Two days after the Philadelphia Flyers changed some of their assistants, new head coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday he will make a major modification to Ian Laperriere’s duties.
Laperriere, a popular assistant, will no longer handle the penalty-killing duties and will no longer be behind the bench. He will handle pre-scouting duties for the next opponent and will also make observations as the Flyers’ “eye in the sky” from the press box.
The Flyers’ penalty kill struggled mightily during most of Laperriere’s six seasons, though it did make major strides last season after Scott Gordon was named the interim coach Dec. 17. The PK was seventh in the NHL in Laperriere’s first season, but was mediocre — or awful — in subsequent years.
Mike Yeo, the former head coach with Minnesota and St. Louis who was named a Flyers assistant Monday, will be in charge of the defense and the penalty kill, Vigneault announced in a conference call with reporters from Vienna, where he directed Team Canada to a 7-5 pre-tournament win Tuesday over Austria, a tuneup to the IIHF World Championships.
Vigneault also revealed that Michel Therrien, a former head coach with Montreal and Pittsburgh, will handle the power play and help the head coach in instructing the forwards. Therrien, named an assistant Monday, replaced Kris Knoblauch, whose contract was not renewed.
Under Knoblauch, the Flyers’ power play, despite an abundance of talent, finished tied for 22nd in the NHL with a 17.1 percent success rate last season.
Vigneault said he and general manager Chuck Fletcher jointly hired the assistants. He does not feel threatened having two former head coaches on his staff.
“I’ve always thought that the best way for me to do my job is to have the best possible people surrounding me and helping me and the organization,” he said. “I’ve known Michel for a long time, and I know the type of hockey person he is, and I know the type of person he is and what he can bring.”
Vigneault said he knew Yeo from coaching against him “and Chuck Fletcher had a real good relationship with him, so I felt real strongly about what he can bring to our coaching group. I talked it over about both of them with Chuck.”
Fletcher, the former Minnesota GM, once hired Yeo as the Wild’s head coach.
The Flyers’ penalty-kill struggles under Laperriere did not factor in his change in duties, Vigneault said.
“Not at all. This is about me bringing in people who bring different characteristics, different qualities to the Flyers,” Vigneault said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in Ian Laperriere. I had a good talk with him, and I know what he can bring to the Flyers. He’s a true Flyer. He wants to be here. He wants to help the team in any way he can, and after thinking it through and talking with Chuck, I felt we needed an eye in the sky who was relating what he was seeing to one of the coaches [Therrien]. And I needed somebody who could help us out with our advance scouting, and that’s going to be Ian.”
Added Vigneault: “I’ve always been a believer that the coach that is running the defense should be running the penalty kill, also. And the coach who is doing the power play is always a little bit closer with the forwards.”
Vigneault said one of the assistants’ jobs will entail being a sounding board for the players.
“Part of being an assistant, obviously, is being closer with the players,” he said. “You have to have an open mind about hearing their concerns sometimes, and they bring certain situations to me — and my job as the head coach is to handle the different situations.”
Vigneault said there will be some adjustments in the way the power play and penalty kill will be run. ... Team Canada starts Friday against Finland in Slovakia, and Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray will be the starting goalie. The team could play as many as 10 games in 17 days, so Vigneault said he will “definitely use two goaltenders” and that the Flyers’ Carter Hart will probably get some time. ... Sean Couturier, who had a goal in Canada’s pre-tournament win over Austria, is the other Flyer on the team.