The Philadelphia Flyers have been stuck in a mediocre muck for most of the 2021-22 season and it is starting to take its toll an antsy fanbase. The fingers are starting to point and the whispers from the angry mob looking for heads to roll are starting to pick up once again.
Everyone is fed up and angry. It’s been years of a stale, mediocre product and it’s draining on everyone. We’re all reaching the “shit or get off the pot” mentality with this team and the fact that it’s been almost 12 years since their iconic trip to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final with little success to show for it since.
For older fans, this kind of suckage is new. If you watched Flyers hockey in the 90’s and 00’s you know this kind of losing would be unacceptable then. Unfortunately, the mentality of the fanbase has deteriorated so far over the last handful of years that a losing mindset has become the norm.
Though, I think the patience that has been shown for much of the past decade is starting to wear thin. Fans are starting to get antsy as it becomes more and more clear that there doesn’t appear to be a magic light at the end of the tunnel.
Let’s just take a minute and breath. Take a calm approach and review the state of the current state of the organization.
The cries for a someone to lose their job are growing ever louder. Some of the pleas are warranted, while some are nothing more than an angry fanbase demanding instant gratification to ease the boiling over tensions.
When it comes to the coaching staff, there is definitely some issues that have been longstanding and get put under the microscope during the team’s struggles.
Does AV have his faults as a coach? Yes, absolutely. Does every coach have their unique faults to pick apart? Also yes.
Let me make something perfectly clear before we continue- THIS IS NOT ME TRYING TO DEFEND ALAIN VIGNEAULT.
When you’re at the helm of back-to-back years of some of the most boring, lifeless hockey I’ve witnessed in my whole life, there’s a good chance it’s time to pack your bags and move on.
Have you ever heard the phrase “you can’t make a trade just for the sake of making a trade?” Well that feels like the territory we’re encroaching on with Vigneault, firing the guy just to fire the guy.
Vigneault hasn’t exactly done much to try and save his own ass. He has taken every ounce of blame the media has put on him, refusing to throw anyone else under the bus despite the fact that he’s put himself in the crosshairs of the fanbase and on a hot seat in the process.
The lack of goalscoring has been the most glaring issue all season long. The powerplay is firing at just 13.8%, a 8/60 success rate on the season. The Flyers are floating at 2.47 goals for per game, currently ranked 26th in the league. The powperplay is ran by assistant coach Michel Therrien, who has failed to deploy a successful man advantage during his entire tenure in Philly. They rarely ever get set up, instead opting for a dump-and-chase approach and quick shots only to have to puck cleared out of the zone.
The powerplay has looked much better this season as far as energy and movement is concerned, but it just isn’t enough to be successful.
Vigneault has taken most of the blame for the underwhelming powerplay both voluntarily and involuntarily, despite the fact that it probably isn’t truly his fault. He and Therrien are a package deal and Vigneault would rather fall on his sword than throw his buddy under the bus, probably the most concerning aspect of his time on the hot seat as head coach.
It’s an issue that is causing a vast majority of the angst within the fanbase. If the powerplay was clicking even just slightly better than it is now and a few more goals were being scored, even if the Flyers were still losing games, just doing it with a closer final score, how much less pressure would be on the team?
My guess is quite a bit.
But to give Vigneault the benefit of the doubt, and I think this is the difference between the rational and angry approach, look the the injury-decimated roster and ask yourself, can anybody succeed with the team as is?
Kevin Hayes and Ryan Ellis, the team’s second-line center and top right-handed defenseman have missed virtually the entire season recovering from injuries. Both are still on the shelf for the foreseeable future because of it.
The weakness at center (or the injury and subsequent surgery to Kevin Hayes) was no secret going into the off-season. That blood is on Chuck Fletcher’s hands for failing to properly address the hole down the middle, something that has been pretty glaring for years now. Ellis and Provorov looked like a legitimate top pair for the first few games of the season before his injury, giving us a brief taste of what could’ve been had he managed to stay in the lineup.
Those alone are two major holes that I dare any team to successfully overcome without even the slightest glimpse of struggle.
But of course there’s more. Wade Allison, Samuel Morin and Tanner Laczynski, essentially their entire fleet of the “next man up” quad-A guys, have missed the entire season with injuries as well. Not to mention other assorted injuries to Patrick Brown, Derick Brassard, Nate Thompson, and a wide array of injuries to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, making plugging all the holes caused by injury impossible.
If the Flyers Vigneault, the next coach is going to have to deal with the exact same injury circumstances that are currently ongoing.
Sure, Hayes and Ellis will come back one day, but will either be at 100%? There was word the Ellis opted to avoid the surgery route and instead went for physical treatments instead. Hayes, who is battling back from two abdominal injuries, has a massive uphill battle in front of him and quite frankly might not be close to full-strength again until next season. The organization almost has to approach the situation as if Hayes and Ellis won’t be major parts of the team this season, rather than feigning them as “trade deadline additions” to avoid making serious moves to fill their vacancies on the roster.
And that leads us to having too much faith in the current players on the roster. It’s a page ripped right out of the Ron Hextall playbook. Every single player that he drafted will surely be a star because he told us so, right?
You either have to-
a) just keep giving him time to develop, despite the fact that he’s in him mid-20’s.
b) blame the failures on everyone but the player themselves and keep the dream alive that another coach could correct the path.
