Will Flyers Fill Coaching Vacancy From Within?

Thursday, May 18, 2017
Photos courtesy of Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey
Promotion From Phantoms Possible?

Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook

The Philadelphia Flyers - specifically general manager Ron Hextall - will need to hire an additional body to their NHL club's coaching staff this off-season.

Hextall opted not to retain the services of assistant coach Joe Mullen, making the announcement at the team's season-ending news conference back on April 13th shortly following the conclusion of the Flyers' 2016-17 season.

While there isn't a rush to do so right now, and the Flyers will certainly do their due diligence with any potential hire, the question still remains - who will be the newest Flyers assistant coach on staff for the 2017-18 season?

Perhaps the answer won't come from too far away.

Mullen's main responsibility on the staff was the team's power play, which started the year hot as the league's top ranked and most efficient unit (as high as a 25% success rate in early December) before falling off down the stretch. The Flyers' power play unit finished 14th in the NHL in efficiency.

It has been reported that Hextall is looking to replace Mullen with "an offensive-minded guy".

Given the Flyers' history of typically hiring those with previous ties to the organization, might the coaching staff with the club's AHL affiliate in Lehigh Valley get some attention as possible candidates?

The Phantoms were, after all, the AHL's leading scoring team - playing an offensively-minded style of play while maintaining a lethal power play throughout the season.

A source close to the situation told Highland Park Hockey earlier this week that any conversation between Hextall and the Phantoms' coaching staff won't come until after Hextall returns from the Worlds Tournament currently in progress.

In the meantime, let's take a look at the Phantoms' coaching staff - their qualifications, their characteristics as a coach and why they might or might not be a good fit for the Flyers' current assistant coaching vacancy.

Scott Gordon - Lehigh Valley Phantoms (head coach since 2015-16)

In fact, Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon might be the most qualified of the Flyers' AHL coaching staff to return to the NHL level behind the bench.

Gordon, who recently finished his second as the Phantoms' bench boss, has seven years of experience as an AHL head coach, including his AHL Coach of the Year season with the Providence Bruins in 2007-08 where his team won 55 games - an organization he was a part of the coaching staff from 2000-08. He spent the previous three years in the organization as an assistant coach before assuming the head coaching position for the Boston Bruins top minor league affiliate in 2002 as a mid-season replacement.

That success in 2007-08 landed him his first NHL head coaching position where he led the New York Islanders for two years before being relieved of his coaching duties 17 games into his third campaign with the Islanders.

Gordon then went on to become an assistant coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs for three years from 2011-14 before taking the head coaching position with the Phantoms prior to Lehigh Valley's second season as an AHL franchise.

The Phantoms' special teams units have vastly improved in Gordon's short time in Lehigh Valley.

Running the penalty kill unit this past season, the Phantoms finished the year tied for fifth in the AHL with an 84.0% efficiency in killing off opposing teams' power plays in 2016-17. The Phantoms PK also went a perfect 13-for-13 in their first round playoff series with the Hershey Bears in late April.

The power play, lethal additions of T.J. Brennan and company aside, was also much improved finishing the past season tied for fifth in the league with a 20.7% success rate. Only the Grand Rapids Griffins tallied more power play goals (80) than the 73 man advantage markers the Phantoms scored in 2016-17.

Kerry Huffman - Lehigh Valley Phantoms (assistant coach since 2016-17)

The Flyers brought in their former 1st round draft pick and longtime NHL defenseman Kerry Huffman to help assist the Phantoms' coaching staff this past season. Being a 1st round pick, and a defenseman with high expectations, it made perfect sense to bring him in to help develop the several highly-touted defense prospects the Flyers had stockpiled in Lehigh Valley this past season.

Prior to the 2016-17 season, the Phantoms were one of one a few AHL teams without a third coach behind the bench on a consistent basis. (Player Development coaches like Kjell Samuelsson were occasionally on the Phantoms' bench in previous seasons in Lehigh Valley).

While the humble Huffman won't take any credit, it can't be coincidental that the team's defensemen and the team overall were much improved this past season with a third set of eyes and third set of advice at the ready throughout the season.

The Flyers as an organization love having their former players or guys with ties to the organization back with the team in some sort of capacity, and while Huffman has only spent one season as an assistant coach at the AHL level he's made great strides behind the bench in just one season.

Towards the end of the season, Gordon entrusted Huffman with some of the power play duties and the man advantage unit sans Jordan Weal was still consistently one of the top units in the league. While a lot of the credit must go to the players executing on the ice, the coaching staff deserves plenty of credit as well for putting them in a position to be successful in the first place.

Riley Cote - Lehigh Valley Phantoms (assistant coach since 2010-11)

Riley Cote is the most tenured member of the Phantoms coaching staff, recently finishing his seventh season as the Flyers' AHL affiliate's assistant coach.

Whether or not Cote has aspirations of being a head coach at the AHL level has yet to be confirmed or denied, but he's definitely a players coach and is well-liked in the locker room.

He's also not too far removed from his playing days with the Flyers, with his last season coming back in 2009-10. Unfortunately for Cote, his role as an enforcer during his playing career is one that's being slowly removed from the game altogether. That doesn't mean he can't teach younger players coming up through the system his hard-nosed and hard-working mentality even if it doesn't mean dropping the gloves.

Not an offensively-minded coach or power play specialist per se - something reported as a characteristic Hextall is looking for in his next hiring - but we all know how much the Flyers organization loves their former players/coaches, etc.

In that regard, Cote fits the bill.


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