Joel Quenneville

Why Flyers did just fine with Alain Vigneault, not Joel Quenneville

Why Flyers did just fine with Alain Vigneault, not Joel Quenneville

It's uncertain how hard the Flyers went after Joel Quenneville or if the team was even in on the three-time Stanley Cup champion at all.

On the day Quenneville took the Panthers' head coaching job, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher appeared unflappable when asked about his level of disappointment with the news.

"I'm happy for Joel," Fletcher said April 8. "We're less than 48 hours since the end of our season and the process of identifying the next head coach of the Flyers will start today. We'll start the process.

"He's not available. I'm not going to speculate on names or people that may be available or were available or were available in past years. It's a big decision for the Flyers."

Backup plan or not, Fletcher didn't do too shabby with his big decision, tabbing Alain Vigneault as the Flyers' new head coach. 

Maybe there's some short-term memory with the outside perception of the hire. When you see Vigneault's name, many think of his final days with the Rangers. After four winning seasons, New York fired Vigneault last April as the team was ready for a fresh approach following a 25-point drop-off.

Well, the same happened with Quenneville. While he experienced a much longer and more fruitful run of success in Chicago, the situation eventually grew sour to the point in which new direction was wanted. Quenneville was fired 15 games into this season after his worst year with the Blackhawks in 2017-18.

Vigneault is not Quenneville. But he's no slouch, either.

The Flyers needed a coach with experience and got one.

Vigneault has led three teams to the Presidents' Trophy and two to the Stanley Cup Final. In 16 seasons as an NHL head coach, 11 have featured playoff berths, with eight of those teams advancing past the first round (see 5 takeaways).

He owns three 50-win seasons and eight 100-point seasons. The Flyers haven't won 50 or more games in a season since 1985-86 and haven't amassed 100 or more points in a season since 2011-12, when they last won a playoff series (see story).

"I think his track record speaks for itself," Fletcher said Monday. "He's had success at the junior level, had success in the minor leagues, and he's had success in the NHL. You can't have success at all those levels unless you're good at developing players and good at connecting with veteran players. He's a guy that gets his teams to play hard and gets his players to buy in."

And for Fletcher, what likely made Vigneault such an attractive candidate is the head coach's track record in Year 1 on the job. At Vigneault's previous three stops (Canadiens, Canucks, Rangers), each of his first seasons resulted in playoff bids and at least one series win. Overall, his combined record in those seasons was 131-89-26 with a .585 points percentage.

"Right now, it's about trying to continue to build our group and become as competitive as quickly as we can," Fletcher said.

Quenneville was clearly set on South Florida.

It's also clear why that didn't break the Flyers' hearts.

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Why Scott Gordon might pull off winning Flyers' head coaching job

Why Scott Gordon might pull off winning Flyers' head coaching job

VOORHEES, N.J. — It seemed improbable at first.

Scott Gordon had only two-plus years of NHL head coaching experience with not the shiniest of résumés at this level. He went 64-94-23 with the Islanders from 2008-10 and was called to take over a Flyers team in an utter mess.

A general manager from outside the organization had been on the job for two weeks, while a three-time Stanley Cup-winning head coach was on the minds of everyone as the hottest available candidate for any impending vacancy in the league.

Chuck Fletcher, the Flyers' new GM, had to go off of what he knew and was hearing when he summoned Gordon from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley to become the interim head coach following the firing of Dave Hakstol.

"People I respect rave about his character, his preparation, his intellect," Fletcher said about Gordon on Dec. 17.

"At this point, everybody's a candidate going forward."

Here we are on April 8 and Gordon is still standing, a "strong candidate" for the Flyers' future head coaching job, according to Fletcher Monday at his end-of-the-season press conference. Joel Quenneville, that aforementioned three-time Stanley Cup champ, was in sunny Florida holding up a Panthers jersey as their new leader.

While the Flyers' process began Monday, Gordon is going to be utilized by Fletcher for insight on how the team can plan and improve in all facets ahead of 2019-20.

"I'd like to sit down with Scott and I will talk about the future, the makeup of the team and what he feels we need," Fletcher said. "There are certain things I think we need to do starting in training camp next year to make us more competitive. Making sure we share the same vision. That's something that will be part of the process like it would be with any coaching interview."

Gordon might actually win this thing and why not?

One of his biggest strengths and selling points is his communication. People skills can go a long way in coaching, especially when developing younger players. If the Flyers want to leap back into contention next season, they need bigger strides and consistency from their youngsters.

Gordon produced growth across the board with the Flyers' youth. Throughout the season, he worked with players 1-on-1 to break down film. He would listen to them and they would listen to him. He was listening again in exit interviews.

"Through the player meetings, I talked to the players and asked them, 'OK, what did you like that we did, that we changed — meetings, practice, systems, video length?'" Gordon said Monday. "And it was refreshing to hear the players say that they did have appreciation, particularly the younger guys, to sit down and go through their shifts or go through things, tendencies they had in their game that were either good, bad or indifferent.

"It was nice to hear that because sometimes you think you're doing it and it's in one ear and out the other. They look at you as you're coming down the hall and you say, 'Hey, let's go sit down and watch some video,' and in the back of your mind, you're saying to yourself, 'Is this guy saying not again?' So the fact that they offered up that information, saying that they had value in it, just makes you want to continue to do it."

