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Comparing Alain Vigneault to the NHL’s other first-year coaches | On the Fly

Of the seven coaches hired last season, Vigneault's Flyers had the biggest improvement. We'll find out Wednesday if it's enough to win his second NHL coach of the year award.

Head coach Alain Vigneault has things looking up for the Flyers.
Head coach Alain Vigneault has things looking up for the Flyers.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Four teams are left standing, including two that changed coaches midseason. Alain Vigneault, hired before the season, could have made it three new coaches in the conference finals, but the Flyers lost to the (pause) … well, no sense going over the Game 7 disaster again.

Vigneault’s was one of seven coaching changes made before the season. There were eight others made in-season. That’s 15 of 31 jobs, officially 16 if you throw in the Blues’ taking the interim tag off Craig Berube right after they won the Cup in 2019. With that kind of job insecurity, no wonder Vigneault is so fond of martinis.

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Vigneault and the other six coaches hired before the season

Vigneault will find out Wednesday if he is the NHL’s coach of the year. He’d much rather be preparing for Game 2 against Tampa Bay, but he’s put things in the right direction in his first season here.

Vigneault was the coach of the year in 2007 after his first season in Vancouver, and he’s been a finalist thee other times.

John Tortorella figures to be his stiffest competition for having a Columbus team wrecked by injuries in position for the original final playoff spot when regular-season play was halted. Hate his arrogance all you want, but the guy can coach.

Boston’s Bruce Cassidy is the other finalist.

Vigneault was the second coach hired after the 2018-19 regular season, picked up a week after Florida brought on three-time Cup winner Joel Quenneville. Here’s a look at the seven coaches hired last offseason and how they fared.

Would have made original postseason

Vigneault, Flyers: Finished one point back in the Metropolitan Division and then won three round-robin games to claim the conference’s No. 1 seed. Took the Islanders to Game 7 of the conference semifinals despite being outplayed for most of the series.

Dave Tippett, Edmonton: Turned the badly underachieving Oilers into contenders with a second-place finish in the Pacific. Edmonton then face-planted with a loss to 12th-seeded Chicago in the qualifying round. Flyers fans think they’re disappointed? Imagine if the Stanley Cup playoffs were still going on at the Wells Fargo Center and your team wasn’t playing.

Made expanded postseason

Quenneville, Florida: Improved marginally, and got a break when the playoffs were expanded from 16 teams to 24. Was hired by general manager Dale Tallon, who was fired shortly after the Panthers were eliminated in August. Oddly, it was Tallon who hired Quenneville in Chicago in 2008 only to be fired a year later when he fumbled qualifying offers to restricted free agents. Quenneville then led the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups.

Missed playoffs

Dallas Eakins, Anaheim: The Ducks, who two years ago posted their fifth consecutive 100-point season, are rebuilding. The premature end of the AHL 2019-20 season, and the jeopardy of the 2020-21 minor-league season is not helping.

Ralph Krueger, Buffalo: Started 8-1-1 before reality crept in and the Sabres finished 13th in a season in which the top 12 teams in the conference qualified for the postseason. The knives came out in June when the general manager and nearly two dozen others from the organization were fired. Krueger and his staff were spared. It’s a little hot in Buffalo these days, and it has nothing to do with the spicy wings.

Todd McLellan, Los Angeles: Finished in seventh place in the Pacific, but had won seven in a row before the regular season was halted. Three of the Kings’ four leading scorers are older than 30.

D.J. Smith, Ottawa: Finished 30th of the 31 NHL teams but laid the foundation for greater improvement. Smith said after the season his club outworked opponents in 68 of its 71 games. Perhaps. The Senators’ 12 losses in overtime/shootouts were the second most in the league.

Ranks a lot

The seven coaches above ranked by how much they improved their clubs’ points percentage in their first season:

1, Vigneault, Flyers: From .500 last season to .645 this season — +.145

2. Tippett, Edmonton: From .482 to .585 — +.103

3. Smith, Ottawa: From .390 to .437 — +.047

4. Quenneville, Florida: From .524 to .565 — +.041

5. Krueger, Buffalo: From .463 to .493 — +.030

6. McLellan, Los Angeles: From .433 to .457 — +.024

7. Eakins, Anaheim: From .488 to .472 — -.016

Things to know

Important dates

Conference Finals/At Edmonton

Tuesday, Game 2: Dallas at Vegas, 8 p.m. (NBCSN)

Wednesday, Game 2: N.Y. Islanders at Tampa Bay, 8 p.m. (NBCSN)

Thursday, Game 3: Vegas at Dallas, 8 p.m. (NBCSN)

Friday, Game 3: Tampa Bay at N.Y. Islanders, 8 p.m. (NBCSN)

Saturday, Game 4: Vegas at Dallas, 8 p.m. (NBC)

Sunday, Game 4: Tampa Bay at N.Y. Islanders, 3 p.m. (NBC)

Monday, Game 5: Dallas at Vegas, 8 p.m. (NBCSN), if necessary

Note: All games in Edmonton. Home teams listed above for purposes of last line change following a stoppage of play.


(Finalists in parentheses)

Wednesday: Jack Adams/coach of the year (Bruce Cassidy, Bos.; John Tortorella, CBJ; Alain Vigneault, Flyers)

Thursday: Selke/top defensive forward (Patrice Bergeron, Bos. Sean Couturier, Flyers; Ryan O’Reilly, StL)

Friday: Lady Byng/sportsmanship (Nathan MacKinnon, Col.; Auston Matthews, Tor.; Ryan O’Reilly, StL)

Saturday: General manager of the year (finalists TBA)

Sunday: Mark Messier/leadership (no finalists)

Note: Remaining awards (MVP, top rookie, top goalie, top defenseman) will be announced some time during the Stanley Cup Finals.

Readers sound off

Aside for a couple good periods, they were badly outplayed most of the 7 games. And stop with the health of Oskar and Patrick. We’re out because big ticket guys were no match for NY’s speed, grit, tenacity. And Tampa’s in the final four without Stamkos.

— @Multiplanetary2

Team speed is not in the Flyers vocabulary and hasn’t since the team was born.

— @KTrebor1065

Some of the players did gain valuable experience, but G and Voracek will also be 1 year older next year, and they are clearly over the hump in their careers and on the downslope. To me, the “experience” also exposed Sanheim, Hagg and Provorov as being less than advertised.

Pig Pyle responding to a column by Marcus Hayes