Philadelphia Flyer’s head coach, Alain Vigneault has a long history in the NHL and guided several successful teams to the Stanley Cup Final. So, it was not exactly a surprise when the Flyers picked up a contact with the coach. He signed back in 2019 after he was fired from the New York Rangers organization in April of 2018.
His coaching contract runs for five years yet advocates in favor of replacing Vigneault increasingly appear. The team itself is vastly skilled and experienced, but not performing as it should. After this season alone, is there substantial reason to terminate Vigneault’s contract?
The Flyers currently sit in fifth place in the MassMutual East Division, just out of a playoff spot. A few factors lackluster season this year and mixed with Vigneault’s style of coaching, this collection of games remaining may see him gone sooner than later.
Profound themes in Philadelphia
Despite coming off a strong 2019-2020 season, this year’s playoffs might be just out of grasp for the Flyers, unfortunately. The team has been cursed by a sporadic case of the injury bug and subsequently fell in the standings. To make matters more difficult, they’re in a highly competitive division. Throw in a couple of COVID protocol absences and the Flyers are one of the more interesting storylines this season. Their defense fell apart, the goaltending department is struggling as a result, and their bigger names are failing to produce.
Coming off Thursday’s shootout loss to the New York Islanders, the struggles in Philadelphia continue to persist. Vigneault has not been one to take the heat in the past and it seems he looks to place blame elsewhere. He more than occasionally comes off as quite pessimistic and unsure of his players. He often scratches his young players when they could benefit from the ice time. All in all, the messages Vigneault sends seem more than mixed.
Vigneault recently said that his team is, “evolving and growing and have potential. What that full potential is, we’re not quite sure. Are they going to figure it out? Are they going to get it? We believe Phil [Myers] has a lot of potential. Lately, his puck decisions have been the area that has caused him some problems, and at the end of the day has caused the team problems.”
With young players like Joel Farabee and Myers sat during this shortened season they are missing learning opportunities. What makes this more perplexing is that young forward, Farabee, has been one of the bright spots this season. With Farabee leading the team in scoring with 14 goals, it seems questionable to sit one of the young players who is moving towards a breakout and can be relied upon more for points. This means he is producing better than several veterans.
Reasons Flyers to keep Vigneault
For one main reason, his deep coaching experience. Vigneault was the Vancouver Canucks’ head coach from 2006-07 until 2012-13. In his seven years as head coach, the Canucks finished in first place six times but lost in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins in seven tough games.
Under Vigneault in the first four seasons, the Canucks were one of the top goal-scoring teams in the league and finished first each year. Then when he went to the New York Rangers after, he seemed to be a good fit after a firey John Tortorella called the shots there. While his calm media demeanor was refreshing in New York, his style could only sustain him under the Big Apple pressures for so long. Yet, during his time in New York, he led the Rangers far as well. He was able to squeeze offense from his players and made sure to maximize the veterans’ performance.
Reasons Flyers to fire Vigneault
Though he was able to come in and help the Canucks, the team eventually began to slip. While he was able to lead the team far into the postseason, he was not able to develop their younger players, which was important for his success as a coach in Vancouver. In Vancouver, New York, and Philadelphia, he had the luxury of coaching rosters stacked with skill and talent. Yet he is not able to guide all that skill to consistent, competitive success.
In Philadelphia, Vigneault seems to be unable to maximize veterans like Kevin Hayes or Michael Raffl. For a team that performed so well last season and was able to make a Playoff run, this season has been highly disappointing.
The Flyers have the NHL's seventh-worst goal differential at minus-24.
Last season, they had the NHL's fourth-best goal differential at plus-36.
— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) April 7, 2021
It was also clear that Vigneault favored the veterans over the younger guys on his previous teams. The most evident examples in New York being favoring Tanner Glass, forgetting about Pavel Buchnevich, and his tendency to prioritize Cody McLeod’s minutes over younger players in need of development and ice time. Another main trait of Vigneault’s style was his overt reliance on the goaltender, specifically the seasoned netminder on his team. He also adopted a style of game that did not involve much physicality — quite ironic with the Flyers franchise’s history.
His heavy reliance on the veteran goaltender is a particularly worrisome facet under Vigneault as Hart is needing to develop into the club’s number one goaltender. With the real possibility the Flyers could miss the postseason, it is clear something is not working with the coaching system and the team. Though the division produces the toughest competition year in and year out, the Flyers are losing precious time with their established, veteran core.