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Let the Record Show A Curious Flyer Hire

April 16, 2019, 8:55 AM ET [9 Comments]
Jay Greenberg
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There was no way Chuck Fletcher was going to search for a potential "next NHL coaching star" to take charge of the Flyers. They already have been there with Dave Hakstol and done that.

Fletcher wasn’t going to stay with what he had, either, even if there was evidence of a sound response of these players to Scott Gordon, under whom they enjoyed an 18-4-2 stretch–a good quarter of the season–until they let go of the rope after exhausting their time in a longshot playoff run. Perhaps that hurt Gordon’s chances to keep the job. Or maybe he never had a chance because a new GM always wants his own guy.

Track record, track record, track record was the message of Fletcher in a short conference call with reporters Monday afternoon after making Alain Vigneault the 21st coach of the Flyers and the first of French-Canadian heritage.

At one point, Fletcher said he became convinced that Vigneault was the right guy from conversations held with him over the previous two days. Still, no elaboration was forthcoming on what was said between them to complete the GM’s comfort level, leaving it pretty clear Vigneault got the job less on what he said than what he has done: Reach finals with two franchises–the Canucks and Rangers.

To be fair, in a league of 31 teams that’s a lot better than mediocre, actually a reasonable measure of success. Not a Joel Quenneville-three-Cups-in six-years level of success, of course, but better than most of the coaches now working in the NHL. Loser on a seventh-game fold at home against the Bruins in 2011 and in three overtime games to the Kings in 2014, Vigneault didn’t have the clearly better team in either final.

So his 139 playoff games represent to Fletcher a hire of little risk, a comfortable decision needing to be understood in the context of the organization being out of patience with building and, seeing flashes of promising play, anxious for a good April finally.

For all the evidence accrued through repeated miserable Octobers, Novembers, Decembers–and first periods in any month–that these Flyers in many places are too young, Claude Giroux is 31 and they might be a year or three away from becoming too old. So the mandate is for credibility in the form of a long playoff run and soon.

This leaves no time for thinking outside the box, especially with undisciplined Flyers continuing to go to the box in the third period of close games. With Coach Q having chosen the Florida sun and the opportunity to work with Dale Tallon again, the most successful guy out there to tame this bronco, next to the caustic Cowboy Darryl Sutter, was Vigneault.

Gordon has been offered his old job back at Lehigh Valley. He’s thinking about it and who can blame him? One would hope his NHL chances aren’t forever tarnished by people who know him well having passed on continuing some apparent good work. But in one of the most disrespected professions there is, such is the way it goes, even though Gordon deserved better than just the “good job” pat on the head he received.

Vigneault is experienced and accomplished but Gordon knew these players and had already established himself as a good fit with them. Can Vigneault be? Looking past a career bottom line of 648-435-98, there is reason to wonder.

Fletcher cited the Canucks’ success under Vigneault as his certification of a developer of young talent, even though the Rangers started their youth movement a year ago with a decision to let this coach go. In the matter of being good or not being good with young players, sometimes the kids aren’t proving as promising as their management believes and sometimes, as was the case with Hakstol, an impatient fan base measures regression and progress game-to-game rather than season-to-season, not the way improvement occurs. Regardless, evidence of Vigneault as a nurturer of young talent is sparse, one of the reasons he no is longer coach of the Rangers.

Or, after having been welcomed initially by the Ranger veterans as the anti-John Tortorella, Vigneault’s time, in the assessment of GM Jeff Gorton, simply had run out. In his final three seasons, the Rangers play in their own end wasn’t nearly as organized, their reliance on Henrik Lundqvist increased when it should have been the other way around.

If Vigneault coaches the Flyers the same way he did Vancouver and New York, defensemen will be encouraged to move, not carry, the puck–how’s that going to work with Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim? –and players will be dissuaded from going to each other’s defense and taking penalties.

For whatever it is worth-usually not much-Vigneault will not be the glowering or fiery bench presence that Philadelphia fans prefer so we will see how that plays, too. And for those of you who still believe that a dearth of fiery oration in the locker room from Captain Giroux is the problem, Vigneault pretty much counts on the team leaders to be the police.

The good news is that there are so many kids on this team–with more coming– that the coach is not going to have much choice but to play, rather than shuffle them to the fourth line.

Affable, if relentlessly unrevealing, he is a solid 57-year old bench director without stereotypical label as either a firebrand, a disciplinarian or encourager, more a delegator than any of those things. If Fletcher is able this summer to get an experienced, minute-eating defenseman and a hard-working, smart, second-line center, the new coach of the Flyers should take them a step forward.

The team is going to have to create the excitement though. This hire does not.
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