The Philadelphia Flyers held their end-of-season interviews on Tuesday. They ended a frustratingly disappointing season on a high note on Monday night but came back down to Earth to discuss the season as a whole. Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault and general manager Chuck Fletcher opened up the media availability in a joint press conference. Comcast Spectacor Chairman & CEO and Philadelphia Flyers Governor Dave Scott followed them up before the players took the mic for a parade of interviews.
There were a lot of interviews to dig into and try to read between the lines. Some were more straightforward with a few juicy quotes, while some provided more cliche answers.
I wanted to start by digging into the quotes from the man behind the bench: Alain Vigneault. We’ll get into Fletcher, Scott, and the players throughout the rest of the week.
Vigneault was under fire for most of this season after being a Jack Adams finalist in his first year behind the Flyers bench. The team struggled nearly all season long and Vigneault couldn’t do anything to right the ship.
Vigneault was talking about practice, wanting a “normal season,” Canadian restrictions, and how he felt like he let everyone down after missing the playoffs.
Let’s get into it.
Alain Vigneault is talkin’ ’bout practice
Vigneault hinted over the past few weeks that he might know the reason behind the Flyers’ struggles this season. He was asked multiple times about it during the season but did not want to discuss the season as a whole until after it was over.
Well, the season is now over and Vigneault divulged his thoughts on Tuesday morning. People have speculated that the Flyers’ lack of practice time this season hurt them, and that was the exact “theory” that Vigneault gave.
“After starting the season where we got of results-wise to a good start, mainly due and a lot due to we had some real solid goaltending. Our team started to play better. Our goaltending slipped a little bit. COVID hit us and after COVID, all we basically did was play games and not practice,” Vigneault said. “I think this group because we’ve got veteran players, just a small group of players in that middle age frame of 27-28, and a lot of younger players. Those younger players when the game slips a little bit were not quite executing the way we need to have success. You have to practice and we didn’t have any practice time.”
The Flyers certainly got better as the season moved along last year and were one of the best teams in the league from November on, particularly from January on. Looking back on it, perhaps the players were learning Vigneault’s systems and able to execute them better due to having more practice time.
Alain Vigneault knows that not being able to practice isn’t necessarily the reason, but he does think that it played a part in them slipping and the season going the way it did.
“I need a normal season”
Both of Vigneault’s seasons behind the Flyers bench have been affected by COVID. Last year, with the Flyers on a roll heading into the home stretch, the season was abruptly paused and ultimately came to an end.
The regular season was cut short and even though the playoffs took place, the bubble wasn’t anything like a normal playoff atmosphere.
There is no doubt that the Flyers struggled more than most with the unique circumstances this season. Their play fell off a cliff after their COVID pause in February, which made a condensed schedule even more compressed in March. The Flyers went downhill and couldn’t recover.
In a normal season, the Flyers would have more opportunities to practice with days off between games to reset and refocus. This season, however, they didn’t have that as Vigneault mentioned.
What Alain Vigneault wants more than anything is a normal season and hopefully, he’ll have that next year.
“At the end of the day, what I need, Chuck can’t give me. Society can give me though. I need a normal season,” Vigneault said. “I need people to go out and get vaccinated so that we can have a normal season next year.”
“I’ve been here two years and we haven’t had one of those. I want guys coming into camp, having trained in a normal way in the summer. I want to go through a normal camp. I want to go through a normal season that’s 82 games worth. I want to go through normal playoffs where you play in front of your fans. You feel the energy. You feel the passion. You go on the road, tight-knit group. You try and win on the road. Chuck can’t give me a normal season, but society can if we do our part. Hopefully, we can all get there for next year.”
Vigneault’s points about needing practice time and wanting a normal season make sense. Some teams were better equipped to deal with on-the-fly changes and were able to roll with the punches this season. The Flyers, on the other hand, got knocked down and couldn’t get back up.
