Quick Hits: April 19, 2019
1) New Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault met with the media at the Skate Zone yesterday. The veteran head coach spoke for roughly 30 minutes about his new job and his belief that the Flyers are on the brink of something special. Afterwards, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said that, in their discussions before agreeing to terms, Vigneault spent as much time interviewing Fletcher as the GM did the prospective hire.
A full transcript, courtesy of the Flyers, appears at the end of this blog. For an in-depth overview of Vigneault's coaching philosophy, on-ice systems, and his methods of interacting with players, assistant coaches and the general manager, click here
2) Vigneault will serve as head coach of Team Canada at the upcoming IIHF World Championships. One of his assistant coaches will be former Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol. Former Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is one of the team managers. Vigneault said that he intends to refrain from discussing the Flyers both with Hakstol and Hextall, so as not to come to camp with any preconceived notions about players. Instead, Vigneault said that all communications would be about the Canadian national team and the tournament. One of Vigneault's players on Team Canada will be Flyers center Sean Couturier.
3) While the Vigneault press conference was ongoing, Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov was stepping out onto the rink below to do a little bit of skating and shooting pucks. That was a first. I've often seen Flyers players at the Skate Zone over the summer (well ahead of training camp) but never just a week after the end of the season. Most players take at least a little bit of time off.
Provorov has told the Russian Hockey Federation that he will play for Team Russia at the World Championships contingent on the impending restricted free agent getting a new deal done first with the Flyers. Toward that end, Fletcher said that he's had dialogue with Provorov's agent, Mark Gandler, as well as Travis Sanheim's agent and others (Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Ryan Hartman, Justin Bailey and Phantoms forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel are also RFAs this summer).
Fletcher said that deals will get done this summer with all of the team's RFAs but he is not optimistic of quick resolutions. The GM then added that he isn't pessimistic, either, but his experience is that things tend to drag on a bit before there's a resolution. Right now, things are still at a preliminary stage and, as is normal, there's a gap in the proposals exchanged by both sides that will take negotiations.
4) Steve Whyno has a good article on the differences between regular season and playoff hockey. HockeyBuzz's own Paul Stewart offered some perspective from the officiating side of the equation. It's worth a read
5) OHL semifinals: Flyers prospect Isaac Ratcliffe opened the scoring in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs but the edge for his Guelph Storm club was short-lived. The Saginaw Spirit went on to win, 7-2. Game 2 in Saginaw is on Saturday.
Alain Vigneault Press Conference Transcript
(podium only, courtesy of the Flyers)
Alain Vigneault: Good morning everyone. Before I start, I’d like to first of all thank Chuck, Paul Holmgren, Dave Scott for giving me this opportunity. I’m really excited to be here. I wanted to get back into coaching. I love to coach. What I was looking for in my new opportunity to coach were three things. First thing I was looking for was an opportunity to win. An opportunity in the short term to win a Stanley Cup. When I look at and analyze the parts we have here in Philly, when I look at and analyze the options that we have in improving this team, it gets a check mark from me. Second thing that I was looking for in my next opportunity was the possibility to work with a general manager that shared a lot of the same ideas as far as building a winner, building a hockey culture that develop players, made this a possible high-end winning environment, and a place where players, coaches, management would want to be. After having a few in-depth discussions with Chuck, that got another check mark. The third thing that I was looking for was a first-class organization. In today’s competitive NHL, to be able to win, you need a total commitment from ownership. There’s no doubt we have that here. My three check marks were there. I had a very good, straight and honest conversation with Chuck. Felt very comfortable. Accepted the position with the Flyers. Happy to be here. Excited to be here. Ready to answer any of your questions.
What are the pieces that told you this team is ready to win sooner rather than later?
You look, in my mind, at three things. There’s some solid youth with a lot of upside here that is coming into its own. There’s great goaltending, being one of those youth pieces. There’s as solid core group that in my mind needs the right direction. And you’ve got the combination also of some solid veteran players that have been in the league a few years, that can still contribute at a high level in this league. There are some solid pieces that in my mind and after discussing it with a lot of people that I respect their opinion in the NHL I feel that the Flyers are a very good team that with the proper direction, proper mindset, proper culture and people working together will be a very good team in the near future.
