Chuck Fletcher and the Philadelphia Flyers made quick work of their search for a head coach, hiring Alain Vigneault just days after their season ended. Less than nine days after the 2018-19 season came to a close with a loss to the Hurricanes, they announced the hiring of Vigneault.
After a disappointing and chaotic season in which the Flyers missed the playoffs for the fourth time in seven tries, this is a team that needs to take the next step. Hell, it has needed to take the next step for a few years now. Luckily, and likely uncoincidentally, they got just the man for the job.
Vigneault has a history of taking teams to that next level. He has a decorated resume that includes experience with teams looking to turn a corner. His teams are consistently in the hunt, reaching the 100-point mark in the majority of his career, and he has gotten the best from his squad.
His first head coaching job in the NHL came in 1997 with the Montreal Canadiens. After winning the Stanley Cup in 1993, Montreal failed to win a playoff series in the next four seasons, and even missed the playoffs in 1995.
A 31-36-15 regular-season record in the 1996-97 resulted in just one playoff win as they lost in five games to the New Jersey Devils.
He turned the Canadiens around in a hurry. The very next season, Montreal won 37 regular-season games and won their first playoff round (in six games against Pittsburgh) since 1993 before falling in the second round.
The Canadiens failed to make the playoffs again under AV, but he was nominated for the Jack Adams award in 2000 for his work with an injury-riddled roster.
Vigneault was fired in 2000, and returned to coach in juniors before getting a chance with the Vancouver Canucks in 2006.
Vigneault, like Scott Gordon, got his start with the Vancouver organization by coaching their AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. He spent only one year there, coaching them to a 100-point regular season and the second round of the playoffs. He was then promoted to be the Canucks head coach.
In the 2005-06 season, the first year after the lockout, the Canucks were expected to be strong contenders. However, they failed to make the playoffs, opening the door for a new coach.
Vigneault not only got the Canucks back into the playoffs in his first year in Vancouver, but his team set a franchise record in the regular season. Their 49 wins in the 2005-06 season was the most by a Canucks team in franchise history — only to be eclipsed by another Vigneault-coached team — as well as a seven-win swing and 13-point swing (92 to 105) from the ’05-06 season to ’06-07.
The Canucks went from missing the playoffs with a fourth-place finish to taking the division title and reaching the second round of the playoffs in AV’s first year. It was the Vancouver’s first playoff series win since 2003.
AV then had to prove himself again after missing the playoffs in 2007-08, and he did just that. The Canucks made the playoffs in each of the next five seasons, reaching the second round in 2009 and 2010 before making the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. That 2011 season was special, winning the franchise’ first Presidents’ Trophy in 2011 with 117 points (54 wins).
In fact, prior to his final season with the New York Rangers, ‘07-08 was the last season a Vigneault-coached team missed the playoffs.
Vigneault was fired after the Canucks were swept by the Sharks in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. He quickly found a new job due to his track record, landing on his feet with the Rangers who were another contender looking for a new voice after a disappointing postseason.
Once again, Vigneault came in and helped a team take that next step.
In 2013, the Rangers squeaked out a first-round win in seven games against the Washington Capitals, and then won just one game against the Bruins. But that wasn’t the case in 2014.
We all know how it started, the Rangers edged out the Flyers in seven games in an intense first-round series, did the same with the Penguins in the second round, and got by the Canadiens en route to the Stanley Cup Final. It was there that they lost to the Kings, but AV got the Rangers over that hump.
The following season, Vigneault once again set a franchise record with his new team. This time it was a record-setting 113 points, earning the Rangers the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time since 1994. The Rangers would reach the Eastern Conference Final that year, where they lost to the Lightning in seven games.
Vigneault was fired three years later after the Rangers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010. New York held on as long as they could, but their roster turnover and aging team caught up to them.
Now, after a year off, Vigneault is tasked with getting another team to the next level. That is exactly what the Flyers need.
The Flyers have appeared to be on the cusp of that next level for a few years. In 2014 they nearly beat the aforementioned Rangers in the first round, in 2016 they disappointed against the Capitals, and in 2018 it was the Penguins’ turn to dispatch the Flyers. Now it’s the Flyers’ turn.
Vigneault comes to Philadelphia after a disappointing season and has one mission: take them to the next level. He has done that at every stop in his career and it should be no different with the Flyers.
The Flyers have the right recipe — on paper — to be a contender next season.
They finally have their goaltending figured out, with Carter Hart starting or splitting time with a stable veteran, and they still have their core intact.
Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek are still very productive. Sean Couturier just keeps getting better as a top-line center. James van Riemsdyk proved that he is far from washed up with a very strong finish after starting off slow due to injury.
They also have the young guns, now with a few years experience, stepping in to fill the gaps and starting to fill in the core a bit. Travis Konecny is a 24-goal scorer. Oskar Lindblom thrived in the second half. Nolan Patrick is finding his way and will be able to grow a bit more on the third line if all goes to plan.
On the defensive front, Shayne Gostisbehere is in the middle of the core and young guns in terms of age and experience. Ivan Provorov will shake off a disappointing season. Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers showed great signs last year.
The Flyers have a roster with very little dead weight on it, which helps minimize one of Vigneault’s flaws. He, like most coaches, tends to rely on veterans a bit too much, and for a bit too long. However, Fletcher traded away most of the unproductive veterans (Dale Weise, Jori Lehtera) and the team only has room for a few of them, in minimized roles. We will likely still see a veteran played over a young guy on the fourth line, but the top-nine should remain strong.
It took a bit longer than most hoped for the Flyers to finally tear it all down and look like they could be a contender again. Hell, they fooled everyone this past season and ended up with another frustrating campaign. However, the front office has made a statement that they want to win now and need to win now.
Vigneault has a decorated career, but one thing eludes him: a Stanley Cup. He has won the Jack Adams Award, he has won Presidents’ Trophies, he has set franchise records. Hell, most of the time his teams make the playoffs or even reach 100 points — usually both. He needs a Cup.
The days of stockpiling assets and being patient are over. There are no more contracts that the Flyers need to be dug out from under them. The Flyers have cap space, and management has made the move to get their guy that will take the team to the next level in both Fletcher and Vigneault.
The table is set for a big offseason in Philadelphia, and an even bigger 2019-20 season.