Ken Hitchcock believes any head coach hired during the course of a season can have success based on one crucial element.
"Sometimes they're just ready to listen. Sometimes you've got trigger moments that allow it to be," Hitchcock said back in December, not long after he took over the Oilers. "Sometimes they aren't ready to listen. Doesn't matter who's the coach."
The Flyers were ready to be attentive listeners. As general manager Chuck Fletcher stated when he made the switch away from Dave Hakstol, the team needed a new voice, and in a way that extends well beyond cadence and the delivery of the message.
"You just look in the shift in things in the past 15-20 years where everyone wants to get better - in the gym, skill work, video work. If you have someone who can articulate the different details to work on to get better, I think that's huge," James van Riemsdyk said. "It's a really cool thing the passion that guys have for it, but it's a 12-month job now. The best coaches are the ones that can articulate what they're looking for."
That's exactly what van Riemsdyk needed from interim head coach Scott Gordon when Gordon was brought aboard on Dec. 18 - a coach who could articulate the expectation out of each of his players.
Gordon is the seventh different head coach van Riemsdyk has played for, but JVR's game has thrived as a result of the coaching switch. His .78/ppg under Gordon is a significant improvement from his .47/ppg with Hakstol, and is even slightly better than the .71/ppg under Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, who is widely considered the best coach in the NHL.
"He sees the game in a certain way," JVR said of Gordon. "You bounce ideas off each other so you get the best route to go forward, so I think it's a healthy thing when you have that dialogue with the coach. It's good to have the dialogue in the relationship with your coaches and I think he's been great about communicating with guys, and you have that trust aspect."
Of the five head coaches who were brought aboard within the first three months of the season, two have stood out: former Flyers coach Craig Berube (a Blues assistant also hired on an interim basis) and Gordon.
Craig Berube - STL 28-16-3, .628
Scott Gordon - PHI 20-12-4, .611
Ken Hitchcock - EDM 20-20-6, .500
Jeremy Colliton - CHI 21-24-6, .471
Willie Desjardins - LA 20-26-7, .443
If you project Gordon's .611 winning percentage over an 82-game season, the Flyers would finish with 100 points, a number good enough to reach the postseason, but considering where the Flyers started, it's not nearly good enough. However, Gordon didn't have time right away to make the necessary changes, and it wasn't until that Jan. 19 game a month later in Montreal where Gordon had implemented his system of play.
His job uncertainty doesn't change how he looks at the situation, but it has reinforced his principles.
"It might have reaffirmed some of the beliefs that I've had as far as coaching, how to do things, systems, people management, work delegation amongst coaches." Gordon said. "When the year is over, I'll re-evaluate everything, but to this point, there are things that are positive and things I can look back on and say we can manage this better."
Maybe Gordon's style, approach and short-term success will force the Flyers to re-evaluate their coaching position on a permanent basis.
Three-time Stanley Cup champion Joel Quenneville is considered high on the organization's list, and understandably so, but the 60-year-old coach will be in great demand with other teams also interested in his services. In that event, the Flyers need to have a Plan B in place and Gordon is proving to be that next best option.
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