Chuck Fletcher’s first move of what should be an eventful off season was to hire former Rangers, Canucks and Canadiens head coach Alain Vigneault to replace interim coach Scott Gordon behind the bench of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Vigneault brings a very good resume to South Philly. Two trips to the Stanley Cup Final, 8 seasons where his team piled up 100 or more points in the last 12 he’s coached. The 2007 Jack Adams award and a career .588 winning percentage. Vigneault is the most accomplished coach the Flyers have had since Peter Laviolette. He’s the most accomplished to come in to start a season since Ken Hitchcock. The fact that the Flyers went totally outside their organization with a coach with Vigneault’s track record speaks volumes.
During their break up day interviews, both Fletcher and Gordon stressed that the Flyers needed to change their approach. Both men noted the Flyers were spending way too much time in their own end, with Gordon talking about the forwards needing to be more willing to drive to the net in the offensive zone, as well as cleaning up zone entries and turnovers. He compared the desperation teams felt in their defensive zone being applied to the offensive zone.
Fletcher said pretty much the same, chalking it up to changing the mindset of the team. “There’s things I think we did improve as the year went on, but there’s that mindset that has to change a little bit from our group, recognizing situations, better details, better habits. That has to be as big a focus as just adding players. It starts with me and then it goes to the coaches and then it goes to the leaders, to the players. It’s not just mindset, it’s actual details. It’s doing things the right way repeatedly. That’s how you gain confidence and that’s how you learn to play the right way.”
Fletcher’s fast hire of Vigneault will draw criticism, especially since the Flyers didn’t publicly interview anyone else. News only broke over the weekend that they had asked permission to speak to Vigneault. However, given the level of importance Fletcher put on changing the team mindset it’s likely Fletcher didn’t consider popular up and coming coaches like Sheldon Keefe of the Toronto Marlies or Dallas Stars assistant Todd Nelson. Even if those guys are bright and full of great ideas, Fletcher wanted a known quantity.
Despite his denials, it’s been reliably reported by outlets in Philadelphia and Florida that the Flyers made an offer to Joel Quenneville prior to his acceptance of the Florida Panthers head coaching job. If Fletcher was looking for a coach with similar cache, the list of candidates was going to be short, regardless.
Fletcher and Gordon seemed to be on the same page with a lot of their criticisms of the Flyers play last season, and based on Vigneault’s system in New York, I think there will be a similar meeting of the minds. Vigneault preached pressure and forcing mismatches. His system emphasized skating and counter attacking with speed. The Flyers have the skill to play that way, but they need to execute a good deal better than they have in the past. That’s where the mindset change comes in.
Gordon, to his credit, noted the issues that hurt the Flyers. However, in his 50+ games as head coach, he was unable to really correct it. Fletcher is betting Vigneault can. It’s the first big wager of the Fletcher Era in Philadelphia and it will have some massive implications. If Vigneault can be as effective as he was in Vancouver and his first 4 years in New York, Fletcher will be a big winner. If not, Flyers fans might end up as the losers.