Team chemistry is as important as wins and losses. Chuck Fletcher and Alain Vigneault are improving the Philadelphia Flyers culture from within.
What does it take for a hockey team to make the postseason? Answers include goal scorers, heavy hitters, and good goaltenders. On the ice, the lineup needs a complimentary offensive and defensive balance.
As obvious as those answers are, they omit the contents of teammate chemistry.
Some early indicators of the Flyers’ positive shift in culture directly correlate to streaking scorers and inspired defensive depth. They aren’t without their flaws.
The Flyers are going through growing pains. A 4-2-1 record is better than some figured the team would begin due to injuries. Kevin Hayes could be back in as early as a few games. Ryan Ellis played just three games. No one has an accurate gauge on Philadelphia.
Yet, the Flyers have shown they can hang with some tough teams. Currently, they’re 1-2-0 against teams who would be in the postseason if the playoffs began today. It’s not the best record against top teams, but Philadelphia looks a lot better than they were a season ago. Resiliency is crucial in a winning culture. Mutual accountability is the thesis avenging losses against top teams like the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers.
Remember the 1999-2000 Flyers? That locker room consisted of Rick Tocchet, Keith Jones, and Eric Desjardins, to name a few. Tocchet began his career in 1984-1985 in Philadelphia before he returned from the Phoenix Coyotes. “Jonesy” is known for chirping; listen to him break down Angelo Cataldi over the years on 94.1 WIP. Desjardins was a leader’s leader; he didn’t say much, but he was critical to the locker room.
Critically different between now and then are the state of the Flyers before 2021-2022. During an atypical season, Philadelphia was historically bad in stretches. Chuck Fletcher had to do something to change the scene. Before and after Philadelphia in 1999-2000, the franchise remained successful.
Bobby Clarke built good teams. His roster didn’t always consist of like-minded players, but they always played hard for each other. Fletcher, whether he knows or not, is building a budding locker room, as Clarke did.
What Needed To Be Fixed?
“You know, I talked about Philly’s culture and Philly’s locker room. That was something I saw very apparent there; there was zero accountability. It wasn’t coming from the coaching staff, it wasn’t coming from the leadership group; it was basically a free for all.”Dale Weise; 4/15/2021
It’s understandable if people chalk this up as “sour grapes,” but there is smoke from where this fire started. Hakstol doesn’t have glowing reviews surrounding his era as the Flyers’ head coach. From the outside looking in, the Seattle Kraken missed on that hire.
If everything Dale Weise said was false, would Ron Hextall and Hakstol be replaced by Chuck Fletcher and Alain Vigneault?
Vigneault didn’t take over an overhauled roster. A few components changed ahead of 2019-2020, impacting leadership. Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun, and Matt Niskanen were critical in the same way Rick Tocchet, Keith Jones, and Eric Desjardins were in 1999-2000. Fletcher and Vigneault understood there were chummy players, intense players, and ones to bridge the gap to keep the locker room closely knit.
Then, 2020-2021 changed many things. Fletcher remained patient, not overreacting to an awful season ahead of the NHL Expansion Draft. Jakub Voracek was moved for Cam Atkinson, which served as a test to Philadelphia’s veteran core. Fletcher brought in a surplus of veteran leadership, including Keith Yandle, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Ryan Ellis. Other pieces (Derick Brassard and Martin Jones) assumed their role in the mold.
Observing a Changing Culture
In terms of an improvement of culture, two names stuck out in 2020-2021. The first is obvious; Joel Farabee. Every franchise needs a breakout player who can contribute at a high level. The other name is Samuel Morin. He brought the body and was ready to drop gloves when the Philadelphia Flyers needed to be more “Broadstreet Bullies” than the “City of Brotherly Love.”
Think about the contrast between Morin and…Mark Friedman. One excelled at drawing penalties. Morin, likely to serve one, would make an honest man out of you. Friedman schemed to put his team on the man-advantage, which is intelligent, but against the grain of a defense that lacked a physical identity.
Chuck Fletcher saw that. Friedman, acquired by the man who drafted him, Ron Hextall, calls the Pittsburgh Penguins home:
“There is more of a homier feel than Philadelphia. It’s not as busy, not as noisy, nicer people. It’s not as dirty, especially in Cranberry where I live. It’s just a great neighborhood.”Mark Friedman; 3/28/2021
Talk about someone who wouldn’t fit the Flyers’ improved culture.
Suddenly, Philadelphia isn’t the team getting scored on twice in less than a minute. The Flyers have an offense ranking in the top half of the league, a middling overall defense, and two goaltenders playing at a high level on a nightly basis. Fletcher and Alain Vigneault are trending a counter-culture in 2021-2022 from 2020-2021 and the dreadful Dave Hakstol era.
Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)