After advancing to the second round of the NHL playoffs, the Flyers ran into a brick wall. Alain Vigneault’s triumphant first season in Philadelphia ended in game 7 heartbreak against the Islanders. Rebounding from that was the motive for the following offseason, but sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.
The Flyers had a very quiet offseason. Outside of the retiring Matt Niskanen being negated by the arriving Erik Gustafsson, the team did very little outside of some internal housekeeping and enjoying an explosive NHL Draft. Some perceived this to be a cause for concern, but with just hours until puck-drop, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s easy to forget that Vigneault, the NHL’s 10th most winningest coach of all time, was the third Head Coach that the Flyers had in less than eight months. Prior to that, the franchise was so dedicated to finding future cornerstones, that it almost felt like there was a lack of attention to maintaining the players already at the heart of the team. Poor contract after poor contract plagued the team and endless goalie carousels dizzied just about everyone.
For the first time in a long time, you can hear a metaphorical pin drop. The Flyers may have had a quiet offseason, but that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.
With stability and maintaining the current level of play being the name of the game, Vigneault and GM Chuck Fletcher recognized that the team already has a strong core and a youth movement surging through. As cohesion builds, the most important thing moving forward is culture…and that’s exactly what training camp provided.
Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom were the two notable names to really impact the shape of this team, but Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, and even guys like Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are at the epicenter of a young core that is clearly only growing in upside as time goes on. The more experienced this wealth of young talent picks up, the more dangerous the Flyers become.
“I think we are ready. I really like our focus. If you watch practice today, our focus was good. Our attention to detail, the pace the intensity. I like where our group is right now.” Vigneault told reporters the night before the season opener. “We understand what we need to do as far as on-ice systems and the fact that this is my second year and most of the guys were with me last year enables us to go into the season moving forward with the right mindset. It is our first game tomorrow against one of the best teams in the league, so we are looking forward to it.”
“Our group is excited. Our group is motivated. Our group wants to prove that they are a Stanley Cup contending team. We know that there is a lot of work ahead of us. It is going to be hard to make the playoffs in the division that we are in with the quality of the teams. We understand that we are going to have to be at our best, but we are ready for the challenge. We are looking forward to the opportunity. And it starts tomorrow. I think all teams and their fan bases are really excited about hockey getting back on the ice. We are going to try to do our part as far as playing some good hockey, playing some winning hockey and doing the right things to be winners.”
The Flyers ended 2020 with a record of 41-21-7 and went on an incredible run before the season’s postponement, showing just how this group can really get. With some infused youth and a playoff heartbreak now behind them, this team is poised not only to repeat the highs of last season, but surpass them under Vigneault’s leadership.
This season, like the bubble in Toronto, will provide many challenges. A new structure and a new landscape may be intimidating, but for the Flyers to hit the same notes they did last season, it’s a case of picking right up where they left off as a group and continuing to build on what is an extremely solid foundation.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre