Flyers Coaching Search: Where Do Things Stand?
As the calendar turns to June, the Flyers are certainly well into their coaching search. There have been a few names reportedly interviewed and there are other names drawing interest from the team. A big reason for the timing is that playoff teams are seeing their seasons come to an end, allowing for the opportunity for teams to ask permission to interview assistant coaches.
Despite this, there has been little development in the Flyers coaching search over the last few days. For many of the teams in search of a head coach in the NHL – only the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens have officially named a head coach – it seems that everything is in a holding pattern.
Barry Trotz is the big fish in the coaching free agency pool. He’s already interviewed with the Flyers and Winnipeg Jets, and there is reportedly interest from other teams with a vacancy, including the Vegas Golden Knights, Detroit Red Wings, and Dallas Stars. At this time, Trotz is still considering his options and what he wants to do with his future. He turns 60 next month and has reportedly expressed interest in moving to a management position.
The Flyers have also interviewed John Tortorella, confirmed by the man himself on ESPN, and reportedly interviewed Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Mike Vellucci. According to Elliotte Friedman, the team also has interest in Calgary associate coach Kirk Muller. It has also been widely speculated that the team has interest in St. Louis assistant Jim Montgomery and former Flyer and current TNT analyst Rick Tocchet’s name continues to surface as well.
Even with what appears to be a short-list of names reported, the Flyers are showing how much consideration is going into this decision. Even in just the three names they have interviewed, there is a mix of veteran head coaches and those looking for an opportunity at the head coaching job, perhaps for the first time or with limited experience.
By now, most hockey fans know the level of experience and track record of success that names like Trotz and Tortorella bring. Both have been in the league for decades. Similarly, many are familiar with Tocchet’s previous coaching experience.
But what about the others: Vellucci, Montgomery, and Muller?
Montgomery’s name has been widely reported for several months, going back to the decision to relieve Alain Vigneault of his duties in December. As head coach of the Dallas Stars in the 2018-19 season, he helped the Stars reach the playoffs with a 43-32-7 record and 93 points. While that may have only been good enough for a wildcard spot, it was just the third playoff appearance in 11 seasons for Dallas. The Stars then took down the Central Division champion Nashville Predators in six games before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in the second round in an entertaining seven-game series that ended with a double-overtime loss.
The next season, the Stars got off to an 18-11-3 start under Montgomery, which included a seven-game winning streak in November and three straight wins following a four-game losing streak in early December. After 32 games, Montgomery was shockingly let go by the Stars for “unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and National Hockey League.” One month later, Montgomery acknowledged that the Stars had made “an appropriate call” to fire him upon checking himself into rehab for alcohol abuse.
The next offseason, Montgomery joined the Blues staff as an assistant.
If Muller’s name sounds familiar from a coaching standpoint, it’s because he served as the acting head coach for the Montreal Canadiens during the Flyers playoff series win in the bubble in 2020. Muller took over after Claude Julien, who also is currently a coaching free agent, had to miss the series following chest pains in Game 1, acting as head coach for the remaining five games of the series.
Muller, 56, made his NHL debut with the New Jersey Devils in the 1984-85 season and played until the 2002-03 season, making stops with the Canadiens, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, and Dallas Stars. He has prior head coaching experience, serving as Carolina Hurricanes head coach for the final 57 games of the 2011-12 season and the entire 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. He had an 80-80-27 record in 187 games.
Muller has since been an assistant coach for St. Louis, Montreal, and currently with Calgary.
And finally, there’s Vellucci. He’s well-known in the AHL, having coached the Charlotte Checkers for two seasons, including a Calder Cup championship in 2018-19. He also coached the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for one season in 2019-20. Since the 2020-21 season, Vellucci has been an assistant coach with Pittsburgh.
Vellucci’s coaching career started in the OHL with the Plymouth Whalers from 2001-2008. He briefly stepped down as head coach at that time to shift focus to duties as the team’s GM, but was quickly back in the coaching role and remained with the team until the conclusion of the 2013-14 season.
For three seasons prior to coaching Charlotte, Carolina’s AHL affiliate at the time, Vellucci joined the Hurricanes as an assistant general manager and director of player development. He retained these titles while serving as head coach for Charlotte. This would imply that Vellucci can be part of the management circle and have influence on some of the players that he would be able to utilize as a coach.
There is no shortage of names on the market, even beyond this list. While teams seem to be waiting, at least a little bit, on what Trotz decides, the Flyers have plenty of other names to explore. It remains to be seen if they have their own internal deadline, but with the playoffs now in the conference finals and the NHL Draft coming up in just over a month, there should be some movement soon enough.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.
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