Things are officially getting ugly for the Flyers.
After an inspiring start to the season that saw the Flyers go 6-2-2 through their first 10 games, the team is now in the midst of a demoralizing seven-game losing streak. During this losing skid, the Flyers have been outscored 30-12 and have logged exactly one (1) goal on the man advantage in 19 power-play opportunities. Since November 4, the Flyers are averaging just 1.69 goals per game.
At the time of this writing, the Flyers are in second-to-last place in the Metropolitan Division, and only the Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators sit below them in the Eastern Conference standings.
Of course, the Flyers haven’t exactly had the best luck as of late. Two of their top players – Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes – have both missed significant time with injuries, which has only exacerbated their on-ice problems.
But the longer this continues, the more evident it gets that the Flyers’ issues don’t solely lie on the ice, but on the bench as well.
Alain Vigneault, a bench boss with nearly two decades of head coaching experience at the NHL level, led the Flyers to their first playoff series victory since 2012 in his first season behind the team’s bench. And that 2019-20 season was one of the Flyers’ most exciting campaigns in recent memory.
Since then, though, everything’s gone south. The Flyers have now lost 44 of their last 77 games since the start of the 2020-21 season, and there are no clear signs of a drastic turnaround coming anytime soon.
Vigneault is clearly on the hot seat, and if the Flyers are unable to right the ship fairly soon, it’s hard to imagine general manager Chuck Fletcher won’t be forced to make a coaching change. But if the Flyers do move on from Vigneault, what options do they have for a replacement?
There are a few, actually.
Of all the coaching candidates looking for work, Boudreau makes the most sense for the Flyers by a pretty wide margin. Boudreau spent four seasons as the Minnesota Wild’s head coach from 2016 to 2020, and, of course, it was then-Wild GM and current Flyers architect Chuck Fletcher who hired him.
Boudreau, a former Jack Adams Award winner, has a long track record of success as an NHL head coach. He coached the Washington Capitals from 2007 to 2011 and led them to four consecutive playoff appearances, though his Capitals teams never advanced further than the second round. He left the Capitals with a 201-88-40 record.
Just two days after being let go by the Caps, Boudreau was hired by the Anaheim Ducks as Randy Carlyle’s successor. He wound up coaching the Ducks to four consecutive Pacific Division titles. Boudreau and the Ducks embarked on a deep playoff run in 2014-15, but they fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in seven games in the conference finals. Boudreau was fired by the Ducks after earning a 208-104-40 record in Anaheim.
Finally, Fletcher gave Boudreau a shot behind the Wild’s bench in 2016. Boudreau helped guide the Wild to consecutive postseason appearances, but his teams were swiftly eliminated in the first round. The Wild relieved him of his coaching duties in 2020 with a 158-110-35 record in Minnesota.
Simply put, Boudreau knows how to win hockey games. However, his lack of postseason success isn’t something that can be ignored. Not to mention, at nearly 67 years old, Boudreau would be the oldest head coach in the NHL if he were to take another job behind the bench.
Tocchet taking over for Vigneault would almost be too predictable. He was just inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame in November, and having a former Flyer behind the bench would surely excite a sizable portion of the fan base – particularly the Broad Street Bully purists.
After appearing in 621 games as a Flyer during his playing days, having logged 232 goals and 508 points in an orange sweater, Tocchet earned his first NHL head coaching gig during the 2008-09 season for the Tampa Bay Lightning in relief of Barry Melrose. He only coached 148 games for the Lightning, going 53-69-26 during that stretch before being let go.
Tocchet later joined the Pittsburgh Penguins as an assistant coach in 2014 and eventually won a pair of Stanley Cups with them in 2016 and 2017. His success in Pittsburgh ultimately earned him a second NHL head coaching opportunity – this time with the Arizona Coyotes.
He spent four seasons as the Coyotes’ head honcho, earning an unremarkable record of 125-131-22. However, in the shortened 2019-20 season, Tocchet managed to guide the Coyotes to their first postseason appearance since 2012. They were handily eliminated in the first round by a stacked Colorado Avalanche squad, but the fact that the Coyotes made it to the playoffs at all was impressive on its own.
Tocchet may not have the impressive coaching record that Boudreau has, but it’s clear that his hard-nosed demeanor would be a welcome addition to a Flyers team that desperately needs a change.
And speaking of a hard-nosed demeanor…
There aren’t many coaches in recent NHL history as demanding as Tortorella. He coaches his players tough and holds each of them accountable, no matter who they are. His outspoken, fiery nature has made him somewhat of a lightning rod over the years, and it’s pretty safe to say he won’t be exchanging Christmas cards with many members of the media anytime soon.
However, Tortorella has something neither of the aforementioned coaching candidates have – a Stanley Cup. He led the Lightning to their first championship in franchise history in 2004 and has since won a pair of Jack Adams Awards. He was also the all-time winningest American-born coach in NHL history, but Capitals (and former Flyers) head coach Peter Laviolette recently surpassed him for that title.
Overall, Tortorella has coached 1,383 NHL games for a record of 673-541-37-132. He most recently coached the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2015 to this past May, where he put together a 227-166-54 record. Under Tortorella in 2019, the Blue Jackets won their first playoff series in franchise history, famously sweeping a historically strong Lightning squad in four games.
Tortorella isn’t an easy coach to play for. In fact, Blue Jackets sharpshooter Patrik Laine ripped into Tortorella after being benched multiple times in their short time together in Columbus. But Tortorella is also lauded as an excellent motivator capable of getting the absolute best out of everyone in the locker room.
With the right mix of players, Tortorella is more than capable of coaching his teams to deep playoff runs. But it’s also been proven in recent years that his squads are equally susceptible to self-destruction. Things can either go really well with Torts or terribly, terribly wrong, and it’s hard to tell how he would mesh with the players currently on this Flyers roster.
Of all the big-name head coaching candidates out there, Babcock is one of the most unrealistic to join the Flyers. He was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019 after his star-studded team was in the midst of a six-game losing streak, and it’s no secret that the way he’d treated his players throughout his NHL coaching tenure was anything short of damning.
Still, it’s hard to totally pass over the success he’s had as an NHL head coach over the years. The 58-year-old has an overall coaching record of 700-418-19-164 and spent a decade behind the Detroit Red Wings’ bench from 2005 to 2015, guiding them to the postseason in every one of those seasons. He led them to two consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Final, winning the title in 2008 after taking down the Penguins in six games. With Detroit, Babcock earned an incredible 458-223-105 record in 786 games behind the bench.
He also spent two seasons as the Ducks’ head coach during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. In 2003, his Ducks team reached the Stanley Cup Final as well, but they fell to the Devils in seven games.
On paper, Babcock is clearly one of the better coaches in recent NHL history. But his abusive and manipulative behavior should be more than enough to eliminate him from any team’s list of potential coaching candidates – and the Flyers should be no different.