Nolan Patrick was an example.

"He showed me things that not many coaches have showed me," the 20-year-old center said Sunday. "Even things on the offensive side of things. It was pretty impressive to see the stuff that he was showing me. It helped a lot. He's a smart mind.

"He was great from right when he got here. He helped me a lot with video and stuff I haven't been shown in a while. It was awesome having him here. He changed a lot with our systems. For the most part, I think they worked very well."

Jakub Voracek spoke highly of Gordon on Sunday. He said the coach gave the Flyers "new life" and "new ideas" with a "tremendous amount of respect for the players."

The Flyers were in last place of the 31-team NHL standings more than halfway through the season. Buoyed by an 18-4-2 stretch from Jan. 14 to March 11, the Flyers crept to within three points of a playoff spot before running out of gas.

"The most important thing other than their words is how they played for Scott," Fletcher said. "Their actions spoke loud that they played well for him."

Gordon will now prepare for next season, helping Fletcher and the Flyers over the upcoming weeks. He said his situation isn't awkward as he continues his extended interview with the club. 

As Quenneville smiled for the cameras Monday, Gordon reflected.

"I had a great time with the group of players here," he said. "What I liked about it is when I was up front, when I did call them out, when I was hard, when I challenged them, I got a response from them. To be able to do that, particularly in this day and age, and not have the players resent you, that to me is the important part."

Maybe Fletcher had his guy before he ever knew it.

We'll find out soon.

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5 takeaways from Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher's 2018-19 end-of-season press conference

5 takeaways from Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher's 2018-19 end-of-season press conference

VOORHEES, N.J. — Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher spoke for 35 minutes Monday morning addressing the coaching search, his pursuit of free agents and the continuous problems plaguing the Flyers.

Here are five takeaways from his press conference: 

Coaching search starts today

Fletcher was asked if he was disappointed that Joel Quenneville chose the Florida Panthers, but only responded by saying, “I'm happy for Joel.” There’s been speculation surrounding Quenneville and the Panthers for several months, so I believe Fletcher knew the Flyers were never really on Quenneville’s radar.

“I’m not going to speculate on names or people who may be available or were available or available in past years. It’s a big decision for the Flyers,” Fletcher said. “Obviously, I’m going to take the time to get it right.”

Fletcher said the process of finding the team’s next head coach started Monday, a list that includes interim head coach Scott Gordon.

“I had a conversation with Scott this morning, who remains a strong candidate,” Fletcher said. “Talked to him about what I’m going to do. My plan is start my due diligence and reach out to some people and also spend some time with Scott. Hopefully at the right time, name the right person."

'OK, not elite free-agent market'

Fletcher will be looking to add a second-line center, a top-four defenseman and a backup goalie. Those will be the priorities heading into the offseason. How he acquires those players will be the interesting element to this offseason, whether it’s through trades or free-agent signings. The Flyers' general manager also labeled this year’s free-agent crop as “OK, not elite.”   

Right now, the biggest potential UFAs are defensemen Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers and Anton Stralman, and forwards Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, Jeff Skinner and Kevin Hayes.

“We’re going to be active in trying to improve our team,” Fletcher said. “How that translates this summer, we’ll find out. You can’t control the marketplace, you can’t control the trade market."

In nearly 10 years as an NHL GM, Fletcher has never extended an offer sheet to a restricted free agent and I don’t see him traveling that path this summer, even with some high-end RFAs (Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Brock Boeser, Zach Werenski, Patrik Laine) looking for that next contract.

Fletcher very critical of team's bad habits

I considered this a reflection against the previous regime, especially head coach Dave Hakstol and how the Flyers haven’t been ready at the start of games (falling behind 2-0 in 32 games) and even slow starts to each season.

“We have some bad habits right now, flying into the zone before we have possession of the puck, not getting in shooting lanes, not keeping the third guy high, turning pucks over in the neutral zone when there’s no time and space to make a play, and just recognizing things,” Fletcher said. “It’s mindset, but you need the mindset to embrace the habits.

“It’s about making sure going into camp next year, we have to change some details, change our mindset and have a good start. A lot of reasons we fall behind in games is because we give up easy goals. It’s not about effort. It’s about thinking, about working smart and playing better.” 

Don't have players in Lehigh Valley who can challenge for jobs now

When asked directly whether some of the current Phantoms can challenge for full-time positions with the Flyers next season, Fletcher redirected his answer toward the need for outside help. 

“Obviously, somebody can come in and make the team, but they’re going to have to earn it,” Fletcher said. “We’re not looking just to put players on the team. I hope we’re a little deeper up front and on the blue line and it will be a little tougher to make the team. That would be ideal.”

A lack of forward depth at the AHL level is one reason why Fletcher re-signed Michael Raffl as there really isn’t a player ready to step up and fill that role.

No surgeries and likely no buyouts

Outside of goaltending, the Flyers were relatively healthy this season with the majority of players dealing with minor issues throughout the course of the season. The Flyers don’t anticipate any offseason surgeries, but they should know definitively after some follow-up exams. 

Fletcher also added he’s "not a big fan of buyouts." In buying out contracts, teams stretch out the cap hit over future seasons and that’s not an ideal situation for the Flyers' GM. Defenseman Andrew MacDonald would appear to be the likely candidate with one season at a $5 million cap hit. 

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