Vigneault Discusses Playoffs & Offseason, Quick Hits
Quick Hits: September 14, 2020
1) Earlier today, Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault did a remote media availability session (followed by a conference call, due to technical difficulties during the teleconference) with members of the local media. The head coach, who said that he has not yet had the opportunity to speak to individual players because there were no exit interviews before the team departed the Bubble in Toronto to go back to their places of residence, discussed a variety of issues ranging from what went right and wrong in the playoffs to his thoughts on various veterans and young players and the team's outlook moving forward. A transcript of Vigneault's availability, courtesy of the Flyers, follows in the section below.
Additionally, defenseman Travis Sanheim and impending unrestricted free agent center Nate Thompson had video conference sessions with the media on Monday. Sanheim discussed how he and defense partner Phil Myers thrived early in the playoffs then hit the wall a bit in the New York Islanders series.
Thompson discussed the roller coaster of battling back from a 3-1 deficit in the series and then losing in a Game 7 -- the same outcome that befell the Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche in their respective Second Round Series, although Colorado lost Game 7 in OT while the Flyers and Canucks got shut out in theirs. Thompson readily admitted that the Flyers just didn't have it in Game 7 and the Islanders had their way once they scored first.
Thompson, who said that his agent has not yet spoken with the Flyers, would be "very interested" in re-signing with the Flyers if something can be worked out. He said that he feels the team has an open window to win a Stanley Cup.
2) According to Hockey Sverige, Flyers goalie prospect Samuel Ersson was injured this weekend in a household accident. The severity is uncertain but he is not with his SHL team, Brynäs IF.
3) Comcast-Spectacor announced on Monday that they have reached a sales agreement with Black Bear Sports Group for the sale of the Flyers Skate Zone locations in Northeast Philadelphia, Pennsauken, New Jersey and Atlantic City.
Black Bear Sports Group Ownership is a national owner of a network of community rinks. The company is headed by founder and CEO Murry Gunty with retired former Flyers captain Keith Primeau as a minority owner. According to a press release from Comcast-Spectacor, it was Flyers Alum Primeau who initiated the discussions with Comcast-Spectacor for the purchase of the facilities.
After the transfer is completed, Black Bear Sports will own 22 rinks across the country, including 15 in the Tri-State area. They will take over all junior and youth hockey programs that currently exist at three Skate Zone locations. Comcast-Spectacor will continue to own and operate the flagship Virtua Center SkateZone location in Voorhees, which will remain as the Flyers' training home base.
As part of the agreement, per the official press release, " a new multi-year marketing arrangement will allow Comcast Spectacor to continue to identify with these rinks and allow both the Flyers and Black Bear to promote their goods and services to each other’s respective fans and customers."
At the junior level, Black Bear currently co-owns and manages the USHL's Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL, owns and managers the NAHL's Maryland Black Bears of the NAHL and the EHL's Team Maryland.
In a statement, Primeau said, "I have seen up close the rich tradition of youth hockey in this region and have experienced it from every angle including coaching, parenting and operations. Our goal is to foster local talent and provide them the facilities and programming to pursue their hockey dreams, whatever that level may be. My passion right now is improving the accessibility to the sport of hockey for young players and their families.”
4) Sept. 14 Flyers Alumni birthday: Orest Kindrachuk
Orest Kindrachuk was born September 14, 1950 in Nanton, Alberta and raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He was the son of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, and Ukrainian was the first language he spoke. As a youngster, he started skating at the age of three and took to hockey very quickly.
As he grew up, Kindrachuk initially planned to honor the sacrifices his parents made for him by becoming an optometrist rather than pursuing a hockey career. A bit undersized and a below-average skater, Kindrachuk did not believe he had a future in hockey.
Kindrachuk had a strong junior career for the Saskatoon Blades but went unselected in the 1970 NHL Draft. For one year, he enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan -- where he did not sign up for the college's hockey team. The aspiring eye doctor had to attend three labs per week and the team practiced every day, so hockey participation was out.
