Flyers

Flyers

Bob Clarke didn't know Alain Vigneault personally before the bench boss arrived to Philadelphia.

He was cognizant of the head coach's previous stops, but that was the extent of his Vigneault knowledge.

"When he was working for other teams, I wasn’t paying attention to what he did," Clarke said. "I know he had lots of success."

Vigneault, a Jack Adams Award winner with two Stanley Cup Final appearances, meet Clarke, winner of two Cups, a Hall of Famer and the all-time greatest Flyer.

Oh to be a fly on the wall for those conversations.

Clarke, now a senior advisor for the Flyers, is not one to pump up his own value or insight. His interactions with Vigneault don't involve much earnestness or strategy.

He has watched the work of Vigneault and assistant coaches Michel Therrien, Mike Yeo, Ian Laperriere and Kim Dillabaugh.

“They don’t need me," Clarke said Friday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "They’re really good, I get to sit down and bulls--t with them and talk hockey and stuff, ask questions. Not for any of their pleasure, but for mine. I’m lucky that I’m able to do that, I really enjoy it. But I’m not pretending that I’m any benefit to them.”

Amid the NHL's suspension of the 2019-20 regular season because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Flyers are sixth in the NHL at 41-21-7 and 89 points through 69 games, a point behind the first-place Capitals. Last season, the Flyers went 37-37-8 with 82 points, their fewest in a full season since 2006-07.

 

To begin his first offseason as Flyers general manager, Chuck Fletcher brought in Vigneault. Together, they hired Therrien and Yeo. The GM then got to work on the roster with the summer acquisitions of Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun and Tyler Pitlick, while adding Derek Grant and Nate Thompson at the Feb. 24 trade deadline.

Clarke, a mentor of Fletcher's, has been impressed by more than just his protégé's moves.

He’s done an incredible job. Equally as important, he’s included everybody in being part of the team. He talks to everybody and he asks questions and he listens. He’s the man making the decisions, but he allows everybody to express their own opinions, all those kind of things, and he listens.

In the end, the decisions he has made have been terrific. They’ve obviously strengthened [the team]. It’s gone from a club that would have struggled to make the playoffs to a team that’s fighting for top place — because of his additions, his biggest of course being Vigneault.

The 58-year-old head coach has incorporated a system that has cleaned up the Flyers' defensive issues while simultaneously making them the aggressor. The Flyers have a Metropolitan Division-best plus-36 goal differential, are allowing an NHL-low 28.7 shots per game and surrender 2.77 goals per game, down from 3.41 in 2018-19.

A byproduct of Vigneault's stylistic preference is a balanced group — not overly reliant on one or two players.

"I think he and his whole staff have done just an incredible job with making this into a team — and the players have benefitted," Clarke said.

"[Sean] Couturier has gotten better, [Ivan] Provorov, everybody has gotten better. [Jakub] Voracek, a top-end player, is a better player now than he was last year when he scored more points. I think [Claude] Giroux plays both ends of the rink now terrifically. He may not score as much, but I think he’s a better all-around player.

"It’s fun watching those guys, all these guys, getting better. The young players are developing. We’re in a position that we could be a good team for a long time.”

(Zack Hill, Philadelphia Flyers/USA Today Images)

Clarke, in his 48th season as a member of the organization, downplays his impact on the Flyers.

Much of that has to do with his faith in Fletcher's guidance of the team.

 

"I don’t think I’m a resource," Clarke said. "I talk with Chuck a lot and we talk hockey and everything else, but he’s been a general manager for a long time. I’m allowed to express my opinions and stuff like that, but I would never want to do anything to overstep my boundaries. 

"Everybody tries to win but they use different methods. Chuck’s method is one that includes everybody. He talks with everybody and he listens to everybody. He has to make his own decisions, he’s held responsible for the decisions he’s made, but he should also be given credit for the decisions, the coaching staff, the additions he’s made to our club on defense and then up front, at the trade deadline."

During the NHL's hiatus, the Flyers own a 99.7 percent chance to make the postseason and 30.5 percent chance to win the division, according to Hockey-Reference.com.

If/when the Stanley Cup Playoffs are held and if the Flyers earn a berth, could they go on a run?

“That’ll depend on the coaches and the players, that’s not for me to make any predictions," Clarke said. "But I don’t think we’re a team that anybody looks forward to playing against. [In the playoffs], if you’ve got to find somebody to play against, I don’t think that we’re the first choice anymore. We might’ve been at one time, but now I don’t think teams want to play us.”

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