‘Chaos off the ice, harmony on it’ is probably the best way to describe this year’s Philadelphia Flyers. After an offseason of uncertainty was rapidly turned into a new dawn, Flyers fans had a lot to be excited about. The team, led by a new Head Coach and a long-term cornerstone in Kevin Hayes, would play their opening game of the season in Europe before going on a grueling West Coast trip. Just as things were beginning to settle, news of Oskar Lindblom’s battle with Ewings Sarcoma shook the hockey world to its core. But somehow, this team continued to evolve and continued to grow into one of the most intimidating franchises entering the NHL playoffs.
Vigneault is a Jack Adams finalist for the fifth time, with his fourth club. If he wins the prestigious award, it would be the second in his trophy cabinet and he’d be the first Flyers Coach to win it since Bill Barber in 2000-2001.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. During Alain Vigneault’s career, he’s had immediate success at almost every stop. In his first year with Vancouver, he took the Canucks to the Conference Semi-Finals. In Montreal, his debut season saw the Canadiens go 20-15-6. His Stanley Cup run with the New York Rangers as the team’s new Head Coach was halted at the final hurdle. Maybe this will finally be the year it all comes together.
Vigneault led the Flyers to a .645 points percentage (41-21-7) at the pause, their best since a .646 mark in 2010-11 and third-best in 30 years.
When asked about what makes Philadelphia so special, it didn’t take Vigneault long to hit the nail on the head.
“Philly for me is as close as you can get to an original six. I’ve been fortunate enough to coach the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Rangers, the Vancouver Canucks. I’d compare Philly to all those places. Great fans, a lot of media attention, people want us to win, and we want to win. It doesn’t get any better than this. We’ll do everything we can to put our best game on the ice and do well.”
There’s a unique pressure in Philadelphia. The fanbase may not expect to win, but they expect a certain style of play. A level of hustle, pride, and fight that embodies everything the city stands for. For the Flyers to be without those orange and clad fans when the playoffs resume is going to be a heartbreaking pill to swallow, but if there’s ever a man to guide them to success, it’s Vigneault.
“No one in our league is used to playing without any fans. Even in minor hockey, friends and family were at the game. But it’s the same situation for everyone. I love the fact that we got together in Europe at the start of the season and had a trip out to the West Coast. It gave us a chance to get to know each other better and from there, we progressed as any team needed to progress in order to get into the playoffs. It’s not easy to do.”
The Flyers will go into the round-robin with the mentality that they have earned every opportunity that lies ahead of them. There’s no complacency here. They may well have been the hottest team in the NHL at the time the season was cut short, but Vigneault knows this circumstance is so unique, there’s no guarantee that they will pick up where they left off unless they keep the same mentality that got them there in the first place – something he’s been working hard to instill as training camp gets underway.
There’s no doubt that any team in any sport that has any success is because first and foremost, there’s trust, there’s accountability, players like being with one another, and probably the word that comes first for me is that respect between teammates. Not to let your partner down, your linemate down, defensive partner, your goaltender down. There’s going that trust and respect. I think throughout the season our group has built that and has developed it. They understand the accountability factor and how important it is between teammates, from game to game and from shift to shift. That’s what our group in my mind is we’ve evolved. We understand that part and now we’re going to get a chance to prove it here moving forward.
Some would say that the Flyers have already overachieved this season and just getting to the big dance is an accomplishment in itself. But for the Jack Adams award finalist, the work is only just beginning…and it’s that kind of ruthless mentality and unrelenting drive that could well spur some of the brightest young talents in the league all the way to the promised land.
Vigneault has not given fan a reason to doubt his philosophies yet, and I doubt he will anytime soon. The Flyers are very much in the conversation for favorites to go the distance…and the man tasked with taking them there has been here many times before. Only this time, he’s ready for whatever challenges this unpredictable landscape throws at him, because that’s what the Flyers have done all season long.
“The season’s not over. We’re going into the best part of the season. We’ve earned the right. We’ve made the playoffs. We’ve earned the right to compete for the Stanley Cup. Our business is far from over. That means that my job is far from over. Right now we’re in what I call Phase 1 of this first segment, which is going to bring us to the bubble. We’ve got a lot of work. We’ve planned it. We talked to the specialists about it. We’re using science to make sure that the group is ready. I can’t answer your question because the season’s not over yet and we still have a lot of work to do.”
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports