In Game 4 between the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche last Wednesday, Derek Ryan scored his first Stanley Cup playoff goal nearly seven minutes into the third period to make it a 2-0 advantage for the visitors. Between his goal and the ensuing faceoff, the NBCSN broadcast crew talked about how ‘sometimes you just need somebody to believe in you’ when talking about Ryan’s relationship with Flames’ head coach Bill Peters. They mentioned how Peters had coached Ryan with the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, how Ryan had joined the Carolina Hurricanes in Peters’ second season as head coach with the franchise after a season in the SHL, and how Ryan signed with the Flames after Peters was named head coach last offseason. Ryan doesn’t own a skill set that makes him an obvious roster addition for every club, but there’s something in his game that Peters likes and finds valuable.
Needless to say this applies to all head coaches in all sports, not just Peters. Each coach aims to implement a certain game plan and mindset. Seemingly for every coach there are certain players that will see an increase or decrease in playing time, regardless of how much fans hate it, due to the fact they perform their role well in the coach’s eyes. When thinking of former Philadelphia Flyers’ head coach Dave Hakstol, if he were to land another head coaching gig in the NHL that happens to coincide with an offseason where Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is a free agent, feels like a pretty damn good chance Bellemare will be signing with that club.
Alain Vigneault is, in fact, an NHL head coach. There are a few players who have played for Vigneault in both junior hockey and the NHL. After he played under Vigneault on the Prince Edward Island Rocket in the QMJHL, Maxim Lapierre was traded from the Anaheim Ducks to Vigneault’s Vancouver Canucks at the 2011 trade deadline. Blue liner Marc-Andre Gragnani was a teammate of Lapierre on the Rocket and was traded from the Buffalo Sabres to the Canucks at the 2012 trade deadline. Again, not franchise-altering players, but Vancouver most likely leaned towards adding these players to fill in their roster needs at the time due to Vigneault’s input from coaching them before. With over $31 million in cap space (before re-signing up to eight restricted free agents) and general manager Chuck Fletcher’s previously mentioned intentions to add a few pieces this summer, let’s take a look at some free agents that have played for Vigneault in the past.
Vigneault talked about how a high-tempo game is how he’d like his team to play and a player that is pretty good at playing the high-tempo game is Carl Hagelin. He’s never had a 20-goal or 40-point season, but his speed and shiftiness has played a pretty big role for some competitive teams at 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill over the last few seasons. After he posted 12 points in 25 games during the 2014 postseason for AV, Hagelin was part of the annoying HBK Line for the Pens in 2016 and posted 16 points in 24 games to help Pittsburgh to a Cup. Regardless of the team or the season, Hagelin has posted above a 50 corsi for percentage throughout his entire career and has posted above a 50 high-danger chances for percentage throughout his entire career with the exception of his 22 games with the Los Angeles Kings this season (where he posted a 48.72 high-danger chances for percentage). He isn’t a top liner and he may not even be a top-six guy, but he isn’t a player that is going to cost you a lot while providing speed and an ability to drive play on the third line.
Another member of the 2013-14 Rangers’ team that reached the Stanley Cup Final, Boyle is a forward from Vigneault’s past that could join the Flyers next season. During the 2014 postseason, Boyle formed a pretty serviceable fourth line with Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett to help push the Rangers to within three wins of the Stanley Cup while only starting 29.63 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. When looking at his underlying numbers, Boyle has done pretty well in terms of suppressing shots relative to his teammates, but has been a negative corsi for relative skater for the majority of his career while playing low-event hockey. Much like Hagelin, Boyle is a bottom-six forward that won’t cost you a ton, but he doesn’t have nearly as much speed and seemingly ends up on the wrong side of the puck possession battle more often than not. Fletcher may be intrigued by Boyle if he’s looking for a forward that could play tough minutes and kill penalties, which isn’t the team’s biggest need this offseason.
With the team’s need to add a shoot-first forward, Zuccarello may not be a name that jumps to Flyers’ fans minds instantly this offseason. With four 50-point seasons to his name Zuccarello is indeed a setup guy, but when he accrued 61 points back in 2015-16 he did so by potting 26 goals. Even though he’s been a sub-50 corsi for percentage player in three of the last four seasons, Zuccarello has been a positive relative corsi for player his entire career and he’s posted a 52.37 high-danger chances for percentage or better in eight of his nine seasons in the league. A smaller and craftier forward that can play in all three phases of the game (primarily a 5-on-5 and power play player, but can also kill penalties), the former Ranger is a player Philly fans should be happy to see if he’s in the Orange and Black for 2019-20.
When it comes to team need and experience with the head coach, Kevin Hayes may be the next second line center of the Flyers next season. Four of his five seasons in the league have come with AV as his head coach with the lone exception being this year, where he provided 19 goals and 36 assists for 55 points in 71 games between the Rangers and Winnipeg Jets. He had a pretty solid 2018-19, but he may make a bit more in free agency than he deserves. He has one 25-goal season to his name and this past season was the only time he’s broken 50 points. This was only the second time in his career he has finished with above a 50 corsi for percentage for an entire season and has finished under 46 percent for an entire season twice. When one looks at his career wins above replacement and goals above replacement per 60 charts via Evolving Hockey one can see he had career highs in both this past season, but he had been on a decline through his first four years in the league.
Hayes was also used on the power play quite a bit by the Rangers this season, but he has wasn’t used as heavily on the power play under Vigneault. He is a fine option to be the second line center next season, but the Flyers need to be weary of a player who overperformed in a contract year and could overpay for a forward that’ll struggle to score 20 goals while losing the possession battle.
*Stats via Hockey Reference, NHL.com. Evolving Hockey, and Natural Stat Trick