Flyers Must Pursue Jim Montgomery as Next Head Coach

General manager Chuck Fletcher will attempt to “aggressively retool” the Philadelphia Flyers after two of the worst seasons in franchise history in 2020-21 and 2021-22. His plan to alter the roster, the expectations for 2022-23, and the entire state of the organization are currently in question. The immediate priority once the nightmare of 2021-22 mercifully ends on April 29 will be replacing interim head coach Mike Yeo.

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Jim Montgomery is the ideal choice to become the team’s next head coach in 2022-23 because he could provide the right medium between Philadelphia’s previous two full-time head coaches, Dave Hakstol and Alain Vigneault. He is the best candidate to lead an organization that has limped through the worst decade span since its inception in 1967.

Montgomery’s Track Record

Montgomery played 13 games for the Flyers and spent parts of three seasons with the Philadelphia Phantoms, their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate that has since relocated, during the 1990s. He won an NCAA National Championship with the University of Denver in 2017 before making the jump to the NHL for the 2018-19 season. The Dallas Stars fired him during his second season for unprofessional conduct during incidents related to alcohol abuse.

Roope Hintz, Mats Zuccarello, Alexander Radulov, Jim Montgomery
Former Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

During his only full season as an NHL head coach in 2018-19, the Stars finished second in the league with a 2.44 goals against average (GAA). They reached the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and lost a heartbreaker in double overtime of Game 7 to the eventual champion St. Louis Blues. Meanwhile, the Flyers set an NHL record by using eight starting goaltenders and finished 29th with a 3.41 GAA. They missed the playoffs in 2019 for the fourth time in seven tries.

The Stars started the 2019-20 season 17-11-3 under Montgomery. They reached the Stanley Cup Final in the Edmonton bubble under his replacement Rick Bowness.

SportsNet speculated in December that Montgomery “might be ready to throw his hat in the mix for another top bench position” after two seasons as an assistant on Craig Berube’s staff with the Blues. The 52-year-old would be wise to pursue a second opportunity as an NHL head coach if an organization is willing to take a chance on him. He expressed contrition, personal growth, and determination when he began with the Blues. He expects that his past discretions will not be a concern.

Fletcher placed significant emphasis on defensive improvement with major changes during the 2021 offseason after the Flyers finished dead last in the NHL in GAA in 2020-21. The changes have not paid dividends. While their league ranking has improved to 27th, their GAA has actually increased from 3.52 to 3.61 in 2021-22. A continued effort for defensive improvement is necessary for the franchise to get back on track.

Perfect Medium between Hakstol, Vigneault

Hakstol made the jump to the NHL directly from the NCAA in 2015. Management supplied him with rosters that lacked the talent necessary to contend for a Stanley Cup, but he never did much to help drag the franchise out of an era marked by mediocrity. It became clear after an uneventful tenure of three and a half years that the Flyers needed to move on from a coach without an NHL track record who did nothing to excite a fan base starving for a playoff run.

Fletcher took a contrary approach when he hired Vigneault as the full-time replacement entering the 2019-20 season. The veteran retread brought 18 seasons of experience as an NHL head coach. He made an immediate impact by leading the Flyers to their first playoff series win since 2012 in the Toronto bubble, but his demanding message fell on deaf ears by the time he was let go in December 2021.

Alain Vigneault Philadelphia Flyers
Former Philadelphia Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vigneault mishandled the psychology of his struggling young goaltender Carter Hart during the 2020-21 season. Elliotte Friedman reported in October that the players felt his coaching staff failed to draw a line between “being demanding and being hard and being fair” while the team struggled. The players quickly grew tired of his old-school style, and a track record as an accomplished coach with the eighth-most wins in NHL history became irrelevant.

Bill Meltzer spoke on the Flyers Daily podcast about Montgomery’s coaching style during his two seasons with the Stars. 

“He demanded accountability. He could be tough on players at times, but they all respected him too,” Meltzer said. “He kind of knew when to crack the whip and when to be a little more understanding.”

If he can command the same type of respect as head coach of the Flyers, he could mesh the styles of Hakstol and Vigneault to provide the organization with the right type of leadership behind the bench.

Upcoming Decisions for the Flyers

Yeo performed to the highest of his capabilities after taking over for Vigneault in December. He admirably served as a trusted voice to a locker room that his predecessor had lost. He spoke candidly about the on-ice disaster, and the organization should leave the door open for him to remain in Philadelphia in another capacity. The team has won 16 of its 56 games with Yeo behind the bench, however, and the lack of results will be the bottom line that pushes the organization to pursue other head coaching candidates.

Barry Trotz
New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Plenty of rumors have surfaced about potential candidates to replace Yeo. Barry Trotz and Bruce Boudreau currently hold positions as NHL head coaches, but both would be attractive candidates if they became available during the offseason. Meltzer called Trotz a “no-brainer” as the right choice in the relatively unlikely circumstance that he leaves the New York Islanders. The front office reportedly has some interest in John Tortorella, and long-time Flyers forward Rick Tocchet would bring a strong reputation as a former player who embodies favorable characteristics for a leadership position.

Related: Flyers’ Lack of “Top-End Talent” Shows on Struggling Power Play

Montgomery checks the boxes as an available coach with NHL experience, a history of coaching strong defensive teams, and a reputation for taking the right approach with his players. While the Flyers should recognize him as the medium between Hakstol and Vigneault, they must also analyze the risk of bringing in a coach with a history of serious issues off the ice that affected his professional career. Their read on Montogomery’s personal life is a judgment they must assess thoroughly. If they are confident that his past won’t interfere with his future, he should be behind the bench for Philadelphia next season.

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