Barry Trotz may be holding up the NHL’s offseason coaching hirings. But while the former New York Islanders bench boss decides on his next move, teams like the Philadelphia Flyers are using the time that’s available to perform due diligence in their coaching searches. The Flyers head coaching search is beginning to be narrowed down.
We’ve already heard about the Flyers’ interest in Trotz for their head coaching position. We’ve also heard that the club has interviewed John Tortorella. Beloved former Flyer Rick Tocchet has his supporters.
On Monday, Jack Adams Award winner Bruce Cassidy came on the market after he was dismissed by the Boston Bruins.
The Flyers are also scouring the ranks of associate and assistant coaches.
Flyers Interview Mike Vellucci
In his ‘32 Thoughts’ podcast this week, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported that Philadelphia had recently conducted a “long interview” with current Pittsburgh Penguins assistant Mike Vellucci.
The 55-year-old has been in the coaching game since 1994. He has been named coach of the year three times in his career: with the Plymouth Whalers of the junior Ontario Hockey League in 2007 and 2013, and with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers in 2019.
As the Carolina Hurricanes‘ farm team, Vellucci’s Checkers won the Calder Cup in 2019. After that, Vellucci signed on for one season as general manager and head coach of the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He has spent last two seasons assisting Mike Sullivan on the NHL Penguins’ bench.
Though Vellucci has limited coaching experience at the NHL level, his resume is deep. And he’s a multitasker. He could fit right into the Flyers head coaching search.
At the junior level, he served as general manager and head coach of the Whalers, then became team president.
In 2014, he signed on for five seasons as assistant general manager and director of hockey operations for the Carolina Hurricanes. He added the coaching duties in Charlotte during his last two years.
A native of Farmington, Michigan, Vellucci was a 6’1″, 180-pound defenseman who was selected by the Hartford Whalers in the seventh round of the 1984 draft. Later that same summer, he sustained a broken back in a car accident, as a passenger in a car that flipped while being driven by his Belleville Bulls teammate and fellow Michigander, Al Iafrate.
Vellucci missed the entire 1984-85 season but eventually returned to the ice. His NHL moment lasted just two games, with the Whalers in the 1987-88 season. He extended his playing career until 1985 in the minor leagues and Europe, then turned his attention to other aspects of the game.
Vellucci Ready To Take The Reins
After Vellucci joined the Penguins in 2020, he told Luke Fox of Sportsnet that he had his sights set on an NHL head coaching job.
“I’ve proven myself from the ground up, and I’m ready for the next challenge, which would be an NHL head coach,” he said.
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“I’ve been a head coach my whole life and have the track record of winning at every level I’ve been at, and I’ve made the playoffs every year that I’ve coached. So, it’s something that I’m proud of. No matter what kind of team I have, I find a way to get us to the next level.”
Last summer, Emily Kaplan of ESPN included Vellucci in her rundown of up-and-coming coaches.
“The NHL is skewing younger,” an anonymous NHL source told Kaplan. “As this next generation of players takes more agency, they want to know why or how something happened.”
“I think Mike Vellucci could be successful. He’s worked with young players throughout his career. He’s really a players’ coach, someone they seem to respond to.”
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Kirk Muller, Jim Montgomery Also in The Mix
Two other sidekicks whose clubs were recently knocked out of the playoffs have also attracted interest in the Flyers head coaching search, according to Friedman.
Kirk Muller had a 1,349 game NHL playing career. He also won the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. Muller stepped behind the bench when he hung up his skates. But his only head-coaching experience was an underwhelming three-season stint with the Carolina Hurricanes between 2011 and 2014. He failed to get his team into the playoffs.
Since then, Muller has held assistant and associate roles in St. Louis and Montreal. This season, he worked under Jack Adams Award winner Darryl Sutter with the Calgary Flames.
Muller has been hungry for a chance to run his own bench again. He is also rumored to be in the mix for some of the NHL’s other coaching vacancies.
So is Jim Montgomery. He has spent the last two seasons assisting Craig Berube with the St. Louis Blues.
Following a successful stint with the University of Denver, Montgomery’s NHL head coaching career was derailed by alcohol issues during his second season with the Dallas Stars. Montgomery got help and got his life back on track. His work has garnered positive reviews, and he looks ready to take the reins once again.
Then There’s Bruce Cassidy
The dust has barely settled since the Bruins’ surprise announcement on Monday: they’ve decided to part ways with Bruce Cassidy.
In his six seasons in Boston, Cassidy got the Bruins into the postseason every year. His club logged at .672 points percentage in the regular season on his watch. Boston also reached the 2019 Stanley Cup Final before falling to the Blues.
The following year, Boston’s .714 regular-season points percentage was tops in the league when the season was paused due to the pandemic. Cassidy went on to win the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
Like Trotz, Cassidy is known for instilling a defense-first mindset in his players. And while his strong communication style is appreciated by media and fans, he is also known for being a bit of a taskmaster and sometimes rubbing his players the wrong way.
In a fresh environment, winning would quickly mute those concerns.
At this point, Cassidy has most likely slid in just behind Trotz on the wish list of every NHL squad with a coaching vacancy.
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