When an NHL team gets talked about and analyzed, the brunt of the attention goes to the players (for obvious reasons). If attention goes elsewhere, it is on the general manager or head coach.
In the case of the Philadelphia Flyers, Alain Vigneault is the one mainly taking care of business as the head coach in his first season with the club. He has a lot of experience in the 16 prior years of head coaching in the league between the Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks, and New York Rangers. He is a very smart, well-respected hockey man.
However, the experience as a bench boss goes beyond just him, as he has two assistant coaches right now who have quite a bit of hockey knowledge themselves, and bring their own resumes to the table to help shape the Flyers into a potentially threatening team in the future. Those two men are Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo.
Both have histories as head coaches themselves, making this for an interesting trio, considering it is not a common occurrence to have three coaches behind the same bench who have this kind of status around the league.
Starting off with Therrien, he started his NHL head coaching career back in the 2000-01 season with the Montreal Canadiens. He was hired in the middle of the season, ironically replacing Vigneault, who at the time had been in his first NHL head coaching gig. Therrien coached the remaining 62 games of that season, where he went 23-27-6-6. He would coach in Montreal up until 2003, when he was fired and replaced by a young Claude Julien.
Therrien then spent a few seasons coaching the beginning years of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He coached there from the 2005-06 season all the way until 2008-09, being replaced by eventual Stanley Cup-winning coach later in that season, Dan Bylsma. In parts of four seasons as the Penguins bench boss, Therrien accrued the following win/loss totals:
- 2005-06: 14-29-8 in 51 games
- 2006-07: 47-24-11 in 82 games
- 2007-08: 47-27-8 in 82 games
- 2008-09: 27-25-5 in 57 games
In addition to these regular-season stats, he also helped the organization reach the Stanley Cup Final back in 2008, when they faced Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, and the Detroit Red Wings. They unfortunately did not lift Lord Stanley’s prize that season though, winning it the following year under Bylsma against those same Red Wings in 2009.
It would be a few years before Therrien would be given another shot as a head coach in the NHL. It happened, though, and it was interestingly Montreal wanting to give Therrien a second chance. This hire would come after previous Canadiens coach Jacques Martin was fired, and interim Randy Cunneyworth was decidedly not brought back.
Therrien was behind the bench there for five more seasons, before he was ultimately fired in the middle of the 2016-17 season by general manager Marc Bergevin, being replaced once again by current Canadiens head coach Julien. Julien had previously been fired earlier that same season by the Boston Bruins, a place where he had won a Stanley Cup of his own back in 2011. Below are Therrien’s stats during his second stint with the Habs:
- 2012-13 (lockout-shortened season): 29-14-5 in 48 games
- 2013-14: 46-28-8
- 2014-15: 50-22-10
- 2015-16: 38-38-6
- 2016-17: 31-19-8 in 58 games (then fired and replaced by Julien)
Overall, Therrien coached his teams to the postseason a total of six times, having an overall playoff record of 38-33 in 71 games. It was then, in this past offseason, that Vigneault recruited Therrien to come on, and help fill his new staff on the Flyers as an assistant coach.
Yeo’s Coaching Timeline
Yeo made his NHL coaching debut as an assistant with the Penguins, ironically joining the team along with Therrien at the same time. Yeo was an assistant coach in Pittsburgh, until he finally took off to try and become an NHL head coach elsewhere. He went to the AHL, where he became the head coach of the Minnesota Wild’s affiliate at the time, the Houston Aeros. The NHL opportunity Yeo waited for finally came in the summer of 2011, when he was promoted and named head coach of the Wild.
His stats with the organization are as follows:
- 2011-12: 35-36-11
- 2012-13: 26-19-3 in 48 games
- 2013-14: 43-27-12
- 2014-15: 46-28-8
- 2015-16: 23-22-10 in 55 games
Despite having a lot of talent on the rosters like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Mikko Koivu among others, the team was not having the type of success they were expecting. The results were not coming, and Wild general manager at-the-time Chuck Fletcher (current Flyers GM) felt it was time to cut ties with Yeo and have someone else take the helm. Fortunately for Yeo, he would not have to wait too long to get his next big break.
Longtime NHL head coach and future Hockey Hall of Famer Ken Hitchcock brought Yeo in as an assistant coach on his staff, while being the bench boss of the St. Louis Blues. Hitchcock decided that he would be retiring from coaching in the league soon, and handpicked Yeo as his replacement for the Blues. Hitchcock was soon let go by the organization and they promoted Yeo as their new guy to take over.
Yeo’s tenure with the club only lasted from the 2016-17 season to the middle of the 2018-19 season. His coaching record in St. Louis is below:
- 2016-17: 22-8-2 in 32 games (replaced Hitchcock)
- 2017-18: 44-32-6
- 2018-19: 7-9-3 in 19 games (replaced by Berube)
The Blues were off to a bad start to their 2018-19 campaign, and general manager Doug Armstrong decided it was time to move on from Yeo, replacing him immediately with former Flyer head coach Craig Berube. St. Louis then went on to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history against the Bruins later that same season.
Yeo has taken both of the clubs he coached to the playoffs and has an overall record of 17-22 in 39 contests. Like with Therrien, A.V. decided to bring aboard Yeo to his team, making him an assistant for the 2019-20 season in Philadelphia.
Outlook of the Coach Collaboration
Vigneault picked two good coaching candidates to be by his side on the Flyers. Therrien and Yeo have the previous professional relationship from their days with the Penguins organization, so they already know how each other thinks and operates. Both Therrien and Yeo bring knowledge of the game to the table, as well as successes and experience from their own days as NHL bench bosses.
When the Flyers announced that Therrien and Yeo would be joining A.V. behind the bench, I liked the moves right off the bat.
It seems like quite a few coaches tend to not pick other guys with prior NHL head coaching experience. It could be that most former NHL head coaches just want to only take other head coaching gigs, or maybe they are afraid if the performance is not up to par, that ownership and the general managers would have an easier time firing the head coach, and promoting the assistant coach who had the prior head coaching experience.
In any case, I think having assistant coaches with head coaching backgrounds can be a pretty solid mindset, and the collaboration of ideas could go a long way with the development and growth of both the individual players as well as the team as a whole. I think Vigneault, Therrien, and Yeo have a good thing going coach-wise in Philadelphia.