Flyers

How much leash will Vigneault have from Fletcher?

Flyers

It takes a lot for a general manager to fire his handpicked head coach.

Ron Hextall, while as prudent as they come, didn't axe Dave Hakstol in 2017-18 when the Flyers lost 10 straight from Nov. 11 to Dec. 2. Hakstol was in his third season with the Flyers and missed the playoffs in Year 2. He went on to finish with his best season as the Flyers' head coach, a 98-point campaign that produced his second playoff berth.

As GM of the Wild from 2009 to 2018, Chuck Fletcher fired two head coaches in which he hired: Todd Richards and Mike Yeo.

The firing of Richards came in 2011 after two playoff-less seasons. Yeo, now an assistant coach with the Flyers, was let go midseason in 2016. He was 55 games into his fifth season guiding Minnesota and his club was mired in an eight-game losing streak.

An in-season boot is made with time, evaluation and clear-cut evidence, not inflammatory emotion.

Especially with a GM's first hire.

Which brings us to Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault, Fletcher's guy who was called upon for his pedigree and presence. Fletcher hired Vigneault in April 2019, the beginning of the GM's first offseason running the Flyers.

"Any time you get a chance to get a guy like Alain Vigneault, it's a real positive move," Fletcher said then.

The 60-year-old head coach has gone 1 for 2 behind the Flyers' bench. He was runner-up for the Jack Adams Award in 2019-20 but failed to make the playoffs in 2020-21, when his team allowed an NHL-worst 3.52 goals per game.

 

Year 3 under Vigneault is off to an 8-8-4 start in 20 games. The Flyers were better through 20 games in both 2019-20 (10-6-4) and 2020-21 (12-5-3).

The club has dropped six straight games (0-4-2), its worst losing streak in Vigneault's tenure.

After a proactive offseason from Fletcher, the Flyers have been stricken by injuries. They're currently without Ryan Ellis, Kevin Hayes, Derick Brassard, Nate Thompson and Patrick Brown. They opened the season without Hayes, Wade Allison, Tanner Laczynski and Samuel Morin. Ellis, Fletcher's biggest offseason move, has played only four games. Hayes, Fletcher's biggest move in his first offseason, has played only two games.

If anyone will sympathize with Vigneault's 8-8-4 record given the circumstances, it would be Fletcher. He constructed the team's revamped look and is dealing with the daily frustration of roster gymnastics because of the injuries.

What Vigneault and the Flyers have on their side is an 82-game regular season to work with for the first time in three years.

"I’ve been here two years and we haven’t had one of those," the head coach said in May.

Some of Vigneault's better teams endured slow starts.

But what the Flyers won't have on their side is outside patience. That's why, all along, the pressure was on for a positive start to this 2021-22 season. Vigneault pleaded for a normal season and he has it. Fletcher vowed to make changes and he made plenty. Thus far, 20 games into the season, the overall results have not improved.

Vigneault has publicly taken blame for the Flyers' woes.

He fell on the sword when asked about assistant coach Michel Therrien and the team's lackluster power play.

"I'm the one that decides to put which personnel on the ice, whether it be on the power play and penalty killing," Vigneault said Nov. 17. "So when it's not working, like right now our power play is struggling, it's not French Mike's fault, it's the big guy. I'm the big guy, I'm the guy in charge of it."

Over the weekend, he accepted responsibility for the losing streak.

"It’s a challenging time but everyone has to be better and that starts with me," Vigneault said Friday and then reiterated Saturday. "I've got to do a better job of making sure that guys perform to their level."

Vigneault is willing to absorb the heat. Will he eventually succumb to all of it?

 

Logic and history say Vigneault will at least get his shot to see this season through. It would be surprising if he doesn't. Things would have to totally derail.

But life behind an NHL bench can be backwards in a way. A head coach is in charge. Yet, the players actually dictate his fate.

"He's not a yeller and a screamer," Fletcher said about Vigneault in April 2019. "But he gets guys to buy in. If you can do that and they still have a smile on their face, you're a pretty good coach. That's what the top coaches do."

Now more than ever, Vigneault must find a way to do that — and prove he's still Fletcher's guy.

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