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Alain Vigneault Retires from Coaching in the NHL

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

The last time the Philadelphia Flyers were relevant, let alone in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Alain Vigneault was behind the bench as the head coach with his experienced assistants in Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo.

Three full seasons later, and the Flyers have faltered and spiraled out of control, but have finally waved the white flag for a rebuild – albeit because of a change in upper management.

It was reported earlier on Thursday that after 19 seasons in the NHL, Alain Vigneault has retired from head coaching and is set to enjoy his retirement with a relatively successful track record.

Including interim head coaches and not including Bob McCammon’s 2nd stint, Vigneault was the 21st head coach in franchise history. The Flyers made it official on the 15th of April in 2019 as he succeeded Dave Hakstol and Scott Gordon. He wound up lasting until the 6th of December, 2021, amidst some of the most tumultuous seasons in recent franchise history.

From 1967 to the day Vigneault was hired, the Flyers had 20 head coaches in a span of 53 years with Fred Shero, Mike Keenan, and Dave Hakstol taking the mantle for most games coached. Shero was behind the bench for 554 games, Keenan for 320, and Hakstol 277. Vigneault unfortunately didn’t come close to any of the aforementioned coaches as he currently sits 15th with 147 games coached – in his defense, he coached during the COVID-interrupted season of 19-20 and the COVID-shortened season of 20-21. He finished his tenure with a 74-54-19 record with a winning percentage of .568, which has him 11th all-time in franchise history ahead of Dave Hakstol and Craig Berube and just behind Peter Laviolette and Roger Neilson. Vigneault technically has the best playoff winning percentage in franchise history at .625 (10-6 record) but his 16 games rank 10th on the list.

When Chuck Fletcher put his stamp on hiring his head coach, he went the complete opposite route that his predecessor took as he valued experience above all. At the time of his hiring, Vigneault was 12th all-time in wins with 648, had 16 seasons under his belt, was a 3-time Presidents’ Trophy winner (2011, 2012, and 2015), and had won the Jack Adams Award in 2007. Most importantly, he had 1,216 games as a seasoned veteran which was 18th all-time.

The Flyers and Vigneault then took it up a notch by hiring Therrien and Yeo as his assistants – former head coaches with more experience on hand. The Flyers now had 814 games of experience from Therrien’s head coaching days and 482 from Mike Yeo; a far cry from Dave Hakstol and his assistants at the time.

The Flyers had just hired a brand-new coaching staff, Chuck Fletcher was entering his first full season as general manager, and they had signed and/or traded for Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, and Justin Braun to add to their nucleus of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Carter Hart. They entered January of 2020 with a 22-15-6 record and a goal differential of +3, but had just come off a rough road trip that saw them lose 5 of 6.

Something seemed to have clicked once they returned home as they entered the COVID-pause as the hottest team in the league with a 19-6-1 record and just had their 9-game winning streak snapped against the Boston Bruins on the final day of the season. It was some of the most dominating hockey that the Flyers were a part of in a very long time and the scoring was very balanced all throughout, while also receiving stout goaltending from young Carter Hart.

After nearly 5 months without hockey, the Flyers entered the playoff bubble as one of the top-4 teams in the conference and were placed in a round robin tournament with Washington, Boston, and Tampa Bay to decide the seeding for the first round. The Flyers swept their way through and earned the #1 seed and a date with the Montreal Canadiens. It literally seemed like they didn’t skip a beat from March to August as they dominated the 3 games with relative ease.

However, inexplicably the Flyers looked like a completely different team against the Canadiens and subsequently the New York Islanders, like a night and day difference. They defeated Montreal in 6 games but were outscored 13-11 and struggled mightily in all facets of the game. Their CF% was 41.2%, their FF% was 42.1%, they were outshot 178-149, they were outchanced in terms of Corsi For and Against by a margin of 331-232, and every game they won was extremely close and had it not been for back-to-back shutouts from Hart, who knows what would’ve happened.

They survived and that’s all that mattered at the time and were pegged against the Islanders – a team that had been a thorn in their side for years. Down 3-1 in the series, the Flyers forced a Game 7 after back-to-back overtime victories, but once again the same problems that they dealt with against the Canadiens persisted against the Islanders. They were outscored 24-16, escaped some games by the skin of their teeth, yet somehow found a way to force a Game 7. It was a disappointing 7th game as they fell early, were not able to recover, and dropped the game 4-0.

The bubble could’ve been to blame, the restrictions didn’t help, and the fact that they went 5 months without hockey also played a role. Most teams let bygones be bygones, and the Flyers were ecstatic about their progression as they advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in a decade, while looking like a team for the first time in awhile.

The 2020-21 season was shortened and the divisions were realigned but the Flyers entered the crucial month of March with an 11-4-3 record – were once again not playing great but were surviving through opportunistic scoring. They limped into April after going 6-10-1, were outscored 75-45, and had been blown out 4 times, including 9-0, 8-3, and 6-1 twice. April wasn’t any kinder either as they dropped 10 of the 15 games and limped into the end of the season, missing the playoffs, and being encompassed by a dark shadow of on-ice and off-ice issues.

Vigneault had bumped heads with several veterans and it became very obvious that the Flyers management group had to choose a side; coaching staff of the players. Fletcher chose the former and incidentally made a rash of moves before and during the draft that reflected those ideas. Voracek was moved to Columbus for Cam Atkinson, Ryan Ellis was brought in for Nolan Patrick and Phil Myers, and Shayne Gostisbehere was a cap dump to Arizona to easier facilitate a Rasmus Ristolainen deal.

Thinking that the negative energy had seeped out of the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers looked different and Vigneault had received the stamp of approval from his general manager again. Then Ellis suffered an injury early in the season and never returned, Ristolainen stumbled, but Atkinson was a breath of fresh air. They were 8-4-2 to start the year, ended up losing the following 8 games, including an absolute stinker of a performance on home ice against Tampa Bay that cost Vigneault and Therrien their jobs, while Yeo was named interim head coach.

It was bittersweet because the first year was a lot of fun, Vigneault was a great character within the locker room and with the media, and the Flyers looked like a solid group with Kevin Hayes acting as the glue guy. The wheels completely fell off during the bubble and the Flyers never recovered entering the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. In fact, they haven’t been able to recover ever since as they stumbled to the end of the 2021-22 season with Yeo at the helm, and then things didn’t get any better this past season but different circumstances.

On the flipside, the entire coaching staff has been changed, the front office has been remodelled, and a lot of the upper management folk like Dave Scott and Valerie Camillo have moved on to pave the way for newer and more modern thinkers.

Vigneault was stubborn, didn’t want to make adjustments, kept sticking to same schemes time and time again, and butted heads with key core pieces that led to some dark days.

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