As the Flyers 2018-19 season enters its final three days and two games, the questions of the offseason are looming as more than just questions. The time for action will arrive and for Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher, still relatively new to the position since his early-December hiring, coaching is one area that needs to be addressed.
The Flyers have Scott Gordon still holding the interim role, as he has since Dave Hakstol was fired on Dec. 17, two weeks after Fletcher was hired. Gordon has done a solid job getting a lot out of younger players and certainly with handling Carter Hart in his first days in the NHL, and that helped fuel a playoff run for the Flyers that brought them from 16 points out of a playoff spot to three on March 11. From there, it has fizzled out, with the Flyers going 3-8-0 in the last 11 games, and the Flyers will miss the playoffs for the third time in the last five seasons.
While Fletcher praised Gordon for the job he has done, and said he does want to sit down with Gordon following the season to discuss future plans, it seems like the Flyers GM will want to bring in his own choice for head coach. Whether the Flyers stick with Gordon or look elsewhere, Fletcher said the search will not last long.
“It will certainly be done well before the draft, but there’s no time frame,” Fletcher said on Thursday.
The end of the season will finally provide Fletcher with some time to reflect on the previous four months since he took over as GM and the roller-coaster ride to the bottom of the NHL standings to back into a playoff race to another season of officially missing the playoffs. What will Fletcher be looking to do with his first big decision of the offseason?
“Just the right coach,” Fletcher said. “Once we get to the end of the year, we’ll have an opportunity to sit down and collect all our thoughts. It’s just been a crazy couple months here.”
The Flyers were believed to have an agreement with three-time Stanley Cup champion head coach Joel Quenneville when Hakstol’s firing went down in December, but it fell through and the Flyers named Gordon the interim for the remainder of the season. Those talks will almost certainly be revisited, as Quenneville is at the top of the wishlist for many Flyers fans and believed to be a high target for management.
The Flyers could still keep Gordon in the role or look at another rising head coaching prospect like Sheldon Keefe, who coaches the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. The Maple Leafs organization is believed to be working on an extension for Keefe, but an NHL offer may draw him away.
Outside of that, two free agents that keep getting traction for the head coaching position are Todd McClellan and Dave Tippett.
There are also connections between Fletcher and other free agent coaches like Mike Yeo, who coached Minnesota for five seasons when Fletcher was GM of the Wild, or Dan Bylsma, who was hired by the Penguins organization as the coach of the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2008 when Fletcher was assistant GM with the Penguins.
Whatever happens, it seems like this is the first order of business for Fletcher in his first offseason as GM.
Previous GM Ron Hextall chose his own head coach one year into his tenure as Flyers GM. After missing the playoffs under Craig Berube, in his second season as head coach, in 2014-15, the Flyers fired him on April 17. They hired Dave Hakstol a month later on May 18.
The timeline could be very similar assuming the Flyers choose someone not currently with the organization as the next head coach.