Unbeknownst to Kindrachuk at the time, the Flyers had interest in him. Based on a recommendation scout Jerry Melnyk and from a former Saskatchewan midget hockey on-ice rival and off-ice friend - Flyers prospect Don Saleski - Flyers general manager Keith Allen sent Philadelphia scouts to watch Kindrachuk during the 1970-71 season. He was signed to a free agent contract on July 1, 1971.
Kindrachuk still did not think he had much of a shot at an NHL career. He attended his first professional training camp fully expecting to be cut by the AHL's Richmond Robins, and then to return to college to work toward his degree. Instead, Kindrachuk wound up scoring 35 goals and 86 points to go along with 133 penalty minutes in 72 games during the 1972-73 season. He even dressed in two NHL games with the Flyers.
The next fall, Kindrachuk attended training camp with the Flyers. Before the first day of on-ice work, he approached Flyers head coach Fred Shero that he and his wife were unsure where to live during the camp and asked if Shero had any recommendations. Shero, who had never before spoken with Kindrachuk but knew full well who he was, looked at the rookie.
"If you've got any guts, kid, you'll rent an apartment in Philadelphia right away," said Shero.
Kindrachuk made the Flyers out of their 1972 camp, dressing in 71 regular season games and going to have a strong playoff run (five goals, nine points in 17 postseason tilts). He went on to become a very important role player on the Broad Street Bullies clubs of the mid-1970s.
A huge part of the success of the Shero-era Flyers lay in their work ethic and depth. Kindrachuk provided both in support of the team's top two centers, Bobby Clarke and Rick MacLeish. The Flyers' third-line center was very tough to play against -- a tireless worker along the boards, a fine defensive player, a pest who got under opponents' skin, and a player with very underrated hands who could produce supporting offense despite his significant lack of speed.
Kindrachuk was also one of the most extensively nicknamed players on a team full of players with colorful monitors. He never went by Orest among his teammates. Depending on the season and the whims of his fellow Flyers, he was variously known as O or Little O (in answer to basketball's Oscar "Big O" Robertson), Chicky or Chuckles (plays on Kindrachuk), Ernie (for the Sesame Street character with the shock of black hair atop his head) or, rarely, Walrus or Russ (for his thick mustache).
In his best NHL offensive season of 1975-76, Kindrachuk racked up 26 goals and 75 points in 76 games to go along with 101 penalty minutes. That year, his friend and linemate Saleski scored 21 goals; the first of three straight 20-plus goal seasons by "Big Bird").
After the 1977-78 season, the Flyers traded Kindrachuk, Tom Bladon and Ross Lonsberry to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for the sixth overall pick of the 1978 Draft. The Flyers used the pick to select defenseman Behn Wilson.
For his Flyers career, Kindrachuk played 360 regular season games, recording 260 points (79 goals including 11 power play goals and six shorthanded tallies, 181 assists), 465 penalty minutes and a cumulative plus-116 rating. He dressed in 69 Stanley Cup playoff contests, recording 16 goals, 19 assists, 35 points and 46 penalty minutes.
Kindrachuk retired in 1982 after stints with Pittsburgh and the Washington Capitals. His career finished with 508 NHL regular season games (118 goals, 261 assists, 379 points, 648 penalty minutes) and 76 playoff games (20 goals, 20 assists, 40 points, 53 penalty minutes) to his credit.
After retirement, Kindrachuk permanently remained in the Delaware Valley. He went into the insurance business and the packaging industry. He also dabbled part-time in hockey broadcasting, most notably as a color analyst for Philadelphia Phantoms telecasts. In 2012, as with many of mid-1970s Flyers teammates, Kindrachuk was naturalized as a United States citizen.
Transcript: Alain Vigneault
What wasn’t working in the playoffs offensively that you noticed?
