The Flyers’ Alain Vigneault, who is in his first season with the team, has gotten considerable praise and should get lots of coach-of-the-year votes.
Vigneault had the Flyers on a 106-point pace — 24 more points than last year, when they finished with 82 — before the season was suspended March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The players, of course, are the ones who have made it happen, but Vigneault has made all the right moves. Ditto GM Chuck Fletcher, whose work hasn’t gotten the national attention it has merited.
From here, Fletcher deserves executive-of-the-year consideration, as I mentioned on SiriusXM’s NHL show on Monday afternoon. Fletcher has made numerous great decisions since last season ended, including the hiring of Vigneault.
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Fletcher’s moves have turned to gold this season, helping the Flyers become Stanley Cup contenders if the playoffs are held.
When the season was stopped, they were 41-21-7 and just one point behind first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division. With Fletcher’s guidance, the Flyers have a great balance of young, blossoming players and proven veterans.
Here’s a look back at the general manager’s moves since June:
* Traded a fifth-round pick in 2019 for the rights to center Kevin Hayes.
* Signed Hayes to a seven-year contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $7.14 million. At the time, Fletcher knew Nolan Patrick was dealing with migraines, but he had no idea he would be sidelined and for how long. As it turned out, Patrick has missed the whole season, making the Hayes signing even more important.
Hayes (23 goals in 69 games) was on pace to break his career high in goals scored and had become a key member of the revived penalty kill. He had also become a leader in the locker room and on the ice.
* Traded Radko Gudas to Washington for Matt Niskanen, who became one of the Flyers’ best and most physical defensemen. Niskanen (plus-15) stabilized his defensive partner, Ivan Provorov, on the Flyers’ top pairing. The 33-year-old veteran chipped in with 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) and was a great addition on special teams.
* Traded a second-rounder in 2019 and a third-rounder in 2020 to San Jose for veteran defenseman Justin Braun. Full-disclosure: I didn’t like this trade when it was made because (A) I thought the Flyers gave up way too much, (B) it would prevent Samuel Morin from getting playing time, and (C) Braun could become a one-year rental because his contract expires after 2019-20.
But as it turned out, Braun, after struggling earlier in the season, has been a key player — he is tied with Niskanen with 84 blocked shots, trailing only Provorov on the Flyers — and Morin suffered a season-ending knee injury, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament for the second time in 18 months.
* Re-signed goalie Brian Elliott, who bounced back from two injury-plagued seasons, and got long-term deals done with Travis Konecny and Provorov, two of the team’s cornerstones.
* Traded Ryan Hartman to Dallas for Tyler Pitlick. Pitlick became a grinder who supplied energy and feistiness — his 132 hits are second on the Flyers, behind only Robert Hagg’s 136 — and scored some important goals. He had been promoted to the third line when the season was stopped. (By the way, Hartman had been acquired by Fletcher for Wayne Simmonds.)
* Acquired Derek Grant and Nate Thompson in separate deals at the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
Grant became the third-line center and Thompson was the fourth-line center. Both helped the Flyers extend their winning streak to nine games and gave the Flyers size, experience, and professionalism. Grant (6-3, 206) was acquired from Anaheim for a fourth-round pick and minor-league forward Kyle Criscuolo, a South Jersey product. They got the hard-nosed Thompson (6-1, 207) from Montreal for a fifth-rounder.
The last two trades were the kind of deals that would help the Flyers make a late-season run for the Metro title and give them experience in the playoffs.
Now we wait, hoping the regular season — or at least the playoffs — return at some point in the upcoming months.
Props to NBC Sports Philadelphia for giving Flyers fans a much-needed diversion by showing, among other things, classic games from the past.
In 2010, I covered the famous Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Flyers and host Boston, and it was one of the most amazing live events I have witnessed in the 40-plus years I’ve been writing about sports.
We all remember how the Flyers overcame a 3-0 deficit in Game 7 to win the series, which they had trailed, three games to none. We remember gimpy Simon Gagne, sidelined earlier in the series with a broken bone in his right foot, scoring the late game-winner after a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty against Boston. We remember fiery coach Peter Laviolette’s famous timeout, called after his team fell into a 3-0 hole, that helped get the Flyers back on track.
But if you’re like me, you may have forgotten how Chris Pronger played 31-plus minutes in Game 7, how defensive specialist Blair Betts was on the ice for most of the last several minutes, how 22-year-old Claude Giroux asserted himself and started to show he would become a star, how rookie James van Riemsdyk had such a monster game, and how goalie Michael Leighton was superb after the Flyers fell into a 3-0 hole.
Those developments were eye-opening when watching the replay of that 2010 thriller Sunday night.
Thanks, NBC Sports Philadelphia. As I said, we all needed the diversion.
May 10: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the cancellation or postponement of all events with 50 or more people until this date. We shall see if this date is extended.
June 26-27: Scheduled NHL draft in Montreal.
In a Twitter poll, I nominated four players — Sean Couturier, Konecny Carter Hart, and Ivan Provorov — for the team’s MVP award. Rick Reisch asked: What about Hayesy for what he has done for the team? They have a different personality since he is there and he has probably had the biggest influence on their turnaround?
(@reischy46) via Twitter
Answer: Thanks for the question, Rick, and you make a very good point. I strongly considered Hayes because of the points you made and because he was probably going to surpass his career high of 25 goals.
In the end, I thought the other four had done a little more, but I certainly understand your point. Hayes has made a huge impact, no question. That’s been the great part about this season. This is a very unselfish team and you could probably argue that five or six players deserve MVP consideration.
By the way, Couturier won the poll with 44% of the vote, followed by Konecny (29%), Hart (18%), and Provorov (9%).