The Philadelphia Flyers have surged up the standings and can now go toe to toe with the NHL’s top teams, all thanks to their best acquisition of the 2019-20 season: head coach Alain Vigneault. He has the Flyers gunning for a spot in the rugged Metropolitan Division, making sure the league hasn’t forgotten about the orange and black.
After a two-year hiatus, Alain Vigneault returned to the NHL as the head coach of the Flyers in April 2019, his 22nd year behind the bench. He was last seen behind the New York Rangers bench when he led them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. His winning pedigree has paid dividends for the Flyers, as he has brought the aggressive brand of hockey back to Philly along with accountability and the freedom to let his players play to their strengths. General manager Chuck Fletcher deserves just as much credit for calling up the veteran coach and bringing him to the City of Brotherly Love.
Shake Up in Philly
The Flyers’ recent fall from postseason grace created a frustrating void, that triggered president Paul Holmgren to fire both GM Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol before the end of the 2018-19 season after four years with the team. Preventing the youth to blossom from the minors to the big club led to the demise of Hextall and Hakstol’s tenure in Philadelphia.
At the time, the 52-year-old franchise was at crossroads with cornerstones like captain Claude Giroux, the longest-tenured athlete in Philadelphia sports, and Jake Voracek, who has spent the last nine seasons as a Flyer, passing their primes.
Enter Fletcher, who was introduced as general manager and executive vice president on Dec. 8, 2018. Fletcher’s extensive career is notable for his nine years as general manager of the Minnesota Wild (2009-2018), orchestrating multiple playoff appearances and molding a contender. His initial assessment of the Flyers was seeing all of the club’s assets and what each and every player brings to the table. His vision was to take this team and this city to the next level. That’s when Alain Vigneault got the call.
Accountability Resurrects Flyers
Vigneault was formally introduced as head coach on Apr. 15, 2019. His aggressive systems have been a perfect fit for the Flyer’s head coaching job. His blueprint to hold players accountable has provided a jolt to the organization that has been missing for quite some time. Calling on veterans like Giroux, Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, and newly acquired Kevin Hayes (who played for Vigneault when he was with the Rangers) to elevate their game has been priority number one since coming to Philadelphia. Not only have they risen, but the team has bought in as well.
Vigneault’s coaching philosophy relies on depth as a key ingredient for postseason success. If the Flyers are down late in a game, he never shies away from rolling out his third and fourth lines. His ability to take risks has helped him get this far. Whether it’s activating defensemen like Ivan Provorov or Philippe Myers to pinch in the offensive zone or throwing a 19-year-old like Joel Farabee on the second power-play unit, Vigneault does whatever it takes to win.
Depth forwards Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl have been the Flyers’ most improved players this season, thanks to Vigneault. Laughton, who’s been in the Flyers’ system since he was drafted 20th overall in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft, is on pace to score career highs in goals (12) and points (20). Meanwhile, Raffl, another longtime Flyer, has seen a ton of ice time slotting in throughout the lineup, as well as some time on the penalty kill. He is a reminder of what players are capable of when given the opportunity to play to their strengths.
We can’t forget about Vigneault’s all-star cast of assistant coaches Michael Therrien and Mike Yeo who also bring tons of NHL experience. Combined, the trio has 55 years of coaching experience.
Any NHL team would kill to have three solid coaches behind the same bench. With the proper systems, commitment and leadership, Vigneault and the Flyers are a match made in heaven.