Is it possible to be like the Islanders and transform quickly under a new coach?
First of all, the job that Barry did in Long Island is an incredible job. An experienced coach that went in there with a definite mindset on what he felt needed to be done. Got to give him full credit and full marks for what he did. I believe that I know what it takes for a team to have success on a consistent basis and that’s what I intend to do here with the Flyers. I believe that with the proper direction, proper coaching staff, a coaching staff working with management, that the Flyers with the potential that is on this team will be a very good team in the near future.
As an outsider looking in, what prevented the Flyers from making the playoffs this year?
My assessment would be an unfair one because I didn’t follow the Flyers any closer than I followed any other team this year. From the outside, from talking to different people, probably a lot of inconsistency, being able to win quite a few games in a row but then losing quite a few games in a row. I want to get to know the players. I’m not coming in here with any preconceived notions about anybody. They can come in here and show me the type of player they are, but also what type of person they are. Team first attitude. I will do anything I have to do to make this team win.
What are your views on leadership?
I believe as a coach you’ve got to adapt yourself to the team that you have in front of you. If you have a younger team, you’ve got to help them grow. One of the things you help them grow is who has those leadership qualities that you can help, not only the player on the ice but the player that he can be in the dressing room. Throughout my time I’ve felt and I believe that the best form of leadership is the one where a player has the power to influence. You can influence in many different ways. Vocal leadership, leadership by example, leadership by helping. That’s true to one’s self. Every person is different. Every person brings something different to the table. I don’t’ know these players personally. I’ve only talked to one so far and that’s Claude Giroux. I will get to know them and I’m very confident in my capabilities of helping players grow. Never too old to learn something, never too old to develop. I will say to you that leadership by influence where a player can take advice from a coach and this is the attitude we need and he goes out and influences two or three other guys. Those influence two or three other guys. Assistant coaches influence a player to do the right thing. I really felt throughout my time in the NHL that that’s the most powerful form of leadership.
Do you need a vocal guy as a part of the leadership group?
In my experience, two of the best leaders I ever had were Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Good people, didn’t say much. When they did talk, everybody listened. Coaches too. Every team is different. You change one piece in a team and you’re changing the dynamics of the team. There might be some young guys in our system right now that are a little bit more vocal. I’m sensing from your question that this is an issue here. I’ll just say that give me time here to understand what I’m working with and I will say to you that if there is no one vocal as it was back in the days, that won’t stop a team from winning.
From coaching against the Flyers, what can you use to help understand these players?
There’s definitely a high skill level up front. From my side of the bench, I could sense a willingness to win. You’ve got some players on that team that you could sense by their energy level and their commitment level that they were in this to win. It’s my job now that I’m on the other side of the bench to use that and give them what they need to work the right way, to go on the ice and do the things that permit a team to have success consistently. I’ve got a very good idea of what that is and that’s one of the things I am going to bring to this team.
Do you see this as a similar team to the teams you took over in Vancouver and NYR?
When I took over the Canucks, it was a younger team where they had some very young pieces that were starting to grow and coming together. I was part of their development and their growth. When I went to the Rangers, there were maybe less as far as younger players, maybe a more veteran group. I believe as a coach you have to coach what you have in front of you. I will say that in today’s NHL, teams that have success and staffs that have success have to be able to handle young players, know how to get them to understand what it is to be a pro and help them in their development, their understanding of the game and their understanding of what it is to be a good teammate. You have to be able also to work with your core players, to make them understand the culture that you’re trying to install in your group, what is acceptable, what the standards are, what we’re looking to accomplish. A lot of those teams, the third component you have is older veterans that might not be able to perform at the same way that they once were, but bring an intangible that’s really important to the chemistry of a dressing room. If you can work with those players, show them the respect that they deserve through the years in the league, they can be a big asset to a team and an organization. I believe firmly that anyone who’s had success for a sustained period of time in the NHL at my level has been able to work with young players, core players and older players. If you can do that and work well with management, you can get a lot done.
