Vigneault Vows to Bring New Mindset, Consistency to Flyers
A week before Chuck Fletcher made his first move of the offseason, hiring Alain Vigneault as the new head coach of the Flyers, he ran through a long list of bad habits that the team possessed in the previous four months of play. He talked about needing to find the right mindset, the right approach to games, and a method that allows them to play that game with consistency.
Early in Vigneault’s introductory press conference on Thursday, it became apparent why Fletcher felt he had found the right person for the job. Vigneault talked at length about the approach he will bring to the Flyers, one that involves approaching the game with the right mindset.
“I’m really excited to be here. I wanted to get back into coaching. I love to coach. What I was looking for in my new opportunity to coach were three things,” Vigneault said. “First thing I was looking for was an opportunity to win. An opportunity in the short term to win a Stanley Cup. When I look at and analyze the parts we have here in Philly, when I look at and analyze the options that we have in improving this team, it gets a check mark from me.
“Second thing that I was looking for in my next opportunity was the possibility to work with a general manager that shared a lot of the same ideas as far as building a winner, building a hockey culture that develop players, made this a possible high-end winning environment, and a place where players, coaches, management would want to be. After having a few in-depth discussions with Chuck, that got another check mark.
“The third thing that I was looking for was a first-class organization. In today’s competitive NHL, to be able to win, you need a total commitment from ownership. There’s no doubt we have that here. My three check marks were there.”
For Vigneault, this is a move that is a long time coming. After he was fired by the New York Rangers after the 2017-18 season, he took the 2018-19 season off from coaching. That has helped invigorate him in his return to the bench. Through his long career as an NHL head coach, one accomplishment has eluded him: a Stanley Cup.
“It put a lot of things in perspective for myself about how much I love the game, how much I love the coach, and how much I need one more thing,” Vigneault said. “In my bucket list, I need one more thing, I need to win a Stanley Cup. I’ve come close twice. I’ve been very lucky to work for three great organizations, the Montreal Canadiens, the Vancouver Canucks and the New York Rangers. I’ve come close twice. I think this will be the right one. I really believe that we’ve got some strong pieces.”
It was obvious Fletcher was looking for someone who had been in this position before, a veteran head coach tasked with trying to right the ship and turn around a franchise quickly.
“I just want to emphasize it’s unusual and difficult to find coaches like Alain,” Fletcher said. “Coaches like this are rarely available. We’re thrilled he’s decided to join us. His combination of coaching expertise, tactical expertise, his use of personnel, his experience, his track record of winning define him. In our opinion, he’s one of the top coaches in the National Hockey League.”
Vigneault spoke about the balance a team can have with young players and veterans. He talked about how a coach adapts to a team. He talked about preparation. It was a good look inside the coaching style that Vigneault wants to bring to the Flyers.
For one, Vigneault sees the current roster as one with a lot of great pieces that may just be lacking the guidance to be consistent and get the job done on a nightly basis.
“There’s as solid core group that in my mind needs the right direction,” Vigneault said. “There are some solid pieces that, in my mind and after discussing it with a lot of people that I respect their opinion in the NHL, I feel that the Flyers are a very good team that with the proper direction, proper mindset, proper culture and people working together will be a very good team in the near future.”
As for the style, teams in the playoffs still playing this season showcase quick and effective puck movement, a strong work ethic in puck battles and a high-tempo game that wears out the opposition. Vigneault views this as a winning formula in today’s game and as something he wants to bring to the Flyers.
“You definitely build it around the pieces that are there, but I believe in today’s game, a high-tempo, take our game to them approach where you have the D supporting the attack, D jumping up in the play, forwards making the right decision with the puck,” Vigneault said. “When the other team has the gap and there’s no space to make a play, there is one play. That’s to get it behind them. That’s high percentage and it doesn’t hurt your team. I’m going to make sure our team understands the details of the game that are going to permit them to win.
“We feel that we’ve got a good skating, good skilled team that can play a high tempo, good puck pursuit game. We need to make sure that this team has the right mindset to use its qualities and attributes. I’m confident that we’re going to do that.”
Vigneault views his job to be a guide to the team, to help get the most out of the leaders of the team and to help mold the young players into the right roles, whether that is as leaders in their own right or as role players. The veteran coach noted that as a coach, you have to be able to adapt to the team, which is why he is eager to get to know the team he will coach come September and training camp after Fletcher surely makes his mark on the roster during the offseason. To this point, Vigneault has only spoken with one player on the roster, captain Claude Giroux.
“Everything I’ve heard about him is this passion to win,” Vigneault said. “Now I just have to channel that energy in the right direction.”
Interestingly enough, Vigneault will work alongside the former Flyers regime before coaching a game for the Flyers. Vigneault is going to be the head coach of Team Canada at World Championships in May, with former Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol serving as an assistant coach and former Flyers GM Ron Hextall as part of the management team. Vigneault said he is not going to discuss his new role with the Flyers or any of the players with the pair, stating he wants to make his own judgements on the players and not have any preconceived notions about them. Additionally, Carter Hart and Sean Couturier are expected to play for Team Canada.
Guidance. Mindset. The right direction. It was the common theme to Thursday’s press conference. How do the Flyers get there? Vigneault feels like the resume that helped him earn the job will go a long way.
“From my side of the bench, I could sense a willingness to win,” Vigneault said. “You’ve got some players on that team that you could sense by their energy level and their commitment level that they were in this to win. It’s my job now that I’m on the other side of the bench to use that and give them what they need to work the right way, to go on the ice and do the things that permit a team to have success consistently. I’ve got a very good idea of what that is and that’s one of the things I am going to bring to this team.”
With a veteran behind the bench, the Flyers have a guide that has proven in the past he can help bring a team back into contention quickly, and that certainly is the goal. With this part of the offseason plan complete, the focus goes into shaping a roster for next season. For Vigneault, it won’t matter who is on the roster or what changes are made. He’s not here to build the ship. He’s here to be the driver behind it.
“If you give a player and a team a path and you do this, you do it this way, you put in the time, you’re going to have success,” Vigneault said. “You do the same thing with your team, they’re going to follow you. Those are my intentions here individually and team-wise.
“I’m extremely excited to be here in Philly. This is without a doubt one of the best franchises in the National Hockey League. In my mind and after talking to a lot of people who have been in the game that know this franchise, this team is on the upswing. We’re here to work on winning and bringing a Cup.”
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.