There’s no doubt that offensively we didn’t perform to our expectations. I think some of that had to do with execution and some of it had to do with the type of offense that you can generate and be successful during the playoffs. That’s part of our learning process right now as a group, as individuals. There’s certain things that you can do during the regular season that will work and in the playoffs won’t. As a group, I think that’s going to a valuable experience.
Offensively also, some of our guys feed off the power play. We didn’t have a lot of success on the power play during the playoffs. Their confidence was probably affected a little bit. And I think what happened to us a little bit in the playoffs is because some of the guys were pressing, they were probably cheating offensively a little bit, and that hurt us defensively also a little bit. This was obviously disappointing, but it should go in our bank of learning experiences and we should be better for it.
In general, what do you think this team needs to get the next level?
I talked about this at the beginning of the year – a team has to grow, it has to evolve. I’m obviously very disappointed in our Game 7. I definitely have to do a follow-up with our players which I haven’t been able to do because of the COVID, the fact that I didn’t go back to Philly and there were no exit meetings during the year because of the situation. I do believe that this team grew during the year, grew in the way we played the game, grew in the way we played an effective game – a game that can be effective and can have playoff success. I do think we need to continue in all aspects of our game. Our defensive game got better. Our offensive game in my mind was on the right track as far as playing the right way. I do believe we have some young players, young pieces. We’re the team I think that played the most first year players during the regular season this year.
I believe that we’re on the right track as far as moving forward to win a Stanley Cup. What we’ve gone through this year is going to help us next year. Without being specific on one thing, I do firmly believe we have the players. We have the pieces. We have the will. We have a lot of work left to do, but we are on the right track to get it done.
What about the way your guys played gives you a lot of hope for the future?
Our young players have size. They have skill. They’ve got will. We have quite a few of those young players that are scratching the surface as far as talent potential. They can all get better and they all proved this year that they can get better. If you combine that with good veterans that want to play the right way, that want to do the right things at the right time, and I do believe we did show a lot of that this year.
Our consistency needs to improve in some areas of our games. We got quite a few young players that were on our team this year or that are coming up that in my estimation are going to be, if they can figure it out, good players and are going to permit us to pursue the Stanley Cup.
Do you think the pause hurt the offense, particularly the top guys?
That’s a good question and there’s no doubt that pre-pause we were clicking 5-on-5, we were clicking on the power play. Our guys felt confident and felt good. I do believe though that come playoff hockey, and I’ve mentioned this, that’s why I keep talking to our players that there is one way to play and that’s the right way.
The right way has to be [consistently] during the regular season and if you do it during the regular season, you’ll be able to do it in the playoffs. In the playoffs, certain things that work in the regular season don’t. I know exactly what they are, but I cannot share them with you because of the face that we have not had exit meetings with our players. I haven’t been able to sit down with them face to face and share my thoughts on what we need to do, individually what certain players need to do and collectively as a team what we need to do to move forward and get near that Stanley Cup. The answer is yes there are things that I’ll be able to work on with our players. The young players and the older players on what we need to do to have more success come playoffs.
What did you see from Travis Konecny? Was he pressing in the playoffs?
There’s no doubt that Travis didn’t perform to obviously his expectations and ours in playoffs. He’s a young player, full of potential. I believe that I’ll be able to help him a lot moving forward, but I have not had the opportunity to sit down with Travis and go through what I believe he needs focus on, work on and get better at so he becomes the best player that he can be. There’s no doubt that he was pressing and because he was pressing, it led to turnovers that led to good opportunities for the opposition. TK’s a great young man that’s got a lot of potential and we’re going to work with him and he’s going to become the best player he can be.
Can you provide an update on Sam Morin and Morgan Frost? Do you see them being a part of the team next year?
In Sam’s case, he’s coming back from a second serious knee injury. He’s been working out and doing his rehab. I think Sam hasn’t played a lot of hockey in the last three years, so he’s going to have to find a way to play some hockey. That’s probably not going to be with the Flyers. He’s probably going to have to go in the American League and get 50, 60 games staying healthy under his belt. He hasn’t played any hockey. I’ve barely seen him this year and he didn’t play the year before. He’s got to get a chance to play. He’s a great kid, but he’s got to get a chance to play.