What is your philosophy in developing younger players?
Without a doubt, a lot, in my mind, goes into the development of young players. It starts probably a lot before they get to my stage at the NHL level with the development coaches, the strength and conditioning coaches. At our level, there’s not one coach that will not play a player that will permit him to win. I firmly believe that talent has no age. If a guy who’s 19 can step in and help the Flyers win and be competitive, he’s going to play. Talent has no age. You just have to put players, young and old, and your core guys, in situations where they can best help the team. If you do that, then you’re going to win more games than you lose.
The New York media said you didn’t use young players enough. What are your thoughts about that?
I’m not perfect. I know that there’s a lot of areas that I can get better at and I’m working to get better at. I would say to you that in my time in Vancouver, I was criticized the same way with certain players. If you dig deep and take a look, like in Vancouver for instance, three of the players that I was most criticized about; one retired at 26, one was a good role player as far as a minor league and coming up to the NHL level and the other one took him a while to sort out his personal issues and god bless him, he did sort it out. He’s become a pretty good NHL player. You look at all the young players, take the drafts they had in Vancouver and how they developed and they played. Do the same thing with the Rangers and there weren’t a ton of young players during my time with the Rangers that came up in the system because of where that organization was at the time. Was I perfect with all of them? No, and I don’t think anyone is. I think my record is pretty good with younger players, it’s pretty good with core players as far as them coming into a season and having strong performances. It’s also good with older players. Everybody has their opinion, I respect that. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but for me that’s just part of the coaching job that you have to do. Some people are going to like the things Chuck and I do and I do with my staff, and some other people aren’t going to like it as much. At the end of the day, you know what we have to do? We have to win.
What is different about you now, from having a year off?
I told my mother when I was let go last year I was letting my beard grow. I was looking for a job to shave it off. That’s my next objective. This gave me a year away from the game. It put a lot of things in perspective for myself about how much I love the game, how much I love the coach, and how much I need one more thing. In my bucket list, I need one more thing, I need to win a Stanley Cup. I’ve come close twice. I’ve been very lucky to work for three great organizations, the Montreal Canadiens, the Vancouver Canucks and the New York Rangers. I’ve come close twice. I think this will be the right one. I really believe that we’ve got some strong pieces. Chuck and I have talked in-depth about the areas we’re hoping we’re going to be able to improve. It might not happen quickly, but we feel that we’re going to be able to do it. After a year off and figuring out I’ll never be the golfer I thought I would be, it’s time for me to get back to work.
By the time training camp opens, do you think you will have a much different roster than the one right now?
No, that’s a big term. We’ve got some real good players here. These good players, in certain phases of seasons, have performed at an extremely high level. Now it’s my job, and I know I can do that, I can get them to be more consistent. The way that I prepare a team for games I believe permits a player to understand what he needs to do against that team to be successful. I’m also very adamant that a player has his part to do in that. At the end of the day this is a team sport, but you’re accountable to your preparation and to your performance. A player has to get, in today’s language, into your mental zone where you can go on the ice and perform, and perform at a high level and compete at a high level. That’s a player’s responsibility. We’re going to help them understand how to do it , but at the end of the day, players have to be able to do that. You do that and you can be consistent. You do that and you are showing that you’re a true professional.
Have you picked a coaching staff? If not, when do you expect to?
Chuck Fletcher: Alain went through the interview process last week and got the contract done earlier this week. He’s also committed to be the head coach for Team Canada at the World Championships. They’ve just finished up a few days of meetings which is why this press conference happened now. To make a long story short, we’re going to talk a little bit more today and a little bit over the next week or two. I don’t think it’s going to be a rush to hire or a rush to judgment here. I will let Alain speak to you about the existing people, people already on staff and try to get to know some people. …We’ll have a good discussion and go from there.