However, Vigneault still takes some of the blame for the team’s struggles. It’s his job as the head coach to have his team ready to play every night. He was unable to do that on a consistent basis and it showed. The Flyers constantly were giving up the first goal of the game and fell behind too many times. They can’t win playing that way.
Vigneault held himself accountable for that.
“There’s no doubt it was a very challenging season in the aspect that we were chasing most of the games. At the end of the day, that’s on me, it’s on team preparation,” he said.
Oh no, Canada?
One of Alain Vigneault’s more questionable quotes came when discussing how the players prepared for the season.
Vigneault noted that Joel Farabee was one of the few players to take a step forward and impress this season. He also mentioned that Farabee is American and quarantined in the States. He then contrasted that to some of the players who were in Canada, where restrictions were more strict.
“The difference between Joel Farabee, an American who stayed in the States and was able to train, and our Canadian players, all the ones that went back to Canada. G had a good year. More experience. Coots, in my estimation, had a good year but didn’t have a Coots-type season like he had with me last year. If I look at all the other players that went to Canada, they struggled. Whether it’s because of lack of training possibilities, lack of skating possibilities,” Vigneault said.
Take a moment and let that bounce around in your mind a bit. This is where Vigneault confused most of the fans and some of the media.
The Flyers’ Canadian players may have struggled, but there are many other Canadian players around the league that are having amazing seasons. Hell, Connor McDavid is having one of the best seasons in NHL history. Period. Not training didn’t affect him. Now, he’s a generational talent so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but the point stands. Players across the league were all affected the same way in the offseason.
Vigneault wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again this offseason.
“One of my questions when meeting with the players this afternoon is what are you doing this summer. If things stay the way they are right now in Canada, they’re going to have to make some adjustments to their summer plans,” he said. “This is just our team. I can’t reflect throughout the rest of the NHL, but our team, the Canadian players that went back to Canada had a challenging time.”
“I’ve let everyone down here … I wasn’t able to put the ship back on track”
Alain Vigneault just finished the second year of a five-year contract with the Flyers and he has no intentions of leaving. The circumstances this season were tough, but Vigneault wants to go to battle with this organization again and fulfill his ultimate goal.
“I came to Philly to win a Stanley Cup,” Vigneault said when asked if he’s thinking about not coming back next season. “I told Chuck last week or the week before when we were officially eliminated that I sort of felt like I’ve let everyone down here, from him to ownership to our fans to our players. Just after the start that we had, got the team playing better, and then like I mentioned goaltending, COVID, and no practice time. I wasn’t able to put the ship back on track,” he continued.
“I’m going to need some time obviously on a personal level to reflect on the season. Like the rest of society, it’s our first pandemic that we go through. There’s obviously some things reflecting on that we might want to change how I handled and how I did things. On a personal level, I’m going to need some time to get the emotion out of the way and analyze this properly.”
Vigneault took responsibility for the team’s struggles. He’ll have to look in the mirror and assess the job he did this season as well as the job of his coaching staff. The Flyers’ special teams play struggled mightily this season and perhaps one of his assistants should pay the price for that. If not, next season is going to be even more important as their seats heat up.
If Vigneault wants to accomplish his goal of winning a Stanley Cup with the Flyers, he and the rest of the Flyers brass have a lot of work to do this summer.
Overall, Vigneault didn’t provide a lot of answers that we didn’t already know about the Flyers’ struggles. We assumed that the lack of practice time was hurting the team, especially with so many younger players struggling.
The COVID situation hampered the Flyers as well. They were a mess in March, which really put the season into a tailspin. Vigneault could’ve ducked the question or blamed the unusual circumstances, so it was good to see Vigneault take responsibility for not righting the ship.
In two abnormal seasons, Vigneault is now one for two. He was one of the best coaches in the league last season before not being able to push any of the right buttons this season. Next year will be the true test. The NHL is planning on giving Alain Vigneault what he wants: a “normal season.”
Vigneault has to answer the bell next season or he could get his bell rung instead.