After a disappointing season that ended with the Philadelphia Flyers missing the playoffs for the third time in five years, the possibility of a coaching shakeup loomed. General manager Ron Hextall’s decision (in his current role of GM of Team Canada) to appoint Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol as assistant at the World Championships erased any lingering questions that the top man was on the chopping block in Philadelphia, but the three assistant coaches remained.
Today, we learned that one coach would not be retained — Joe Mullen.
Per the beat writers on site in Voorhees for Ron Hextall’s final media availability of the season, Mullen’s contract will not be extended, ruling him out as a possible assistant coach for the team in the 2017-18 season. Fellow assistants Ian Laperriere and Gord Murphy will return.
Mullen, who has been an assistant coach with the team since 2007, was in charge of the Flyers’ power play. Formerly one of the top-rated efficiency units in the NHL, the power play has ranked 14th and 11th in the league during the past two seasons. Apparently, that was not enough for Mullen to keep his job.
By advanced metrics, the Flyers’ power play in 2016-17 was actually one of the best shot and chance creation units in hockey. They ranked second in the NHL with 101.70 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-4, first in unblocked shot attempts and shots on goal per 60, and third in Expected Goals For per 60.
However, almost all of that damage was done by the still-lethal top unit. The second unit, on the other hand, struggled all season long. Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov and Sean Couturier all ranked in the bottom-ten among all regular NHL power play contributors in on-ice shot attempts per 60. Considering the fact that all three were key pieces of the second unit all year long, it helps to show how toothless the PP2 was in 2016-17. The new assistant coach’s main task should be to get that second unit moving into at least the realm of general competency, which would go a long way towards improving the efficiency of the power play as a whole.
The big surprise of the day was the fact that Laperriere avoided being fired. The penalty kill, which Laperriere oversees, ranked 19th in the league this season, and has not been an above average goal prevention unit since 2013-14, his first year running it. There was general surprise that Laperriere survived the awful performance of his penalty kill against the Capitals in the playoffs last year, so the fact that he again held on despite another underwhelming season understandably raises eyebrows.
In Laperriere’s defense, however, the PK did improve dramatically from a shot and chance prevention standpoint this year, even if the goal-based numbers didn’t show it. They ranked eighth in shot attempts against per 60 in the NHL, and seventh in Expected Goals Against per 60, as compared to 16th and 13th in 2015-16. The move to a more aggressive Czech Press-style defensive zone tactic did help in that regard, as did the successful decision to try Wayne Simmonds out on the PK.
However, the insistence upon using Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde and Andrew MacDonald as key cogs on the unit despite underwhelming on-ice performance was confusing, especially with players like Sean Couturier (long a fantastic penalty killer) and Radko Gudas pushed to the second unit. Nevertheless, Laperriere will return next season, and will try to yet again push the PK back to its old heights.
All statistics courtesy of Corsica.Hockey.