As far as Morgan goes, there's tons of potential. If he can put it together and figure it out, he’ll be a real good player for us. He has taken some strides this year. There are still a lot of strides to be taken. With the right attitude, right commitment and the right work ethic, he can be a real good player if he can put it all together.
The other day, Chuck said lapses in defensive detail were his biggest disappointment in the playoffs, and it was tied together with pressing offensively, too. Do you agree? If so, how much of that was your own team getting away from what worked versus what your opponents were doing?
The fact that we had quite a few guys that were pressing offensively led them to make low-percentage plays, which led to turnovers, which led to us not looking as fast as we can be and those turnovers led to good scoring opportunities to the opposition, which I think we did a pretty good job during the regular season staying away from.
There’s no doubt that I agree with Chuck that that was part of our game because some of our guys were pressing, they weren’t sticking to what works and that led to obviously great opportunities for the other team. Those are all areas that I want to talk to the team, that I want to talk to individual players about, that I’m sure we can fix in the coming future.
Were Claude Giroux’s struggles the case of pressing or is it a concern that given his age and that he is on the shorter side of what he can offer to the Flyers in the future?
There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind about his will to be successful and his will to help his teammates. I do agree that he is getting older. He’s got an opportunity right now since we’re in pause, the whole world is in pause, to take these next months and really work at his conditioning and probably find the time to slow time. He’s getting older. As you get older, the muscles don’t react as quick, but you can work on that. He’s going to put in a lot of time and effort.
I do believe that there’s some areas that having gone through with Claude for this first playoffs, I do believe there’s some areas where I could help him with where he could perform better. I need to see him face to face and sit down. I haven’t had that opportunity. He’s one of those guys that because we are in the same region that I will be able to talk to in the next while face to face. I need to talk to him in person.
Obviously, the comments that I’m going to have with him and that he’s going to have with me are going to be on a personal level, so we’re not going to share that, but I can tell you on the record very directly that I do believe he can play better. He can perform better, and knowing Claude, he’ll put in the time and effort to do it.
Do you think the conditioning during the pause was different, not worse or better, but different?
Because of the COVID situation and because of the halt, players were privileged to different ways to train, depending on where you were. Everything was shut down. The gyms were shut down. Obviously when we got the players back, we had a short amount of time to get everybody going the best way that we could, depending on what they have done. Once you start playing, and I think we played 17 games in 30 days, its play, play, play. It’s hard to work on that aspect. I don’t think we were any different than anybody else.
I have heard that some teams were able to do more during the COVID shutdown than maybe our guys were because of the facilities they had available to them. That’s what it was for everybody. You have to deal with it. It was a learning experience for everyone, and now we’re going to get ready for next year. I can guarantee you, with what we all learned, we’re going to put the pieces together to challenge for that Cup.
What makes you think the current roster can win a Stanley Cup?
I believe that we’ve got a lot of personal growth that we can do within our group. We had the most first-year players that played their first NHL game this year. We’ve got quite a few young players that are coming into their best possible game and have learned a tremendous amount about playing the right way this year. They are going to learn a tremendous amount from our playoff experience and losing that Game 7.
I also believe that our veteran players, the Girouxs, Voraceks and van Riemsdyks, guys that are little older, they understand where they are in their game and the evolution of their game. I believe I can help them get their game better. By combining that with the evolution of our young players and the potential that we also have, we got quite a few young players who are knocking on the door, that personal growth, that depth that is needed. I firmly believe that we are on the right path.
Is there anything you would have done in retrospect now that a week has gone by since your last game? Is there anything you would have done differently from a coaching perspective?
