Season on Horizon, Flyers Coach Vigneault Embracing Challenges Ahead
The first season of Alain Vigneault’s tenure as Flyers head coach was certainly a strange one. The Flyers had started to turn the corner as a contender, putting together one of the best records in the NHL from January until the abrupt pause on March 12 due to COVID-19.
When the season returned for the playoffs in August, the Flyers claimed their first series win since 2012 and took the New York Islanders to a Game 7 in the second round, one win shy of reaching the conference finals.
Vigneault’s second season as Flyers head coach will begin next month on Jan. 13, when the NHL opens play for the 2020-21 season. It will once again be anything but traditional. The 56-game condensed schedule, realigned divisions, empty arenas and shortened training camp present a new set of challenges.
“I’m very confident once we jump on the ice that guys will be in good condition and in good spirits and really looking forward to the challenges ahead of us,” Vigneault said on Monday. “We’ve taken a step forward in the last year and our intentions are to take another step forward this year.”
Those challenges will begin on Jan. 3, when training camp opens. The Flyers will go through physicals on the first day of camp and hit the ice on Monday, Jan. 4 to start training as a team. Vigneault, speaking to the media via conference call from his home in Quebec, said most of the team has already arrived in Voorhees and is preparing for the start of camp. He anticipated the entire training camp roster will be in town shortly after Christmas.
Once camp starts, you can certainly expect a ramped up and energetic camp to try to get the players in game shape. Vigneault has been meeting with his coaches regularly through virtual meetings, and said they expected there to be no preseason games, as was confirmed in the 2020-21 season plans.
That should make for more intense practices. Vigneault said that practices will typically last 45 minutes and be followed by scrimmages.
“Guys need to get a game feel, and those game hands and those legs,” Vigneault said, “and I feel that is one of the best ways to do it.”
There is certainly going to be a lot of flexibility on the roster this season. The Flyers depth will certainly face a challenge as new faces are rotated in and out of the lineup as needed. The Flyers have a number of prospects available to the team this season, among them Morgan Frost, Carsen Twarynski, Connor Bunnaman, Egor Zamula, Tanner Laczynski, Linus Sandin and Wade Allison. Vigneault noted it will be difficult for a prospect to make the opening night lineup, but that the depth would be required this season more than ever.
“If ever we’re going to need depth at all positions, it’s going to be this year. In my mind, because we’ll be playing four games in six nights and a lot of back-to-backs, you’re going to need depth throughout the lineup,” Vigneault said. “It’s going to be a challenge, obviously, for our group, but I think it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.”
For these prospects, staying with the process will be important. If a player is not on the opening night roster or in the lineup, the opportunity will arise soon enough. When the time comes, it’s up to the player to make the most of the opportunity.
“A lot of guys might not initially be in the lineup, but at some point we’re going to need them,” Vigneault said. “When you get the opportunity, it’s your job to make it very hard for me and my coaches to take you out of the lineup, so I expect some good internal competition at all positions.”
One of the early opportunities available will be the spot next to Ivan Provorov on the right side of the top defensive pairing. It’s a vacancy left by Matt Niskanen after he retired this offseason. Vigneault said several players would get some time on that pairing during training camp, including the recently-signed Phil Myers.
Vigneault also mentioned that with many games coming over short periods throughout the season, both Carter Hart and Brian Elliott would get plenty of work this season. While Hart still remains the clear-cut No. 1 netminder, Elliott’s presence will certainly be a regular part of this condensed 56-game schedule.
Even with no fans in attendance, at least at the start of the season, the Flyers will be back in a matter of weeks. Vigneault certainly felt the excitement that built around the team during the playoffs this summer, and he’s ready to experience that excitement again.
“It’s great for us. It’s great for our fans,” Vigneault said. “Philly should be excited.”
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.