Vigneault: ‘We’re On The Right Track to Win a Stanley Cup’
When you play in a sports city as crazed as Philadelphia, expectations can soar pretty quickly. When you haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975, they can skyrocket in a hurry when a team feels like it is poised for a special run.
The Flyers won their first three games back from a four and a half month pause and claimed the number one seed in the conference for the playoffs, thus sending Philadelphia into a frenzy. After such a long pause with no sports at all, a team looked poised to win it all.
That’s when this young Flyers team found out just how hard the journey can be. After a grueling series against Montreal that was won in six games, the Flyers had to claw their way back into the second-round series against the Islanders, winning Games 5 and 6 in overtime to force Game 7. They lost Game 7, 4-0, and the season and those hopes came to an end.
It was a different feeling for the Flyers this time around. This wasn’t a team that was just happy to be there and part of the dance. This was a team that had sights set on a long run. Most notably, their head coach, in his first year with the team, had his sights set on the elusive victory he has longed for. It didn’t happen, but there was a lot of progress made in the eyes of the Flyers head coach.
“A team has to grow, it has to evolve. I’m obviously very disappointed in our Game 7. I do believe that this team grew during the year, grew in the way we played the game, grew in the way we played an effective game – a game that can be effective and can have playoff success,” Alain Vigneault said on Monday. “I do think we need to continue in all aspects of our game. Our defensive game got better. Our offensive game in my mind was on the right track as far as playing the right way. I do believe we have some young players, young pieces. We’re the team I think that played the most first-year players during the regular season this year. I believe that we’re on the right track as far as moving forward to win a Stanley Cup. What we’ve gone through this year is going to help us next year. Without being specific on one thing, I do firmly believe we have the players. We have the pieces. We have the will. We have a lot of work left to do, but we are on the right track to get it done.”
Before you can even tap into the core group that everyone has come to know over the years, you can mention a long list of names of players who are all under 25 that will be back - Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Carter Hart, Joel Farabee, Travis Sanheim, Phil Myers, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Robert Hagg, Morgan Frost, a fully-healthy Oskar Lindblom, perhaps a healthy Nolan Patrick. That could be 11 members of the 20-man playing roster next season and it doesn’t even include guys like Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes and Scott Laughton who are all entering their prime years. It’s that kind of talent that has Vigneault confident in the group.
“Our young players have size. They have skill. They’ve got will. We have quite a few of those young players that are scratching the surface as far as talent potential,” Vigneault said. “They can all get better and they all proved this year that they can get better. If you combine that with good veterans that want to play the right way, that want to do the right things at the right time, and I do believe we did show a lot of that this year. Our consistency needs to improve in some areas of our games. We got quite a few young players that were on our team this year or that are coming up that in my estimation are going to be, if they can figure it out, good players and are going to permit us to pursue the Stanley Cup.”
Of course, that talent wasn’t enough this season, not in these playoffs, to advance past the second round.
Vigneault has searched for the formula to winning the Stanley Cup for his entire career. It is the one thing he doesn’t have yet. With his 17th season as an NHL head coach now complete, he knows as well as anyone about the experience that comes from losing in the playoffs, from not achieving the end goal. It is an experience he wants to stick with his players.
“There’s no doubt that offensively we didn’t perform to our expectations. I think some of that had to do with execution and some of it had to do with the type of offense that you can generate and be successful during the playoffs. That’s part of our learning process right now as a group, as individuals,” Vigneault said. “There’s certain things that you can do during the regular season that will work and in the playoffs won’t. As a group, I think that’s going to be a valuable experience. Offensively also, some of our guys feed off the power play. We didn’t have a lot of success on the power play during the playoffs. Their confidence was probably affected a little bit. And I think what happened to us a little bit in the playoffs is because some of the guys were pressing, they were probably cheating offensively a little bit, and that hurt us defensively also a little bit. This was obviously disappointing, but it should go in our bank of learning experiences and we should all be better for it.
“That Game 7 is very painful in the way we played, other than that first six minutes of that game. The rest of the game is definitely not what I expected. What I’m looking forward to do, from that game, is to talk to the players one on one. There are quite a few guys that I need to sit down, need to figure out their thoughts and what they think happened because it is a moment that we can use to grow. Those moments aren’t easy. They’re not fun. That’s definitely not a fun part of my coaching career, but it is a teachable moment. It is a growing moment for our organization and we’re going to use it.”
Two players that got a lot of the spotlight were Konecny and Claude Giroux. Konecny’s still a young player at 23, but with a new contract and excellent regular-season numbers, expectations were high, not just for fans but for Konecny himself. Vigneault felt that Konecny was one of those players that was pressing and sees the experience helping him moving forward.
“There’s no doubt that Travis didn’t perform to obviously his expectations and ours in the playoffs,” Vigneault said. “He’s a young player, full of potential. I believe that I’ll be able to help him a lot moving forward, but I have not had the opportunity to sit down with Travis and go through what I believe he needs to focus on, work on and get better at so he becomes the best player that he can be. There’s no doubt that he was pressing and because he was pressing, it led to turnovers that led to good opportunities for the opposition. TK’s a great young man that’s got a lot of potential and we’re going to work with him and he’s going to become the best player he can be.”
As for Giroux, the situation is very different. He’s been in this spot before, now 13 years into his NHL career, and has only advanced past the second round once.
Giroux is not getting younger, now at 32 years old, and perhaps that is part of the problem. He’s shouldering more than he should now that he is the grizzled veteran and the young prospects are starting to arrive. Whether he was pressing to much or it’s just a matter of age starting to catch up to the Flyers captain, Vigneault offered some thoughts about how Giroux and other veterans on the team like Jake Voracek and James van Riemsdyk may have to approaching things in the future, especially as the game continues to change and their prime years start to fade away.
“There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind about his will to be successful and his will to help his teammates,” Vigneault said. “He’s getting older. As you get older, the muscles don’t react as quick, but you can work on that. He’s going to put in a lot of time and effort. I do believe that there’s some areas that, having gone through with Claude this first playoffs, I do believe there’s some areas where I could help him with where he could perform better. I need to see him face to face and sit down. I haven’t had that opportunity. He’s one of those guys that, because we are in the same region, that I will be able to talk to in the next while face to face. I need to talk to him in person. Obviously the comments that I’m going to have with him and that he’s going to have with me are going to be on a personal level, so we’re not going to share that, but I can tell you on the record very directly that I do believe he can play better. He can perform better, and knowing Claude, he’ll put in the time and effort to do it.”
Vigneault added that the veterans understand where their game is and the evolution of the game. He feels a lot of the kids are close to breaking down the door. Like GM Chuck Fletcher, Vigneault feels like the team will look around at potential options from outside, but mainly stick to internal moves to construct the roster for next season, whenever that may be. For now, it is simply a time to reflect, and maybe a time to wonder what might have been and what might be to come.
“The one thing that I find about this organization, this team, this franchise, is we’ve got a lot of these young players right now that are pushing and probably need an opportunity to see if they can’t make this league,” Vigneault said. “It’s going to be interesting. I don’t know when we’re going to restart, I don’t know how long we’re going to have, but I’m hoping that everyone in this organization sees the great opportunity that they have this two, three, four, five months to work on their conditioning, to work on their skill, to really work on their game. To take this opportunity that they’ve never had before. This extended time to really work on your game. I really hope that’s what our guys are going to do.”