Alain Vigneault has coached two different types of teams during his last two stints as a head coach. He had similar success in both stops, but his time with the Vancouver Canucks seems like a closer predictor for what to expect with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Vigneault Returns to the NHL
During his time with the Canucks, Vigneault enjoyed the prime years of elite players like Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Roberto Luongo. Those years were good times to be Canucks fans (just like the years to come). Having three players that talented was a luxury coaches dream of having.
The new head coach came in and didn’t disappoint. He immediately began to take the Canucks from a bottom-dwelling possession team and turned them into a top-10 team. Below is a look at the shot attempt control for his time in Vancouver, minus the 2006-2007 season because they weren’t available.
His growth went hand in hand with the Sedins development. The Canucks also had excellent secondary scoring with Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows. They also had a future Hall of Famer guarding the net in Luongo. They had a very good hockey team, to say the least. Vigneault seemed to maximize the talent he was given, taking Vancouver within a win of the Stanley Cup in 2011.
Following that peak season, the Canucks lost in Round 1 to the Los Angeles Kings (five games) and San Jose Sharks (four games). The ice is much thinner in this scenario when you’ve been behind the bench for seven seasons. Both coaches that followed didn’t seem to accomplish much more than Vigneault could have done. Outside of failing to secure a Stanley Cup, his time in Vancouver was filled with passing grades in both the eye test and statistics.
Possession Struggle on Broadway
His time with the New York Rangers appeared to go just as well. He consistently made the playoffs, lost in the Stanley Cup Final, and had a few star players and a Hall of Fame goaltender. This time around, the coach struggled to maintain the quality of the team he inherited.
With the exception of a 0.59 percent increase from 2015-16 to 2016-17, the Rangers went quickly into decline after peaking in year one of his tour in New York. One of the big differences between Vancouver and New York was that his star players in New York were on the wrong side of the age curve.
Age affects most players, and most coaches disregard this until it’s too late. New York’s coach tried to do what worked before, but the build of his team wouldn’t allow it. In year two, the Rangers had a 5-v-5 save percentage of .931 percent (4th) and an 8.84 percent (3rd) shooting percentage. That will mask below average play pretty easily. In year three, New York finished first in both categories (.934 SV% and 9.01 Sh%).
Year four they enjoyed more of the same for shooting (8.84%) but dipped to 18th in save percentage with .923. From the 2014-15 season through the 2016-17 season, the New York Rangers were first in shooting percentage at 5-v-5 and 3rd in save percentage. In the final year of his tenure, both statistics regressed to average. This, combined with league-worst possession numbers, was enough to turn the Rangers into one of the league’s worst teams.
His star players in New York just weren’t as elite as the group in Vancouver, nor were they in their prime. The system he implemented with the roster he was given enjoyed a large amount of their success due to luck, and little due to their control of the play.
What Can the Flyers Expect?
Considering that the Flyers best players are in the same age range that the Rangers group was, there’s a reason to be wary of the recycled hire. Vigneault didn’t seem to mix well with a group of players mixed in age. There are reasons to be positive about the hire as well. In Philadelphia, his younger players are better than what he had in New York, and his star players are also better. The skill of the older players is what puts the Flyers group closer to Vancouver for me.
Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and James van Riemsdyk are still scoring at high rates and should continue to provide good numbers for their coach early on. Sean Couturier (26 years old) and Travis Konecny (22 years old) were 53rd and 48th in the NHL, respectively, in 5-v-5 points per 60 among players with a minimum of 1000 minutes. Both of these players are in or entering their prime.
Philadelphia is destined to be better as Carter Hart grows. Their fourth-worst save percentage at 5-v-5, and to a lesser degree, their 21stranked CF%, is what held them out of the playoffs. The new coach has a tendency to find success with a roster shaped like Philadelphia’s.
The NHL likes to recycle coaches (though this trend is lessening), so the Flyers likely weren’t Vigneault’s only legitimate offer. The Flyers have set their head coach up for success that can be maintained thanks to an excellent cap situation (as long as Giroux and Voracek remain stars). It suits his style of coaching and it provides him with an opportunity for longevity. He chose this team for a reason.
The Flyers are likely to have success similar to what the Canucks did with their new bench boss. Giroux and Voracek are not equivalent to the Sedin twins, but they’re an excellent alternative with a good supporting cast. The Flyers should expect to get back over 50% Corsi for, with help from the general manager. With that will come the benefits of being a positive possession team.
*all stats via naturalstattrick.com
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