Flyers

Flyers hire Alain Vigneault as 21st head coach in team history

Flyers hire Alain Vigneault as 21st head coach in team history

Chuck Fletcher has his guy.

A week after opening the process to identify the Flyers' next head coach, the general manager named his new leader: Alain Vigneault.

Vigneault was hired as the club's 21st head coach Monday, signing a multi-year contract. He has 1,216 games of NHL head coaching experience and was last with the Rangers from 2013-18. Vigneault won the Jack Adams Award in 2006-07 with the Canucks.

"We are extremely excited to have Alain join this franchise and lead our team behind the bench for many years to come," Fletcher said in a statement released by the team. "He brings a tremendous amount of success over an extended period of time that will prove valuable to our team to take the next steps in returning the winning culture to the Philadelphia Flyers organization."

The Flyers finished the 2018-19 season with a 37-37-8 record and 82 points, their fewest in a full season since 2006-07, when the team went a dreadful 22-48-12 for 56 points. The Flyers fired Dave Hakstol on Dec. 17 after a 12-15-4 start and finished under interim head coach Scott Gordon, who went 25-22-4 behind the bench.

Vigneault's job won't be easy as frustration has built with the Flyers' lack of playoff success over the last seven seasons. The team hasn't made the postseason in consecutive years since 2010-12, when it last won a series.

"It is an honor to be selected as the next head coach of the Flyers," Vigneault said in a statement released by the team. "The history they have established and the passionate fan base has made this a first-class franchise. I am excited to work with Chuck, the talented group of players, and the prospects coming up through the system in order to return Philadelphia to the top of the NHL landscape."

The Flyers were quick in hiring Vigneault. They had to be because there truly is no offseason and other clubs were in search of head coaches, as well. The Panthers didn't wait at all in hiring Joel Quenneville just one day after the conclusion of the regular season.

With Vigneault, the Flyers get a lot of experience. The 57-year-old has coached two teams to the Stanley Cup Final — the Canucks in 2011 and the Rangers in 2014. His résumé includes three seasons of 50-plus wins and eight with 100-plus points. The Flyers have won 50 or more games in a season five times, with the 1985-86 team the last to do it. They haven't accumulated 100 or more points in a season since 2011-12 (see more in 5 takeaways).

Gordon had an uphill climb to win the job. A GM coming from outside of the organization typically puts his stamp on a team by hiring his guy for the head coaching position.

Summoned from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, Gordon had the Flyers in the playoff race with an 18-4-2 stretch from Jan. 14 to March 11. However, the team ran out of gas and reverted back to bad habits over a 3-10-0 finish.

The statuses of Gordon and assistant coaches Kris Knoblauch (power play), Ian Laperriere (penalty kill), Rick Wilson (defensemen) and Kim Dillabaugh (goalies) are unclear. On a conference call Monday night, Fletcher said no decisions have been made yet regarding the assistant coaches. He also said the Phantoms head coaching job was Gordon's if he wants it, but advised Gordon to take some time on his decision for 2019-20.

"The way I operate is I usually work with the head coach on naming the assistant coaching staff," Fletcher said last Monday. "I take a lot of direction from the head coach and just make sure we're sort of in agreement on them. Once we get the head coach, we'll work quickly on that."

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If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

Chuck Fletcher was brought in because things weren't going well enough and quickly enough for the Flyers.

The predicament he inherited required eventual change.

After all, sitting alongside team president Paul Holmgren back in November, Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said the Flyers were eyeing a general manager with a "bias for action," among other qualities.

With time and evaluation, Fletcher has begun providing the desired action.

A new head coach is on board, bringing extensive experience and outside perspective, while two new assistants with strong pedigrees have been hired.

But perhaps the most influential part in shifting the Flyers' course has remained mostly intact: the roster. That could drastically change this upcoming offseason with free agency and potential trades. However, Fletcher, facing his first offseason as the Flyers' GM, doesn't see an exodus needed with the current roster — or at least not yet.

"The Flyers are a great opportunity. You guys are in this market, for me coming in from the outside, I know when Paul Holmgren approached me about being the general manager of the Flyers, I'm like, 'Wow.' This is a premium job in the National Hockey League and we're set up where we should have an opportunity to get better quickly," Fletcher said April 18. "I know we need more good players, but we have a lot of good players. It's not like you have to gut this thing — we have cap space, we have picks. We have really good staff, really good staff. On the scouting and management side, I've added one person, I haven't subtracted anything. There's a good group here and we have the ability to get better quickly if we all do our job."

Therein lies a poignant and undeniable pressure on Fletcher in Year 1 with the Flyers under Alain Vigneault's watch.

Aside from Wayne Simmonds, who became an inevitable piece to move given the circumstances, the Flyers' core has survived. So, too, has the overall makeup of the roster.

Fletcher, Vigneault and the Flyers believe this team can win with a refined system and different guidance. They don't exactly see a team that has missed the playoffs every other season since 2012-13, a stretch consisting of three first-round exits.

Will Fletcher add this summer? Of course — the ability to do so is one of the reasons why Vigneault found the Flyers as an attractive destination. When Fletcher was hiring Vigneault, the two established a list of areas in which the Flyers can improve.

"We're looking at some options and if we can put the right things in place," Vigneault said at his introduction, "it's going to be a lot of fun."

Significant subtraction was not featured on the list.

"There's some solid youth with a lot of upside here that is coming into its own," Vigneault said. "There's great goaltending, being one of those youth pieces. There's a solid core group that, in my mind, needs the right direction. And you've got the combination, also, of some solid veteran players that have been in the league a few years, that can still contribute at a high level in this league. … After discussing it with a lot of people that I respect their opinion in the NHL, I feel that the Flyers are a very good team that with the proper direction, proper mindset, proper culture and people working together, will be a very good team in the near future."

That's why Year 1 will be so telling.

Vigneault is a coach with a tremendous track record of winning during his first season on the job. He did so at three separate stops (see story). Michel Therrien has 38 postseason victories under his belt as a head coach and took a team to the Stanley Cup Final. Mike Yeo owns three playoff series victories as a head coach and has a ring as an assistant.

If this group can't produce the results with the Flyers' roster, Fletcher will have to take a longer, much more serious look at the players in place and make his hardest decisions yet.

At that point, it may be the only action left.

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

There has been a ton of drama only three games into the Western Conference Final between the Sharks and Blues.

Game 3 was won by the Sharks, 5-4, in overtime, but not without controversy. San Jose may have gotten away with a hand pass on the game-winning goal.

The series will shift one way or the other Friday night with Game 4.

Below is the schedule for Day 37 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC. 

San Jose Sharks at St. Louis Blues (SJS 2-1)
Game 4, Western Conference Final
8 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here