By now, we are all familiar with the signing of Alain Vigneault as the 21st head coach in Philadelphia Flyers history. Some rejoiced, others groveled after the signing. One thing is evident, AV knows how to win.
According to hockeyreference.com, Vigneault’s point percentage ranks 10th among active coaches. He’s been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice in 16 years of coaching and has only missed the playoffs 5 times in his career.
So why are people complaining about the hire?
The low-hanging fruit seems to be that AV has a desire to play a very veteran-heavy roster, typically at the expense of younger, more-talented individuals. Here’s why that isn’t necessarily a great argument to make against hiring Vigneault at the head coach of the orange and black.
In his time with the Vancouver Canucks, Vigneault typically had an older roster. His first year as their head coach was the only year where his team’s average age was below the league average. His team’s average age matched the league average twice but was typically around a full year older than the league average.
So what does that mean?
It means that Vigneault wasn’t given a plethora of chances to play these young kids that have been slighted in the minds of many of the Flyers fans. When he was given the chance, he did play some young players and gave them a pretty solid chance at making an impact in the NHL.
Lukas Krajicek, Ryan Kessler, Alex Edler, Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Cody Hodgson, and Zack Kassian all played over 80% of games during a season in which they were 24 years or younger. Hodgson was 21, Edler and Kassian were 22, Krajicek and Kessler were 23, and Raymond and Hansen were 24.
The leading scorer was always one of the Sedin twins, but as a 24-year-old, Mason Raymond finished 6th on the team in scoring during the 2009-10 season, while Ryan Kessler was the third leading scorer, and only one year senior to Kessler.
Alex Edler was consistently in the top 2 of scoring for defensemen and was doing so at a young age, under 25 years of age.
With the New York Rangers, the story remained the same.
Vigneault’s first year saw him field a team .1 years under the league average in age, but was consistently 1-2 full years older than the league average. in 2013-14, and from 2015-2018, Mats Zuccarello was their leading scorer, and he was 26 years old in 2013-14. Rick Nash was their leading scorer in Vigneault’s 2nd season with the Rags, and he was 30.
In AV’s 1st year as head coach of the Rangers, 23-year-old Derek Stepan played all 82 games and put up 57 points. On top of that, 22-year-old Chris Kreider played 66 games that year and posted 37 points. Not too shabby for a couple of kids, huh?
The very next year, Kevin Hayes burst onto the scene and posted 45 points in 79 games as a 22-year-old, while Kreider played 79 games and posted 46 points at 23 years of age.
Hayes continued his success into the 2015-16 season and played 79 more games with 36 more points, while 22-year-old J.T. Miller introduced himself to the NHL in a big way, playing all 82 games and putting up 43 points.
Between 2016 and 2018, in AV’s last two years as head coach of the Rangers, Brady Skjei played a combined 162 games out of 164 and posted 64 points as a 22-23-year-old. Jimmy Vesey, as a 23-year-old, played 80 games in 2016-17 and posted 27 points, while Pavel Buchnevich played 74 games in 2017-18 and put up 43 points.
It’s no secret that Vigneault loves his veterans. He’s had teams flush with veteran talent since his days with the Canucks. It’s easy to say a guy favors his vets when his team is stocked to the gills with them. However, It isn’t necessarily an indictment of how he is as a coach.
The Rangers and Canucks were at a point in their respective franchises where they were in a true “win now” mode. They were dealing draft picks and prospects for those players at the deadline and during the draft that would help their team accomplish immediate success. Having a veteran-laden team will sometimes give you this stigma.
People only see the fact that he played the veterans, but don’t realize that he didn’t have much of a choice. When your team is essentially made up of vets, it’s hard not to play them.
Coming to the Flyers, Vigneault now finds himself coaching a group of players whose average age was 26.5 in 2018-19, 1.3 years younger than the league average.
People are going to keep grasping at the low hanging fruit that is his knack for playing veterans, but the fact of the matter is that Ron Hextall isn’t with the Flyers anymore, so the days of the 4th line/13th winger signings are *hopefully* over. There can’t be the temptation to start veterans over younger players if there aren’t any aging, diminishing skilled veterans on the team.