The Philadelphia Flyers extended their losing streak to seven games when they fell to the New York Rangers on Wednesday. They face a brutal upcoming slate of five games in seven days beginning with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche on Sunday and Monday. They have scored just 27 goals in their last 16 games, and their power play has struggled to develop any chemistry during a cringe-worthy 3/43 stretch.
The Flyers entered the 2021-22 season hoping for a strong rebound from the disappointment of the 2020-21 season. They currently sit in 7th place at 8-9-4 in a loaded Metropolitan Division. The pressure is mounting, and head coach Alain Vigneault needs to lead a turnaround if he hopes to remain behind the bench in Philadelphia.
Tocchet Waiting in the Wings
Rick Tocchet, who currently works on the NHL broadcast team on TNT, has become the most popularly discussed candidate as a potential replacement for Vigneault. He played in parts of 11 seasons in two stints in Philadelphia from 1984-1992 and 2000-2002. Countless former teammates and other Flyers alumni lauded him as “what the Philadelphia Flyers are all about” when the organization inducted him into the franchise Hall of Fame in November.
Elliotte Friedman of 32 Thoughts speculated about Tocchet as a potential replacement for Vigneault if the Flyers can’t turn things around. His impression was that “the desperation there (Philadelphia) is really starting to grow.” He did not directly report that a coaching change was imminent. TNT studio host Liam McHugh hinted on Tuesday night that Tocchet could eventually replace Vigneault. After the broadcast showed highlights of Flyers’ loss to the Rangers, he lightheartedly joked that Tocchet’s phone started buzzing from an incoming call.
Tocchet has coached 438 NHL games in six seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Arizona Coyotes. In 2019-20 with the Coyotes, he entered the conversation as a candidate for the Jack Adams Award when he pushed a roster without elite talent that had suffered countless injuries into a playoff appearance in the Edmonton bubble. He has a strong reputation around the NHL, and he is a logical candidate for any available head coaching job.
Flyers Evaluating Vigneault
General manager Chuck Fletcher spoke to the media on Tuesday and addressed his team’s struggles. He gave no indication of a lack of confidence in Vigneault. He mentioned the fact that it’s difficult to judge the team without their full complement of players on the ice. The Flyers are currently without Ryan Ellis, their most significant offseason addition, and their overall depth has been tested by a long list of injuries throughout the first quarter of the season.
“I truly believe the best hope for a turnaround is internal improvement.”-Chuck Fletcher
Fletcher retained Vigneault during the offseason even though some players were reportedly unhappy with the coaching staff in 2020-21. He confidently backed his veteran head coach and turned over the roster with the hope that a more complete team could master his system and bring the Flyers back into Stanley Cup contention.
The revamped roster and the return of an 82-game schedule were reasons for Fletcher to allow Vigneault to reset. However, the injury to Ellis has forced the defensive corps to shuffle in the same way they did last season. Injuries to centers Kevin Hayes, Derick Brassard, Nate Thompson, and Patrick Brown have left the Flyers thin down the middle recently. They’ve only just passed the quarter point of the first full season of Vigneault’s tenure, and their current deficit in the standings is not insurmountable.
Will the Flyers Fire Vigneault?
Charlie O’Connor of The Athletic wrote about Fletcher’s decision to retain Vigneault during the offseason in favor of player personnel changes. He noted that the “confidence came with an implicit challenge” to succeed in 2021-22 (from The Athletic, Breaking down the Flyers’ reliance on dump-and-chase, injuries and the coaching staff: Mailbag, 11/27/21). The team hasn’t played up to an acceptable standard during the first quarter of the season, which opens the door for Vigneault to take serious criticism. He is as accountable as anyone for the poor product on the ice this season. However, his job is not in immediate danger.
Jordan Hall of NBC Sports Philadelphia also pointed out that GMs aren’t typically quick to fire their first coaching hire with an organization.
“Logic and history say Vigneault will at least get his shot to see this season through. It would be surprising if he doesn’t. Things would have to totally derail.”-Jordan Hall
The Flyers haven’t totally derailed yet, but they’re pushing the patience of their fan base. They are in danger of missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1992-93 and 1993-94. They have won only one playoff series in the past nine years, and they’re in the midst of the longest stretch in franchise history between appearances in the NHL’s semifinal round.
Fans have every right to be frustrated and impatient. They have every right to speculate about turning the team over to an experienced NHL coach like Tocchet with an obvious connection to the organization. Vigneault might be safe for now, and the organization can continue to back him publicly. However, if he can’t meet Fletcher’s “implicit challenge” this season, his time in Philadelphia will come to an end.
Colin Newby is a freelance journalist from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Flyers goaltending stats from 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the Legion of Doom and Claude Giroux to no-namers like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. Colin also writes fictional sports stories and covers the Philadelphia Eagles.