Today, Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher announced the Flyers have hired Alain Vigneault to be their next head coach. Vigneault spent the last year unemployed but will coach Canada at the World Championships later this month. Some Flyers fans will recognize Vigneault, as he coached the division rival New York Rangers for five years, including one Stanley Cup final appearance.
So what are the Flyers getting in Vigneault?
- Experience! In this regard, Vigneault is the anti-Dave Hakstol. Vigneault has 16 years of head coaching experience in the NHL, including two Stanley Cup final appearances. He also won a Jack Adams trophy for coach of the year back in 2007. Vigneault has seen it all as a head coach, and he brings a wealth of experience to the Flyers.
- Better overall defensive structure. Vigneault’s teams have been known for their defensive structure (or at least their attempt at it, some of his past teams have given up a high number of shots, but that’s for a different conversation). He has historically put a heavy emphasis on defensive zone position and asks his forwards to take on defensive responsibility. Where Hakstol teams were often seen as lacking structure, a Vigneault team will likely look the opposite, especially defensively.
- Heavy reliance on goaltenders. This has been Vigneault’s knock as a head coach in the past. Vigneault teams historically rely on good goaltending for success. In fact, he himself has said, “The team with the better goalie wins,” and he has lived that reality as a head coach. Whether it was relying on Carey Price or Jaraslav Halak in Montreal, or Roberto Luongo in Vancouver, or most recently Henrik Lundqvist in New York, Vigneault has relied on above average goaltending to bring his teams success in the regular season and playoffs. This may prove difficult next season, as the Flyers are likely looking to go into the NHL season with 21-year-old Carter Hart at the helm. While Hart has proven he is NHL ready, he may not be ready for the workload often thrown at Vigneault coached teams.
- Heavy emphasis on veteran players. Vigneault is also notorious for playing and relying on veterans over youth. In New York, he was often criticized for playing fourth line veterans over more skilled youth. A prime example of this is Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich. Under Vigneault, Buchnevich was placed on the fourth line, scratched at times, and given limited minutes and opportunity. This season, with a different coach and increased minutes and opportunity, Buchnevich became a 20 goal scorer. Like some other coaches of an older school mindset, Vigneault would often prefer veterans over youth, especially in tight games. This may prove to be a point of tension for the Flyers, as they have a ton of youth that is NHL ready or close (see Joel Farabee, Phil Myers, and Morgan Frost). Fletcher may force Vigneault’s hand by placing these players on his roster, but there is no guarantee they will receive top minutes nor opportunity.
In conclusion, Flyers brass made it known this past season they wanted to win now and make the playoffs. This is the expectations for the Flyers, and hiring Vigneault means a likely return next year. With his structure and past success, Vigneault can get a lot out of a new team quickly.
However, with a plethora of young players on the horizon, this hiring looks a bit questionable. The Flyers are also currently lacking the personnel (like a veteran number one goalie and veteran depth forwards) that have made past Vigneault teams successful. With the long-term in mind, this hiring seems questionable, especially considering the likelihood of other coaching candidates joining the market depending on their team’s playoff success. Overall, the hire may be a good short-term fix to a return to the playoffs, but a Vigneault brand of hockey is an unlikely long-term solution to the Flyers Stanley Cup blues.