Things have been rough for the Philadelphia Flyers in recent years. People forget that the Flyers are one of the most successful hockey clubs in NHL history. Yes, Stanley Cups have alluded them since 1975 but it’s still impressive what they’ve been able to accomplish on a yearly basis. The Flyers currently hold the third highest winning percentage in NHL history but that also includes the Vegas Golden Knights who have played 291 games compared to the Flyers 4,171.
In 51 seasons they have qualified for the playoffs 39 times, a number that would be far more impressive if they didn’t alternate between making and missing the playoffs for the last 10 years. They’ve won 8 conference championships and 16 division championships. All that success has been for nought lately and a part of that is the revolving door of head coaches.
The Flyers have had 21 head coaches in franchise history with only a handful of them eclipsing 250 games. After Fred Shero (who coached for 7 years), the longest tenured coaches were Mike Keenan, Ken Hitchcock, John Stevens, Peter Laviolette, and Dave Hakstol who all coached in parts of 4 seasons. The last 8 seasons alone, the Flyers have had 5 head coaches at the helm and their playoff success is indicative of this trend.
After their failed Stanley Cup run in 2010, Peter Laviolette only lasted another 2 seasons and 3 games into the next. He was followed by Craig Berube for 2 seasons, Dave Hakstol for 4, Scott Gordon who was the interim after Hakstol got sacked, and current head coach Alain Vigneault. The ups and downs, the highs and the lows, and the ebbs and flows have consumed the entire fanbase and organization. It’s been inconsistent at best and having this many different voices with the core remaining in place all these years can’t be helpful.
Peter Laviolette took over in December of 2009 after the Flyers had started off the year with a middling record of 13-12-1 under John Stevens’ guidance. It wasn’t any easier for Laviolette as he finished the final 56 games of the year going 28-23-5. The Flyers were chasing that final playoff spot and it all came down to the final showdown against the New York Rangers. They famously won the shootout that helped them clinch a playoff spot and went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, falling short to the Chicago Blackhawks in 6 games.
The following year he helped the Flyers win the division for the first time since 2003-04 with an impressive 47-23-12 record. They went through troublesome times in the first round against the Buffalo Sabres, barely beating them in 7 games. They then got swept by the Boston Bruins, in a revenge series after the infamous 0-3 comeback from the previous season.
The Flyers played very well in the regular season once again in 2011-12, finishing third in the Atlantic Division with 103 points. The first round of the playoffs will never be forgotten as it was one of the most entertaining series’ in recent memory. The Flyers outlasted the Pittsburgh Penguins in a goal filled series in 6 games and after the win, he will always be remembered for praising Claude Giroux as “the best player in the world” for his efforts against Sidney Crosby.
In the lockout shortened season of 2012-13, the Flyers struggled mightily to get their game going and missed out on the playoffs big time. It was the first time in 3 years that Laviolette had failed to clinch the playoffs, considering he was coming off back to back 47 win seasons and it was also the beginning of their next 10 years of infamous sports history.
The Flyers started the next season losing their first three games and that was all for Peter Laviolette. He was quickly fired and replaced by interim and soon-to-be permanent head coach, Craig Berube. His first season was an instant success and it looked like everyone was on the same page. They were a resilient bunch that never let anything get them down as they ended the season with the most 3rd period comebacks in the NHL.
He finished the final 79 games going 42-27-10 and found himself in the playoffs going head to head with the New York Rangers. It was a very tight series that ended in a 7 game defeat but it seemed like a positive sign for the next season, especially with all the comebacks and shortcomings they overcame. However, things don’t always work out in Philadelphia and he ended the year with a middling record of 33-31-18.
Newly appointed general manager, Ron Hextall, gave Berube one year to see if he fit his vision and after missing the playoffs and losing an insane 18 OT games, Hextall went off the board and hired college head coach, Dave Hakstol. Hakstol was the head coach for North Dakota in the NCAA since 2004 and led his team to the Final Four 7 times in that span, won the conference head coach of the year twice, and was a finalist for national head coach of the year 8 times. He was also the head coach of Ron Hextall’s son, which most likely helped in the hiring process.
