Alain Vigneault, introduced Thursday as the 21st head coach in the Flyers’ history, is aware of the frustration level of the fan base.
Frustrated because it’s been 44 years since the Flyers last won the Stanley Cup. Frustrated by a recently completed 37-37-8 season that marked the fourth time in the last seven years the team had missed the playoffs. Frustrated at the listless way the Flyers, again, started games and their season.
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“I understand people’s disappointment,” Vigneault said after being introduced by general manager Chuck Fletcher at a news conference at the team’s Voorhees practice facility. “But I would say that’s all behind us. Chuck is here. He’s new. I’m here. I’m new. Nothing I can do about what happened in the past.
"I can focus on the present and hopefully make the future what we all want it to be. I’m going to be on high alert. I’m going to work my butt off to get this done, and I’m very confident it’s going to work out.”
Smiling and joking with reporters, Vigneault was at ease and seemed in his element as he talked about how he had missed the game during his year off from hockey — and learning “I’ll never be the golfer I thought I’d be” — and how he had no immediate offers after he was fired by the New York Rangers after the 2017-18 season.
Vigneault said the Flyers have some “solid youth with a lot of upside that is coming into its own. There’s great goaltending, being one of those youth pieces. There’s a solid core group that in my mind needs the right direction.”
One of Vigneault’s most critical jobs will be to improve a defense that allowed 3.41 goals per game, 29th in the 31-team NHL.
“Puck management can be as important and can be as effective as playing good defense,” he said. “A lot of times, people talk about playing good defense, and that’s the forecheck, or the D-zone coverage. Yeah, it is, because you don’t have the puck. You have to know what to do with the puck, and when you do know what to do with the puck, a lot of times you’re not defending as much.”
Vigneault said his year away from coaching “put a lot of things in perspective for myself and how much I love the game, how much I love to coach, and how much I need one more thing. In my bucket list, I need one more thing. I need to win a Stanley Cup. I’ve come close twice.”
He directed the Vancouver Canucks and the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final.
Vigneault, tied for the 12th-most wins (648) in NHL history, had future Hall of Fame goalies with the Canucks (Roberto Luongo) and the Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist). What does he anticipate with up-and-coming goalie Carter Hart?
“Right now, we have a solid young goaltender,” Vigneault said. “All I’ve heard about are positive things, and we’re going to be able to work with him at the World Championships.”
Vigneault will coach Team Canada in the IIHF World Championships next month in Slovakia, and Hart and Sean Couturier are the Flyers on the team. (Vigneault is trying to persuade Claude Giroux to join the team.) Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh will also assist Team Canada.
“He’s worked with Hart and he’s had real good progression with him,” said Vigneault, who still hasn’t finalized his Flyers coaching staff.
At the World Championships, former Flyers coach Dave Hakstol will be one of his assistants, and ex-Flyers GM Ron Hextall is one of the managers.
“I’m going to lean on him [Hakstol] for the tournament, but I’m not going to ask Dave or Ron Hextall anything about the players on the Flyers,” said Vigneault, a Quebec City native. “I said to Chuck that I want to come here fresh and clean. No preconceived notion. Players are going to come and show me what they can do.
"Those would be two great sources for me to ask, but I’m going to trust my eyes, talk to the guys, and get to know them. And I’ll get a personal feel for who they are and what they can do and what they can bring.”
Vigneault said he was fortunate to have Luongo and Lundqvist as goalies.
“Probably two Hall of Fame goaltenders, and maybe we have a young goaltender that’s got tremendous amount of potential that might become one of the top goalies in the league, also,” said Vigneault, whose team needs to add a backup goaltender in the offseason. “But we know at that position — especially this year, I think you guys went through eight goaltenders — we need depth. That’s one of the things Chuck and I talked about and we’re definitely going to work on.”
Vigneault said the Flyers reminded him of a combination of the teams he had with the Canucks and Rangers. He has also coached in Montreal during his 16-year career behind the bench.
“In Vancouver, we were a little bit younger. In New York, we had a more veteran lineup,” he said. “ … This situation for me now is a real combination of my last two situations, and that’s why I feel extremely confident that I’m the right guy to get this done.”
Vigneault’s Vancouver teams looked to cycle the puck with the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel.
“It wasn’t about speed. It was about puck protection,” he said. “With the Rangers, it was a lot about transition, creating those turnovers and then we had speed and we counterattacked and we went to the net hard. Both teams generated good offensive numbers, but in different ways.”
With the Rangers, Vigneault was criticized for not using young players enough.
“I’m not perfect,” Vigneault said. “I know there’s a lot of areas that I can get better at and I’m working to get better at.”
He added that he developed young players in Vancouver and with the Rangers.
“Was I perfect with all of them? No, and I don’t think anyone is," he said. "I think my record is pretty good with younger players.”
Vigneault, 57, said he pretty much knew last September he was not going to coach in 2018-19. He went back home to Gatineau in Quebec.
“So I made the most of it,” he said. “Spent some time with my family. For the first time in 15 years, I was at home for Christmas and New Year’s. My parents are 85 and 86, so they were real excited about that. But come April, there’s no doubt I wanted to get back into coaching. I love to coach. I had a couple of teams ask the Rangers for permission to talk to me.”
The Flyers reportedly gave him a five-year, $25 million deal.
Fletcher traveled to Florida, where Vigneault has one of his homes, and they met Saturday at a restaurant in Aventura. “We had a great meeting and talked again Sunday, and finalized things Monday,” Vigneault said.
Vigneault, who said the cap space the team has available made the job more attractive, said he and Fletcher made a list of improvements the Flyers need to make in the offseason. Adding a No. 2 center seems high on the list.