That’s a good question. That Game 7 is very painful in the way we played, other than that first six minutes of that game. The rest of the game is definitely not what I expected. What I’m looking forward to do from that game is to talk to the players one on one. There are quite a few guys that I need to sit down, need to figure out their thoughts and what they think happened because it is a moment that we can use to grow. Those moments aren’t easy. They’re not fun. That’s definitely not a fun part of my coaching career, but it is a teachable moment. It is a growing moment for our organization and we’re going to use it.
All I need to do is get back to Philly, the whole team gets back, sit down and talk one on one and we’ll be able to use this moment moving forward. All the teams that have ever won in any league have gone through at some point or another a really challenging time, and that was one. That was a tough new format for the playoffs. The bubble, the two weeks in Philly, and then the month in the Toronto bubble. Different times, we can learn from it and get better. That’s all we’re going to do.
The pairing of Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers was effective during the beginning of the playoffs. Did you see that maybe one was going and the other wasn’t and later on they both just hit a wall? That was Travis' assessment when we spoke to him.
That’s part of the discussion that I need to have, not just with them but with our other players also. I think this is all about them becoming the best pros they can be. Both Travis and Phil are very young players and not a lot of playoff experience. You learn to become a pro. You learn to bring it every game. You might not have your best game, but you’ve got your best effort. You can still perform at a good level if you learn how to prepare yourself and push yourself through different challenges that might occur in a game mentally. That’s part of the evolution of a hockey player.
For Travis to see it and tell you, that’s a very positive sign. We have quite a few other players that probably saw it and know it. We just need to expand on it as a coach and assistant coaches and player relationship. Give them the right feedback and the right guidelines to help them become the best they can be.
Where do you see James van Riemsdyk fitting in the lineup moving forward? It seemed like he has some trouble fitting into it in the playoffs.
Everything is performance-based. It’s the player’s performance but it’s also the other players’ performance. Who’s playing well and what you feel gives your lineup the best chance to win. I think for JvR, for him to be effective in the game, he’s got to play in that top 9 category. One spot in that top 9 forwards. A lot of times, your fourth line can be an energy line, momentum line. You got a couple penalty killers on that.
I see him, he’s got potential. He’s a smart hockey player. Out of all our players on our team, he’s probably the one that understands the game at the highest level. He sees it. I hear him speaking on the bench and he knows what’s exactly going on and the type of play that should be made. But like some other players in our group, consistency this year was an issue for him. That’s an area I’m very confident that he can improve on for next year.
Do you think a lot of offseason changes are needed?
I believe that we’ve got a lot of kids right now that are ready for increased roles. I believe that there are a lot of players that were up and down during the year that are close to knocking on the door. Now does that mean that they’ll figure it out and they’ll find a way to contribute and help this team win and stay in the NHL? That’s usually why you have training camp and that’s why you go through different phases of a season. Then if you’ve got to adjust your lineup you do that.
I think, like Chuck mentioned to me a couple times, I’m pretty sure he mentioned to you, we’re going to look and he’s always looking to see if we can improve the team in certain areas. The one thing that I find about this organization, this team, this franchise, is we’ve got a lot of these young players right now that are pushing and probably need an opportunity to see if they can make this league. It’s going to be interesting.
I don’t know when we’re going to restart, I don’t know how long we’re going to have, but I’m hoping that everyone in this organization sees the great opportunity that they have this two, three, four, five months to work on their conditioning, to work on their skill, to really work on their game. To take this opportunity that they’ve never had before. This extending time to really work on your game. I really hope that’s what our guys are going to do.
If Oskar can return to what he was before the diagnosis and Nolan can get back, do you see them as two guys that can really bolster your depth without having to go out and getting anyone?
Basically only knowing Oskar for three months and with Nolan Patrick, I’ve basically never seen. He’s been in a couple little drills here and there. Hopefully both those young men come back when the season starts, healthy. If they are healthy, I’m told that there’s a tremendous amount of potential in Patrick’s case. If we can get Oskar back to where he was before his situation, he was a great hockey player, playing 5-on-5. He was killing penalties. He was playing power play. He was playing a lot of important minutes and helping us win games. Hopefully both those guys can get back to where they were.