VOORHEES, N.J. — Alain Vigneault deemed it a "beautiful business."
This was back in January 2020. Vigneault was in his first season leading the Flyers and his club had just come home after knocking off the defending champion Blues in their own building with a thrilling overtime win.
Vigneault was discussing life as an NHL coach. While the Flyers were in solid shape, there had been a number of coaching changes around the league. Vigneault was not naive to the reality of the business — that it can be fickle and volatile, at times trumping its beauty.
"It's great," he said Jan. 16 of that year, in front of a horde of media members before the Flyers' game against the Canadiens. "You are surrounded by great people. And you know that when you get into it at some point, you are going to lose your job. That's just part of it. You've just got to go in there, do what you think is right and do it to your fullest. And that's what I am trying to do here."
Vigneault was not naive then and he's not naive now. He is experienced, having coached in four pressure-filled markets: Montreal, Vancouver, New York and now Philadelphia. The 60-year-old French Canadian can be jovial, but we've learned during his parts of three seasons with the Flyers, he's also a no bulls--t type of coach.
"He tells you how it is, he’s not going to sugarcoat anything," Kevin Hayes said in January 2020. "He lets you know when you’re playing well, he lets you know when you’re playing bad."
He will be honest with you — even to us constantly-inquisitive writers.
Right now, Vigneault is as real as ever. It sure sounds like he's not afraid to admit when the thermostat is turned up a few notches.
In Year 3 behind the Flyers' bench, on the heels of a disappointing season, Vigneault's team is on a seven-game skid, the longest losing streak of his tenure in Philadelphia. The Flyers are 0-5-2 in their slide and have been outscored 29-12. They're 8-9-4 overall and entered Saturday 28th in goals per game (2.38) and 30th in power play percentage (12.5).
On Friday, Vigneault mentioned how things can change quickly in the NHL, good or bad.
"I've got a couple of examples that come to my mind," Vigneault said Saturday when asked about past experiences. "I've been through this before, so I know. I can give you recently one that didn't happen to us. The Habs last year, they go to the Stanley Cup Final and a couple of days ago, they clean house. It changes quickly — one way or the other. I'm confident that it's going to change positively. And it has to because in this business — a success-, win-oriented business — you've got to win. Otherwise, stuff happens. We all know that."
Nobody needs a translator for "stuff happens." Vigneault essentially provided the definition by referring to the Canadiens, who a week ago fired their general manager Marc Bergevin and assistant general manager Trevor Timmins. Despite a coaching change and so-so regular season in 2020-21, Montreal made a run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Vigneault was not referring to his front office. In the broad sense, he was referring to the beautiful business that can turn ugly — and fast.
Four days ago, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher expressed belief in his coaches and roster. If the Flyers want to take solace in anything, it's that they have an 82-game runway for the first time in three years and they haven't had their full complement of players, most notably prized offseason addition Ryan Ellis.
Will the course turn for the Flyers? The upcoming week could play a pivotal role in defining the direction. After three days in between games, which included two spirited on-ice practices, the Flyers have five games in the next seven days. The stretch starts Sunday when the Flyers host the two-time defending champion Lightning (6 p.m. ET/NBCSP).
"We need to win a game here," Vigneault said Saturday. "This has been a challenging time for everyone. But now I need to find a way to win a game. And to win a game, our guys have got to play some solid hockey.
"There was a lot of planning that went on during our day off on how to work on different aspects. We did a lot of small area play where we need to make better plays with the puck. We also worked a little bit on some defensive aspects, a couple of tactical things. And today we looked at our power play. We had meetings before, talked about different things that we might see from Tampa tomorrow.
"Feel good about where we are but it doesn't matter how I feel. Our players have got to go out and play and I've got to make sure that myself and my staff, we get them ready to play the right way."
Vigneault has never been shy to challenge his big-money players. He's counting on them now.
"My message I think is one of we've got a good group. We, as an organization, believe in this group," Vigneault said Friday. "You can say all the words you want, you've got to prove it with some actions. If you look at the last game, called a timeout, we had a power play in the third period, called a timeout to put our top guys on, our top unit back on. We have faith in those guys. Those are the guys that are going to get us out of this.
"I've been around in this business long enough to know that things can change real quickly — one way or the other. I'm confident that it's going to change the other way."
The day before the game lights turn back on, Vigneault was forthright about what can happen in his profession when things go the wrong way. Perhaps the seasoned head coach is feeling the pressure. Or perhaps he's simply not hiding from it.
Time will tell how his Flyers face it.
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