We already know that new Philadelphia Flyers coach Alain Vigneault spent his time most recently with the New York Rangers. I reached out to Joe Fortunato from Blueshirt Banter and asked him some questions about our new bench boss.
First things first, would you say Alain Vigneault is a good coach?
This is a loaded question. I don't think Vigneault is a good coach. I think there is a ton of evidence that Vigneault is, in fact, a horrible coach, who was carried by two elite goaltenders (Roberto Luongo and Henrik Lundqvist) in their primes. Vigneault is a man who only knows how to build one machine. If the Flyers happen to have the parts needed to make the machine work, you will love Vigneault as a coach ... until the machine needs new parts. The man, I am convinced, has never looked in a mirror once. He never questioned himself or his decisions, even when they failed (I have more on that here). He needs a room with a lot of veterans because he keeps his hands off the room and lets the players run the show. Kids need to earn ice time and respect and find themselves put in the press box when they make mistakes. This is especially true of kids who bring more offense and make mistakes trying to do it. Once he's cemented a "favorite", that player gets held above any other accountability he would give to any veteran — a move which created animosity in the room with the kids and the vets. Pavel Buchnevich admitted after Vigneault was fired that when he was benched, all Vigneault would tell him was "fight for the puck" and never went into more detail. What's worse, he will make the Philadelphia media fall in love with them, something he did in New York, and it kept the media from going after him at all — which helped him not need to question himself. The things he did in New York that got him fired are the same things he did in Vancouver that got him fired. And at the end of it all, on the final game of the season two years ago, he gave an unprompted speech about how the "coaching staff was the best thing for the team." He has no love for advanced statistics and uses his own "sophisticated stats package" that no one is allowed to know or see. Seriously. I also think it's very telling that once AV was fired, no one, not a single player, came to his defense. And when given the opportunity, EVERY SINGLE former player bashed him after he was fired.
What are his coaching philosophies?
Vigneault preaches a speed game, but his systems often boiled down to a counterattacking team. Set plays were worked to get guys running through the neutral zone with speed and scoring off fast breaks. The problem is Vigneault's system requires defenseman to be able to get the puck in their own zone and start the breakouts, and he did this by making Dan Girardi a top-pair defenseman for four years. When the system failed he ... never adjusted it. At all. Vigneault teams typically get shelled in possession, and find themselves on their heels a lot when the offensive breaks don't go their way. Which comes back to needing elite goaltending to bail him out — which Lundqvist did.
Is he a coach who makes adjustments or does he stick by his gameplan regardless of the outcome?
Vigneault doesn't really adjust, he tweaks. Generally tweaks turn back to the tired and true ideologies (even if they're not working) as soon as something doesn't go the way he wanted it to. He "won't change the lineups" after a win, unless a kid did well and he needed to get one of his guys in. He's sat guys like Kevin Hayes and Buchnevich for Tanner Glass in the playoffs ... multiple times. Wins are wins regardless of how they come. Vigneault took wins as gospel, regardless of how they came. The Rangers won games on Hank's shoulders alone, got crushed in possession, saw players drown in their roles and Vigneault always said "never question a win" and left things as they were.
When it comes to goalie usage, does he prefer a tandem system or riding the hot hand?
Vigneault used Hank a lot, but he also publicly blasted Hank often when he wasn't perfect enough to keep the Rangers afloat. He created two different controversies by starting backups in four or five games in a row without any real explanation. This one is hard, I have no idea. He had to ride Hank because he's Hank. Same thing with Luongo.
There is a preconceived notion in Philadelphia that he does not play kids and over relies on vets, is there truth to that?
There's a ton of evidence for this. I mean, I can't even link all the stories to our thoughts on this. Vigneault often played veterans over kids at every opportunity. J.T. Miller, Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil, Dylan McIlrath, Emerson Etem, Adam Clendenning, Lias Andersson, the list goes on and on. Kids need to earn time, veterans don't.
Were the things that Vigneault did poorly markedly improve under David Quinn?
The biggest difference was Quinn actually trying to connect with younger kids and developing them. He sat Buchnevich early in the season and Pavel told the media that Quinn had lunch with him and explained what he needed from him, and he had never had that before. Again, it’s hard to overstate that no player came to Vigneault’s defense when he was fired. None. That speaks volumes. Quinn also got the best out of his team — Vigneault teams, especially toward the end, had no life or no jam. It’s another reason why I find this hire so strange for Philly, since Vigneault is essentially a “turn the other cheek” coach that doesn’t really fit with the Flyers.
Can you give me some positives to look forward to?
If the Flyers have the pieces in place that fit Vigneault's machine, you will love him because things will work. But that's really where the positives end. Unless he's learned lessons ... which I don't think he has
Do you have any warnings for Flyers fans?
Just ... be ready for a lot of shit. Seriously. Vigneault, even when pressed, about horrible decisions, often simply dodged the question or said things like “it was the right thing to do.” He will frustrate the hell out of you, sometimes surprise you, but more often than not make you want to smash your head into a 4X4.