The Philadelphia Flyers have recently won nine straight games, as they make a push for clinching a playoff spot and chasing the dream of winning their third Stanley Cup in the franchise’s history. At this time last year though, the organization was in a completely different situation.
The team had just come off of the midseason firings of both head coach Dave Hakstol as well as general manager Ron Hextall. The record of the 2019-20 Flyers is 40-20-7 through 67 games. In comparison to last season, the team was 32-27-8 during their first 67 contests. On top of that, the Flyers this season, as this article is being written, are taking their shot for first in the Metropolitan Division in a race against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. On the other hand, the 2018-19 Flyers failed to qualify for the postseason.
Looking at the differences between the additions and subtractions of both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 Flyers, the biggest move that I think was made was not even on the active roster itself: it was coaching. There are a lot of people who deserve credit for the one-year turnaround in Philadelphia, but Alain Vigneault needs to be one of the guys at the top of the list.
Bringing His Standards
Vigneault (also known as A.V.) is a guy who helps create a culture for a team. He has always been known as a coach that players could turn to and joke around with. This coaching approach can be very valuable, as players who can trust and respect their coach will want to do whatever they can to win for the man. This has been the case for every franchise that A.V. has coached.
Between the Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks, and the New York Rangers, he has helped lead his teams to the postseason a total of 11 times out of 16 seasons. This includes making the playoffs in nine straight seasons between 2009 and 2017 (with the Canucks and the Rangers). Vigneault also coached two of those teams to the Stanley Cup Final (the 2011 Canucks against the Boston Bruins and the 2014 Rangers versus the Los Angeles Kings). His records during those playoff seasons are below:
- 2011 playoffs: 15 wins and 10 losses
- 2014 playoffs: 13 wins and 12 losses
Yes, Vigneault was on the losing end of both of those series, but to be able to make it multiple times to the Stanley Cup Final and with two separate organizations shows the type of leadership and mentoring that Vigneault brings to the table.
When the players want to play for the coach, a bond can also be formed amongst the players in the locker room as well. They learn to not only play for A.V., but they want to play for one another. The Flyers this year have been a team that has risen together by committee. There is not only one guy carrying the load; the load is spread out amongst a lot of the roster. Every player throughout the lineup knows what his role is and is not trying to be someone they’re not.
There are guys like Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny who lead on the upper lines, while others like Tyler Pitlick, Scott Laughton, and Michael Raffl do what they do best on their lines. The goal for all of them is to have team success, not just individual success. This idea leads them to run like a well-oiled machine and one that has been able to put on a nice run lately heading toward playoff season.
Veteran Assistant Coaches
I wrote an article already about this, but Vigneault also has a solid hockey mind in recognizing the brilliance of other coaches. When he took the Flyers gig last offseason, he brought in former Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues head coach Mike Yeo, along with former Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Michel Therrien.
Both men have deep hockey roots within the game and have impressive head coaching resumes themselves. For example, Yeo and Therrien have a combined 1,296 regular-season games coached (Therrien has 814 of them, while Yeo has 482. Also, that adds to Vigneault, who has currently coached 1,283 games himself at the time of this article).
While A.V. has a decorated coaching history, I think it was good for him to bring in other guys into the fold who have head coaching experience. As I mentioned in my other article, it is not that common that a head coach will fill his staff with other former NHL head coaches.
Vigneault respects what Therrien and Yeo have done for the game of hockey, and he wants their coaching contributions to go along with his own. The three of them may not see eye-to-eye on every coaching aspect, but that bouncing off ideas to one another can help make each of them even better, which can lead to more on-ice success for the team.
Prime Example on the Flyers
One player who was familiar with Vigneault’s work from his time with the New York Rangers is Kevin Hayes. He was acquired by Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher in the offseason, and no doubt Vigneault made it known to go after him. They also locked him up to a seven-year contract.
Hayes is someone who exudes what A.V. preaches, and the recent surge that Hayes has had is proof of this. Hayes has emerged as a leader in the locker room, however not just through point production. He carries himself as a leader both on and off the ice. He is a veteran the younger talent can look up to and is a perfect model of someone who has had his share of success in Vigneault’s system. The proof is in the stats during his time as a Ranger when A.V. coached there:
- 2014-15: 17 goals and 28 assists for 45 points in 79 games
- 2015-16: 14 goals and 22 assists for 36 points in 79 games
- 2016-17: 17 goals and 32 assists for 49 points in 76 games
- 2017-18: 25 goals and 19 assists for 44 points in 76 games
Vigneault was able to get a lot out of Hayes then, and he can be looked at as a success story for Vigneault that the rest of the Flyers roster can learn from. The rest of the Flyers seem to have bought into what Vigneault is selling but making progress in the regular season is only half of the task at hand.
That First Postseason Under A.V.
While Vigneault has helped light a spark under the team throughout this 2019-20 campaign, the playoffs will be another animal. However, Vigneault has that experience as a bench boss in those crucial games. In his prior 16 years as a head coach in the NHL, he has chalked up 139 postseason games, winning 68 of them.
He can help ease younger guys who do not have a lot of playoff action. Young goaltender Carter Hart is a perfect example of this. He does not have any NHL playoff time, and he is looked upon at the age of 21 to be the starting guy for the organization. The concept of him being the guy for the Flyers in net has been there for a while now. He will be relied upon to be the backbone for the Flyers defense, which also contains quite a few younger guys as well (Robert Hagg, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Sanheim to name a few).
A.V. will have to help ease him into the crease for playoff games, and help Hart make that transition, so they can put some more wins together, and overcome some playoff rounds.
Overall, the Flyers still have some more wins they need to put under their belt before they can mark an X (or possibly another letter) to the left of their team name in the standings. They have made a world’s amount of progress since this time last year.
While the players, both new and older, deserve a lot of the credit they are getting, Vigneault too deserves his share of praise as well. He has helped provide stability in the locker room, as well as leadership and is doing all of those things while being there for the players he is coaching. He has befriended the Flyers locker room this season and has put in place his philosophies into making the Flyers a top team in the league. So far, it looks like the fresh mindset for the players is working. It will be interesting to see what unfolds as the regular season soon wraps up.