The Flyers found instant success with their new head coach, as they always seem to do. They were supposedly in a rebuild mode from the get-go of Hextall’s tenure but they surprised most of the NHL when they qualified in 2015-16. They got outmatched and outlasted in the first round by the Washington Capitals, as they didn’t possess the firepower to match. Hopes were higher than they should’ve been the following year because of their surprise run to the playoffs but they fell short with a 39-33-10 record.
2017-18 was a revelation year for many Flyers as Claude Giroux reached the 100 point milestone for the first time in his career, Sean Couturier broke out for a career high in goals and points, Travis Konecny had a breakout season alongside Giroux and Couturier, Jake Voracek hit 85 points, and Shayne Gostisbehere amassed a career high 65 points. The Flyers finished 2 points off the Penguins for second place and home ice advantage but once against looked overmatched and fell in 6 games.
It was a confusing time for the Philadelphia Flyers because they were supposedly in Hextall’s rebuild plan but were still finding ways to scratch the surface and make the playoffs. However, every time they made it, they were very quickly overmatched and outclassed by their opponent. Hextall never really added to his roster to help the team make a potential deep playoff run, he was more focused on acquiring draft capital (like trading Brayden Schenn for salary cap dump Jori Lehtera and what turned out to be 2 first round picks).
Hakstol’s final year and a half was interesting in the sense that he valued his veterans far more than his younger players/prospects. Players like Lehtera, Valteri Filppula, and Chris Vandevelde among others, had much bigger roles than they deserved. Gostisbehere, Konecny, and sometimes Oskar Lindblom would be in Hakstol’s doghouse for unconfirmed reasons. He outlasted his general manager in 2018-19 but only lasted 31 games himself after getting the boot from newly appointed general manager Chuck Fletcher. It was a frustrating run of hockey and definitely wasn’t short of controversy either.
Scott Gordon arrived with the Flyers destined to miss the playoffs again, inheriting a team with a 12-15-4 record, 31 games into the season. He was the head coach of the AHL affiliate, Lehigh Valley Phantoms from 2015-16 to 2018-19 (and then again in 2019-20). There wasn’t much of a plan for that season, especially with Fletcher inheriting a mess of a team, including 8 different goalies making an appearance. He finished off the remaining 51 games going 25-22-4, a respectable finish to a disastrous season. Chuck Fletcher had different plans moving forward but retained Gordon for one more year as the Phantoms head coach.
Alain Vigneault was Fletcher’s handpicked coach and was a different pick than previous coaches in Philadelphia. Rather than going for the inexperienced, he went after a coach with 1,196 games under his belt. He also brought in 2 very experienced assistant coaches in Michel Therrien (814 games as a head coach) and Mike Yeo (450 games as a head coach). It quickly paid off as the Flyers looked as good as they did in 2010-11 when they won their division.
They were a cohesive group who understood and took Vigneault’s coaching to heart. The Flyers went into the Covid break off as one of the hottest teams in hockey as they were second in their division, trailing only the Capitals by one point. They won the round robin tournament for first seed in the East and advanced past the first round for the first time since 2011-12.
It was a huge step in the right direction for both general manger and head coach and a lot was expected for the following season. However, 2020-21 could have been the most disappointing season in a very long time. Expectations were sky high because of how they performed in 2019-20 and even though they had lost Matt Niskanen to early retirement, it wasn’t expected to hamper them as much as it did. It was a horrendous year with horrendous results and it forced the general manager to make drastic and roster shattering moves.
We now head into the third season under Alain Vigneault with expectations placed somewhere in the middle. Due to their inconsistencies, we never know which Flyers team will show up. If history is any guideline, the Flyers are playoff bound this year since they missed out this past season, continuing the unfortunate alternating trend.
All jokes aside, this is the deepest and the most balanced (at least on paper) roster they have had since 2010-11 and 2011-12. Fletcher did everything he could and used every tool he could find in his utility belt to bring the Flyers some good fortune for the present and for the coming years. The inconsistencies have to stop at some point if they ever want to become the successful team they once were, especially in the 80s and early 2000s.
Vigneault and his staff have their work cut out for them because failure is not an option. Dismissal and loss of jobs is unlikely for this coaching staff unless they really start off on a bad foot. The seat remains lukewarm for now but the Flyers definitely don’t want to be in the running for a new head coach yet again. 6 coaches in the last 9-10 years would be too much for this once-proud organization. Luckily for the Flyers, Vigneault and his staff are experienced enough to get this group over the hump.