Alain Vigneault on Flyers: ‘The Goal Hasn’t Changed’
In the now seven weeks since the NHL and other major sports leagues put play on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the few members of the Flyers we have not heard from yet has been head coach Alain Vigneault.
Vigneault has arguably been the greatest addition to the Flyers this season. In his first season as head coach, the Flyers were not only carving out a path to the playoffs and starting to secure their spot at the time of the pause, but making a push to take over the Metropolitan Division lead, something that certainly wasn’t on the radar of expectations at the start of the season.
From the beginning, Vigneault had set the goal that the Flyers would at the very least be one of the 16 teams that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup and qualify for the playoffs. While the dynamic of the playoffs may change, Vigneault says that the goals remain in place.
“I felt since day one that one of our goals and I mentioned this to you guys quite a few times, teams have to continue to improve during the season. You have to get better,” Vigneault said. “I believe that’s what we were doing in all aspects of our game, our 5-on-5 play, our special teams play, our defensive play and offensive play. We were getting better individually and getting better as a group. That enables you to get a chance, to get into the playoffs and have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
“That was our goal coming into the season. That goal hasn’t changed. Obviously there’s different components and a different dynamic at this time. I feel real confident that once we find out if we can get back at it, I’m optimistic that we will.”
The Flyers had massively improved as the season went on. Through October, they had a 5-5-1 record and at Thanksgiving had a 13-7-5 record. Since then, they are 28-14-2, including a 19-8-2 record since the start of 2020. One of the greatest challenges for the Flyers will be finding a way to return to that level of play whenever the league is able to return.
“That’s going to be our challenge, obviously. There’s no doubt that we were playing our best hockey of the season at the time,” Vigneault said. “I don’t think we can go into this showing any signs of emotional frustration. With the world being put on pause and with what people are going through right now, we can help them by doing the best job that we can as far as playing on the ice. We’ll be exactly like everybody else. We’ll have the same amount of time. Our team was in a good place. It will be all our jobs, from coaches to management to players, to get back to that good spot that we were in.”
A pause like this is an unusual time for sports. It’s not just that there is no live sports happening at the moment, but for NHL players, there is no way to even consistently train they way they would during a normal offseason. This seven-week span is longer than their usual offseason breaks before they start exploring off-ice and on-ice workouts to prepare for the upcoming season. Vigneault talked about how the return of sports will be important for helping people get through a difficult time in the world.
“I believe that sports is going to be part of the process to getting back to some form of normality,” Vigneault said. “I believe everybody is missing their sports right now, not just hockey, but baseball and basketball. Football is around the corner. I believe sports is going to help people get back to normal. I don’t know when it’s going to be, but when it is, we are going to be ready. I think like most of the players, we’re keeping our fingers crossed and we’re hoping we can get back at this.”
Vigneault had been at his Florida home when the pause began, but is now back in Gatineau, Quebec. He said there was pressure from family and friends to return home to Canada as restrictions became more strict. At the beginning of April, Vigneault made his return to Canada and is currently there with his girlfriend, who is a frontline emergency nurse at Ottawa Hospital. Vigneault’s sister is also an employee for Quebec Health and on the frontline as well. Between communicating with everyone close to him, including his parents who are in a senior living facility, Vigneault said he has kept busy despite the lack of activity on the hockey side.
As for a return to hockey, there is no timetable for a return just yet, though there are new plans being discussed daily between the NHL and NHLPA. Vigneault said he is leaving that in the hands of the experts and continues to talk with Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher weekly. Vigneault also echoed Fletcher’s sentiment that if the league were to return, a two-week training camp would suffice to prepare players for a return to games.
“I believe that if we get a good two weeks, we’ll be fine. Everybody will be in the same position. We’ll be out for the same amount of time. We’ll be like everybody else,” Vigneault said. “My staff has a lot of experience. This is obviously something different, but we have a lot of experience. I am very confident that we can get something together that’s going to be very efficient for the players, very efficient to get our team ready. Hopefully that’s what happens.”