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Scotty Bowman could have coached Flyers and it wouldn’t have mattered, Mike Yeo says



Philadelphia Flyers, Chuck Fletcher, Mike Yeo
Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher and interim coach Mike Yeo take questions earlier this season.

Mike Yeo has been an NHL assistant or head coach for 16 years. Nothing compares to the agony he experienced this season with the injury-decimated Philadelphia Flyers.

Asked after Friday’s morning skate if this was the toughest season of his career, Yeo didn’t need to think about it.

“By a long shot,” he said, drawing laughs. “Not even close, let’s put it that way.”

The Flyers are 25-45-11 overall and 17-35-7 since Yeo replaced the fired Alain Vigneault on Dec. 6. The team was 8-10-4 under Vigneault, but even more injuries piled up under Yeo.

Philly will miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1992-93 and 1993-94.

“With the things that we’ve dealt with, there’s no question it’s been the toughest.” Yeo said. “It’s been the toughest, it’s been the most trying. We could go on.”

Injuries galore

The Flyers have had 492 man-games lost this season by injuries/illnesses. That is the highest since at least the 2007-08 season, which is the furthest the data is available.

“When you have that many guys out,” Yeo said, “I don’t care, you could have Toe Blake and Scotty Bowman. It doesn’t matter who your coach is. You’re not going to win; you’re not going to be successful. But I think we stayed focus and kept having a good attitude, so I’m hopeful” of staying aboard.

The biggest obstacles: Top-pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis played just four games because of a lower-body injury, believed to be in his hip/groin area, and top-line center Sean Couturier played just 29 games because of back surgery.

Yeo tried to point to some positives.

“There were some great things that were learned along the way,” he said. “For myself, it was a tremendous experience, and I honestly feel like I’m a better coach from going through this. The one thing is, when you’re having a season like this, you have to do a lot more coaching than you do when things are going well and you can just sort of get out of the way and let it go.”

He has spent time “trying to pick players up, trying to motivate players, trying to build their confidence.”

Flyers’ future

The Philadelphia Flyers will get better if their players return healthy for 2022-23. If they are healthy, does Yeo believe the Flyers need to just add a few pieces, or if they need a total rebuild.

Yeo skated around the question.

“It’s tough to even evaluate right now,” he said. “I think at the start of the year, it really looked like we had the pieces in place, and I know we have a lot of really good pieces and lot of really good people here.”

He talked about adding a high-skilled free agent, and added, “I really do believe in this group. I’ll say when you have the injuries like we’ve had this year, no one is going to survive that. It’s hard to go into a game that you have 10 to 12 NHL guys that aren’t in your lineup.”

Yeo said it forced the Flyers to look at some young players and “because of that, they’re going to be further ahead next year. And I think that this is a group that I know how much they care; this is going to be an extremely motivated group through the summer and heading into next season.”

Added Yeo: “I do believe this group can turn things around quickly and be very competitive, and obviously a big part of that would be Coots and Ellie and making sure they’re fully healthy.”

He believes both will be ready for the 2022-23 season, but wasn’t sure of Ellis would require surgery.

Yeo is a long shot to be named the permanent head coach, but could remain as part of the staff. He said this year has made him want to be a head coach even more.

“I love coaching this group, and I love coaching in this market and for this organization,” he said.  “And honestly, I feel my best days of coaching are ahead of me.”

Yeo said he has grown because of his many coaching experiences.

“Why can’t you get better with age?” he said. “I’m 48 years old, and I think a lot of coaches reach their better points when they start getting into their 50s.”

He paused, apparently thinking about this trying season.

“I hope I can get into my 50s,” he cracked.

Season finale

The Flyers will host Ottawa (32-42-7) on Friday in their final game of a forgettable season. The 7 p.m. game will be televised by NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“Both teams are probably excited for the off-season at this point, let’s be honest,” Yeo said. “But we’ve got a job to do. Let’s get ready for the game tonight. Let’s show our fans that we’re focused and put  a good product on the ice. Let’s make sure we’re ready to go.”

Based on the morning skate, this will be the Flyers’ lineup tonight:

Line 1: Kevin Hayes centering James van Riemsdyk and Travis Konecny.

Line 2: Scott Laughton centering Noah Cates and Bobby Brink.

Line 3: Morgan Frost centering Joel Farabee and Owen Tippett.

Line 4: Nate Thomspon centering Zac MacEwen and Oskar Lindblom.

Defense: Ivan Provorov and Ronnie Attrad; Linus Hogberg and Travis Sanheim; Keith Yandle and Egor Zamula.

Goalie: Martin Jones.


Laughton said Yeo was “handed a pretty tough hand” and that he “can’t say enough good things about him. He’s always trying to have one-on-ones and make sure you’re feeling good about your game and see where you’re at. He really cares about us.” … The Philadelphia Flyers will announce their award winners tonight. Yeo mentioned Cam Atkinson, Sanheim, and Konecny — in no particular order — as players who crossed his mind first as the team’s MVP (Bobby Clarke Trophy). Atkinson, who is injured, is favored to to win that award. Sanheim is expected to take the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the top defenseman.

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