Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Taryn Hatcher and Jordan Hall.
The topic: When analyzing the Flyers' 2019-20 turnaround, which has made the biggest impact — the new staff, roster additions or both?
One of the biggest impacts of this turnaround is the significant amount of depth throughout the roster. When evaluating general manager Chuck Fletcher’s job in his first offseason with the Flyers, he knew exactly what this team needed from top to bottom.
He did not need to go out and get a huge sniper or the top names to hit the market. Instead, he found depth down the center with Kevin Hayes, a solid addition to the bottom six in Tyler Pitlick and balanced out the blue line with Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen.
There was already talent on this team but now it had the opportunity to flourish. From core veterans to the young talent with another year under its belt to a legitimate goaltender … Fletcher was simply able to add those few extra puzzle pieces to complete the picture.
And boy has it worked out beautifully.
The staff has made the biggest impact this season and helped most with the turnaround.
When Alain Vigneault was announced as head coach of the Flyers in April 2019, you had a feeling the orange and black were in good hands if you just glanced at his résumé: four years in Montreal, seven years in Vancouver where he won the Jack Adams Award in his first season and five years with the Rangers.
It was clear he had the experience needed to lead this team.
How many times do you see an NHL team full of former NHL head coaches behind its bench, though? After Vigneault’s hiring, the Flyers added two assistants in Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo to join in forces with Ian Laperriere, Kim Dillabaugh and Adam Patterson.
Therrien and Yeo have 20 years of coaching experience between them. With Vigneault, the three have 37 years of experience. That’s hard to come by.
The way these three have been able to execute in their roles, Therrien on the forwards and power play, Yeo on penalty kill and defensemen and Vigneualt leading the charge of it all, it was an advantage from the start.
The improvements from 2018-19 to 2019-20 in the numbers:
• Power play — 17.1 percent (23rd in NHL) to 20.8 percent (14th in NHL)
• Penalty kill — 78.5 percent (26th in NHL) to 81.8 percent (11th in NHL)
• Goals per game — 2.94 (18th in NHL) to 3.29 (seventh in NHL)
• Goals against per game — 3.41 (third most in NHL) to 2.77 (tied for seventh fewest in NHL)
• Goal differential — minus-37 to plus-36
While I have seen the staff make the biggest impact, of course you have to give credit to the offseason moves, as well. Without guys like Hayes and Niskanen, it’d be hard to believe the Flyers would be where they are at this point of the season.
When you look at the staff and the offseason moves, though, I think all the credit should go to Fletcher.
There’s no doubt here the turnaround is a combination of the pieces Fletcher brought in during the offseason and the leadership of Vigneault’s staff.
Fletcher said during a midseason interview that we conducted in January, guys like Hayes, Niskanen and Braun have lived up to exactly what he’d hope they’d be for this team. And Pitlick has had an impact beyond what he expected.
But, Vigneault has overhauled that dressing room in an entirely different way. He and his staff have established a sense of accountability through the ranks, from rookies to veterans, that sets a high standard for every player. It’s challenged players to be their best, and in recent weeks and months we’ve seen exactly that from guys like Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk (while he was heathly), as well as young guys like Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
In just one year, the Flyers went from a bottom-tier club to a top-tier club. Last season, they finished 22nd in the NHL with 82 points. This season, they're currently sixth in the league with 89 points and still have 13 games left on their regular-season schedule.
You don't make that kind of jump in one season without big-time coaching. The decisions to bring on Vigneault, Therrien and Yeo — a combined 2,581 games of head coaching experience — have ultimately driven the Flyers to another level.
During the offseason, Fletcher did an excellent job improving the roster in the areas of need. The acquisitions of Hayes, Niskanen, Braun and Pitlick were all difference-making moves. But, in many ways, the Flyers still had the same core, same foundation.
It looks like everyone still had a lot left as the coaching has gotten the best out of this group.
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