To put the lack of goalscoring into perspective-
TK- 2 goals in 16 games
G- 3 goals in 14 games
Couts- 2 goals in 13 games
Farabee- 3 goals in 16 games
Atkinson- 1 goal in 14 games
JVR- 2 goals in 19 games
Laughton- 3 goals in 19 games
Provorov- 2 goals in 19 games
Lindblom- 0 goals in 18 games
Those are unacceptable numbers all around.
There’s a saying in hockey that “your stars have to be stars” and that just hasn’t been the case this season. But who is getting the blame from the fans? The bottom six or course.
This is where the ultimate divergence of the “fire AV’ crowd arrises. Is it the coaches fault that the roster can’t score, or is it the injuries piling on top of an already lackluster group of players making scoring impossible?
While most of the roster has been overturned since Chuck Fletcher took over, there are some players still hanging around from his predecessor, and it makes these results under Vigneault a bit more interesting.
Nine total players are still here from at least the 2018-19 season, Hextall and Hakstol’s last in Philly. While that may not sound like a lot, who they are is intriguing. Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, James Van Riemsdyk, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton and Carter Hart.
It’s basically their entire leadership core in Giroux, Couturier, JVR and Provorov. Not to mention three underwhelming key veterans in Konecny, Sanheim and Laughton. The guys that are supposed to be leading this franchise are still steering it in the wrong direction.
Best preface this by saying that I, along with every last one of us, are not in the locker room. We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. But the fact the the same players that have all been here for at least five years, some more, that are expected to be the leaders of the team are ultimately facing the same fate that befell the previous coach and general manager is at least an interesting link. These players aren’t quite as innocent in the grand scheme of things as some people like to attest.
Kevin Hayes and Ryan Ellis, who were brought in to provide stabilization to the old leadership group, but haven’t been aorund. Most of the other veteran additions in Derick Brassard, Keith Yandle and Cam Atkinson were seemingly brought in to insulate Hayes in his possible transition of power, but since he hasn’t been around, it’s possible that process just can’t happen yet and the magic can’t be unlocked.
One way to solve the underwhelming status of the players is to make a big trade. Find a franchise that is in just as big of a disaster as you are and make a “hockey trade” to shake up both rosters. The Vancouver Canucks come to mind. They’re full of talent, but have lost all bearings and could benefit from a shakeup. It may not save the day, but it’s a shakeup with some fresh faces who could look to succeed on a new team. JT Miller, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser among others would all be solid additions to the Flyers right now.
Vigneault’s scheme has also been questioned quite a bit. Forwards being weak on the puck and just generally playing a passive game of hockey. Valid criticisms, to a certain extent. But it’s almost a guarantee he’s not teaching the players to screw up every zone entry or play on the parameter. It’s more a sign of the players and coach not being on the same page than it is flat out poor coaching.
Did AV lose the team or did this group of players once again give up? I guess the only way to tell is to fire him and see if the next guy can overcome the odds. But that feels like a time to be careful what you wish for. There’s a good chance that the Flyers do not all of a sudden look like true Stanley Cup contenders the second Vigneault is fired.
Mike Yeo, a Chuck Fletcher favorite has been waiting in the wings in Philly since the new regime took over. Can Fletcher help himself but to put his best friend back on power? If not Yeo then who? Bruce Boudreau, a fellow former Fletcher head coach is available.
The consensus from the fans seems to be either John Tortorella or Rick Tocchet. Both coaches have less-than-stellar recent track records, but are known as hard asses with good systems. A coach like that may be the best way to go because you’ll get to know real quick whether it is a player or system issue. If the players rule the roost and voluntarily give up on coaches, somebody with a “take no crap” attitude like Torts won’t survive and the tension between the two will be evident. If it’s a case of AV’s system failing and the players are looking for more, someone like Tocchet should be able to pull the best out of them and finally correct the course of the franchise.
Does Alain Vigneault meet his doom soon? It’s hard to tell really. Hell, he could get fired a few hours after this gets published or he could hold on for the rest of the season and it’s a problem that gets dealt with next summer.
The reality is, as long as injuries continue to plague the roster to this extent, there’s a good chance the Flyers are stuck in this weird middle ground for most of the rest of the season regardless of who is behind the bench. It’s clear that even after the great summer Chuck Fletcher had, the plan got blown to hell with the roster in shambles.
If the Flyers were playing as bad as they are now with a fully healthy roster, this would be a much different story. Heads would roll. But with the built-in injury excuse, it truly is difficult to have any modicum of success right now.
It’s a very frustrating time to be a Flyers fan, I get it. But rushing to judgements and making coaching changes just may not be necessary in the long-run. Unfortunately, it’s possible this season may be a wash because of the injuries. But on the bright side, the Flyers survived an incredibly difficult opening two months of their schedule with a 8-7-4 record. It’s not great, but between the toughness of opponents and the mounting injuries, the fact that both wildcard spots are still very much within reach means this season isn’t a completely lost cause just yet.
For now, the best thing to do is stay positive, or at least realistic, when it comes to assessing the current roster and place the blame equally on the team up and down the lineup and coach and just hope that the injury bug goes away sooner rather than later and a clearer view of what this team could be comes to the forefront. It’s the only way to properly address the future.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nbcsports.com