yeo, who started the season in his third year as an assistant coach on the staff, had to take over bench boss duties Dec. 6 when Alain Vigneault was fired. The 48-year-old has gone 17-35-7.

"He really, really cares about this organization and the guys in there," Scott Laughton said. "He's been handed a pretty tough hand with all the injuries and the way the season's gone when he stepped in. I can't say enough good things about him. He's always trying to have 1-on-1s and make sure that you're feeling good about your game and see where you're at. He really cares about us."

The circumstances of his interim run have been dire and difficult, even unfair in a way. Yeo will highly likely not be the head coach of the Flyers in 2022-23, but that has not diminished his faith in the club's future. And it hasn't sapped his joy of coaching.

"I really do believe in this group," Yeo said. "And I'll say that when you have the injuries that we've had this year, I don't care, nobody's going to survive that. It's hard to go into games where you have 10 to 12 guys that are NHL players that aren't in the lineup. Or even some of those guys that were already filling in for NHL players.

"So it's been real tough, it's been real trying. But I think with that, there's been some positives to it. I think that it's forced us to look at different areas of our game and recognize that there are different parts that have to improve."

The Flyers' injuries were undeniably crippling. Ryan Ellis, the team's prized offseason acquisition, played four games. Sean Couturier, the team's best and most important player, suited up for 29. Kevin Hayes, the team's 6-foot-5 second-line center, played 20 games while injured until March 5, when he returned healthy with the playoffs already an afterthought. Joel Farabee missed 19 games with two different occurrences of a shoulder injury. Derick Brassard missed 31 games and played in 31 games. And depth centers Patrick Brown and Nate Thompson missed significant time.

That doesn't and shouldn't excuse everything, but that was a lot. It made for Yeo's most turbulent season in this business.

"The things that we've dealt with, no question it's been the toughest, it's been the most trying, we can go on," Yeo said. "With that, there are some great things that have been learned along the way. For myself, it was a tremendous experience and, honestly, I feel like I'm a better coach from going through this.

"The one thing is when you're having a season like this, you have to do a lot more coaching than you do when things are going well, you can just sort of get out of the way and let it go. But with a season like this, you're forced to, whether it's trying to pick players up, trying to motivate players, trying to build their confidence, whether it's trying to build back different aspects of your game. Yeah, this has been tough."

Does his marred record this season and the constant challenges make him want to be a head coach even more?

"Yeah, big time," Yeo said. "I love coaching this group and I love coaching this market, for this organization. Honestly, I feel like my best days of coaching are ahead of me at my age.

"I think that there's sort of this misconception that a coach is what he is. The reality is that we have the opportunity to grow. If you evaluate yourself properly, you're forced to kind of look at the areas that you need to improve, and if you're willing to improve those, then why can't you get better with age? At 48 years old, I think that a lot of coaches kind of reach their better points when they start getting into their 50s. I hope I can get into my 50s.

"But I really do think that, you look at this year, there was a lot of positives. I think that probably if you talk to the guys, I think that the consistency of the message was there. I felt like certain things had been growing, certain things had been building and it does take time.

"But when you have that many guys out, I don't care, you could have Toe Blake and Scotty Bowman, it doesn't matter who your coach is, you're not going to win, you're not going to be successful. But I think that we kept staying focused and kept having a good attitude. Yeah, I'm hopeful."

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