Old-school Rick Wilson, who spent his first day on the ice as a Flyers assistant coach on Wednesday, has nothing against analytics.
After practice in Voorhees, however, he made it clear he has his own system of analytics, developed from 30 years as an NHL coach, mostly as an assistant.
“I come in and bring my own computer, which is here,” Wilson, 68, said, as he tapped his head. “And it’s still working.”
He then pointed to his eyes and said, “And my video is here. And I guess my analytics is my gut. And a gut, to me, is a feel, is just an accumulation of hundreds of thousands of experiences you’ve seen — and then you draw something in. That’s what I think, and maybe that’s what I can bring from my side."
Wilson was retired, living in Dallas and hanging out with his grandchildren, when the Flyers called last week. He kidded that he was playing shuffleboard with his former head coach from their days in Dallas, Ken Hitchcock, when he decided to return.
"He kept beating me, so it was time to get back,” Wilson cracked.
Later, he called his return “kind of a timing thing. " Wilson, who also was approached by other teams, "wasn’t looking for work. I think I’ve been away long enough that I was kind of feeling the juices flowing a little. I think with the timing came an opportunity to talk to people I know, I believe in, and I trust.”
Wilson was Chuck Fletcher’s first hire as the Flyers' new general manager, and he will coach the defense. Fletcher also hired Wilson when he was the GM in Minnesota. This is Wilson’s eighth team in a 2,306-game span as an assistant or briefly a head coach. He spent 18 years in Dallas, including last season.
Being comfortable with Fletcher and knowing coach Dave Hakstol helped persuade him to join the Flyers, whose goals-against average (3.52 per game) is near the bottom of the NHL.
Wilson, who said this isn’t "a one-and-done” coaching season for him, also liked the potential of the Flyers and their players on the back end.
“There’s a number of them I’ve thought were young, good-looking defensemen,” he said, adding he has “lots to work with."
One of Wilson’s biggest challenges will be trying to help Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov play more consistently. Both have struggled, and Gostisbehere had an NHL-worst minus-15 rating before Wednesday’s games.
Wilson has helped develop defensemen, including Ryan Suter, Derian Hatcher, Alex Pietrangelo, Sergei Zubov, and John Klingberg. He said he told Hakstol he didn’t want any preconceived ideas about Gostisbehere or any of the other defensemen.
“I purposely said to Dave early in our conversations that I’d rather not get too many opinions. I’d rather try to formulate my own,” Wilson said. “... maybe we won’t have a long time for me to do that, but I’d rather try to work with the players fresh. Regardless of how much you can block [others'] opinions, they’re going to come in if you’re told anything.”