Mandatory Photo Credit: Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire
Lately, it’s becoming more and more evident that the Philadelphia Flyers are close to accomplishing something special in the NHL. Individual performances from the 2019-2020 season provide insight that players like Ivan Provorov are among the top of their class. As a team, the Flyers defensemen are nearly considered elite. The same could be said for Carter Hart, the franchise goaltender. All of this is a mighty step forward from Dave Hakstol; a locker room led by new head coach Alain Vigneault after one season.
What metrics determine the ability of a head coach? Wins are an obvious one. More important than the total number of victories is how a team plans to earn those wins. Alain Vigneault has an entire roster that has bought into his system. In a single season, the Philadelphia Flyers went from Dave Hakstol, who no longer is a head coach in the NHL, to Vigneault, a Jack Adams Award finalist.
Coach Vigneault Flipped the Flyers
Consider the state of the Philadelphia Flyers during 2018-2019. By the 32nd game of the season, Scott Gordon took over as interim head coach. The front office sought changes before the halfway point of the season. Sixteen different players (five of which are goaltenders) weren’t on the Flyers roster in 2019-2020. The high majority of the 2019-2020 core players were on that same team in 2018-2019, which finished 6th in the Metropolitan Division.
Seven new players in 2019-2020 contributed in twenty or more games (Hayes, Niskanen, Farabee, Pitlick, Braun, Frost, and Bunnaman.) Of those players, four scored more than twenty points in the season. We’ll consider Hayes, Niskanen, Farabee, and Pitlick as impact players who weren’t there for Hakstol’s regime. Hayes and Niskanen effectively replaced Simmonds and Gudas from a year prior. With mostly the same team, Alain Vigneault took the Philadelphia Flyers from underachieving to borderline elite.
Jumping from 37 wins (82 points) in 82 games to 41 wins (89 points) in 69 games already shows the surging growth ignited by Alain Vigneault. He did a lot more in a shorter frame of time. That is the epitome of head coach efficiency. In a rare occurrence within modern sports, the Philadelphia Flyers skipped a retooling phase, proving that they were contenders instead.
Coach Vigneault’s Track Record
Alain Vigneault continues to remain employed as a head coach in the NHL for a reason. No matter where he has coached, he’s brought success to that franchise. While the Philadelphia Flyers did have scoring issues in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, they’re raring to win a championship in the next few seasons. Vigneault and his coaching philosophy make it easy to believe the Flyers have a real shot at ending their Stanley Cup drought. He’s been worthy of that for a long time.
Early on, Alain Vigneault coached the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal is the team where he showed the least amount of success but led the team to the playoffs in his first season as the head coach. Then, Vigneault coached the Vancouver Canucks to become the eventual NHL Western Conference champions in 2010-2011. After that, he led the New York Rangers to an NHL Eastern Conference championship in his first season with them (2013-2014.) Now, in his first season with the Philadelphia Flyers, he was a game away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.
Through seventeen years of coaching in the NHL, his 2019-2020 campaign with the Philadelphia Flyers remains his fourth-best head coaching season.
Case For Top 10 Ranking
In 2019-2020, Alain Vigneault finished as a finalist for the NHL Jack Adams Award. The winner of that award is regarded by the NHLBA as the best head coach in the NHL. Many people thought that Vigneault should have been the recipient of the award in 2019-2020, but the Jack Adams honors went to the Boston Bruins’ Bruce Cassidy. At the end of the shortened season caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bruins were atop the NHL.
The Philadelphia Flyers hit the jackpot when they hired Alain Vigneault. He’s an elite head coach in the NHL. There are two head coaches that I would place ahead of Vigneault due to 2019-2020. They are Barry Trotz and Jon Cooper. Vigneault is elite, but he failed to solve the New York Islanders or the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019-2020.