Vigneault: For me and to complement what Chuck said, this happened rather quickly. I had prior engagements, so I apologize for not being here when this was announced. I had committed with Hockey Canada for a three-day work session with the coaching staff and the management staff so I couldn’t get here before. There’s no doubt in my mind that the coaching staff that is here at this time is very solid and very competent, so I do want to take the time to talk to those guys, hopefully in the next week before I leave for Europe. Chuck and I will circle back and figure out what’s best for this group.
The Flyers fell behind by one or two goals to start a game. Is there something you can address pretty quickly?
I can tell you that that’s not a secret for success. See how sharp I am. Listen, I’ll go back to what I just mentioned about the way I prepare my teams. I think that will have a very solid impact. Let’s not shy away from the players’ responsibility in this. It is their responsibility to get themselves in that mental state, that mental zone where you go out on the ice and you execute, you perform and you compete. I’m going to make sure that each and every one of our players understands his part in this. I am and my staff are going to our part as far as giving them the information that they need for the upcoming opponent and what they need to do have success as a team against that opponent.
Do you think there is one type of identity you would like your teams to take on? Or do you build it around the team you have?
You definitely build it around the pieces that are there, but I believe in today’s game, a high-tempo, take our game to them approach where you have the D supporting the attack, D jumping up in the play, forwards making the right decision with the puck. When the other team has the gap and there’s no space to make a play, there is one play. That’s to get it behind them. That’s high percentage and it doesn’t hurt your team. I’m going to make sure our team understands the details of the game that are going to permit them to win. Chuck and I have talked about this in length. We feel that we’ve got a good skating, good skilled team that can play a high tempo, good puck pursuit game. We need to make sure that this team has the right mindset to use its qualities and attributes. I’m confident that we’re going to do that.
What is your first order of business? Top of the to-do list for this team?
Right now, because of my schedule I would like to first meet and talk to the coaches that are here. If I have a decision to make moving forward, I can quickly talk to Chuck. Since I’m going to be gone for the month of May, I can probably start, if I need to start a process, I can during that time. But I’m definitely going to in the very near future start to get in contact with some of the players. I’m going to definitely talk to our conditioning staff here to make sure everybody has left with their personal programs where they know what they need to do as far as physical demands. There are quite a few things on my agenda right now, but I’m very confident that with Chuck’s help and his group, we’ll be able to take them one at a time. Come training camp, we’re going to be ready to go.
Can you share your conversations with Claude Giroux?
I don’t know him personally. I know him because I coached the Hull Olympiques and he played for the Hull Olympiques, which are now the Gatineau Olympiques. I would say to you that players and coaches’ conversations are private. I would say it was more me reaching out to him to introduce myself. Everything I’ve heard about him is because he spends his summers in Ottawa and I spend my summers in Gatineau. Everything I’ve heard about him is this passion to win. Now I just have to channel that energy in the right direction. It was more about me introducing myself and maybe trying to convince him to come and play for Team Canada. Not putting any pressure on him. Claude’s a smart young man, and he’s going to do what’s best for himself right now. Everything I’ve heard about him as far as his willingness to bring a championship to Philly is nothing but extremely positive.
Did you convince him to play for Team Canada?
No, that was my last sentence to him. We talked for, I want to say, 15 minutes there. Just basically about who we are, basically nothing about the Flyers. At the end, I said if you want to come and help me with Team Canada. He said he just needs a little bit of time here. Wasn’t any pressure on my part. He’s free to make the call he wants.
Previously able to accomplish success pretty quickly, why do think you were able to do that?
I firmly believe that players, and I’ve talked about this throughout the press conference, the direction. Players look for direction. If you give a player and a team a path and you do this, you do it this way, you put in the time, you’re going to have success. You do the same thing with your team, they’re going to follow you. Those are my intentions here individually and team-wise. I’m extremely excited to be here in Philly. This is without a doubt one of the best franchises in the National Hockey League. In my mind and after talking to a lot of people who have been in the game that know this franchise, this team is on the upswing. We’re here to work on winning and bringing a Cup.