It only took a week for Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher to make up his mind about a new head coach, mainly because a candidate with the qualities he was looking for was easy to find.
Fletcher wanted someone with proven experience and also had demonstrated an ability to help develop young players.
So hiring Alain Vigneault on Monday seemed like the natural thing to do, not only because Vigneault had over a thousand NHL games and two trips to the Stanley Cup Final on his resume, but because he had done such a good job turning around a downtrodden franchise like the Vancouver Canucks by emphasizing the progress of players in their early 20s.
Vigneault takes over as the 21st head coach in Flyers’ history with a clear mandate: Get this team back into serious contention while making it a perennial threat to win a championship.
“Alain is always someone I’ve admired and respected,’’ Fletcher said during a media conference call late Monday afternoon.
“I’ve watched the job he’s done over the years throughout his career, but particularly in Vancouver. . .he’s always been what I consider to be a top coach in the NHL.’’
Someone pointed out that Vigneault seemed to come into disfavor with the New York Rangers shortly after he took them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 – the perception being that he was not in accord with the Blueshirts’ youth movement.
Fletcher countered that by saying Vigneault was the main reason why the Canucks made it all the way to Game 7 of the ’11 Cup Final before succumbing to the Boston Bruins.
“He has a tremendous record of developing players,’’ Fletcher pointed out. “Holding his players accountable, instilling proper habits in his players.
“When he came into Vancouver, all the younger players there, you know he turned that franchise around quickly. They had a slew of young players. . .they had players like (Ryan) Kesler, (Jannick) Hansen, (Alex) Burrrows; all those were young players. That Vancouver group really gelled into a top team for many years.
“I think his track record speaks for itself. He’s had success at the junior level, in the minor leagues and the NHL. You can’t have success at all those levels unless you’re good at developing players. He gets his players to play hard and buy in.’’
The Flyers haven’t been to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2012. Last week, Fletcher had mentioned he wants to change the “mindset’’ of this team. Is Vigneault capable of doing that?
“He’s done it (before) repeatedly,’’ Fletcher said.
On the flip side, Vigneault probably had some other offers out there but likes what he sees with the Flyers’ roster.
“He likes our group and thinks there’s a lot of upside,’’ Fletcher said. “We would like to upgrade in a couple areas if we can.
“I think Alain is at a stage in his career where he wants to win. He sees a lot of potential in our roster, right now it’s about continuing to build our group and become competitive as quickly as we can.’’
The Flyers have scheduled a press conference on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to formally introduce Vigneault.
>No decisions on assistant coaches
Fletcher said no decisions have been made on assistant coaches Ian Laperriere, Rick Wilson, Kris Knoblauch or goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh.
“We’ll work together (Fletcher and Vigneault) to hire the assistant coaches,’’ Fletcher said. “We had a conversation about it. We haven’t made any final determinations.’’
>Gordon could return to Lehigh Valley
According to Fletcher, interim head coach Scott Gordon can return to his old job with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms if he choses to do so.
Gordon did an admirable job as an interim. After he took over for ex-coach Dave Hakstol, Gordon coached the team to a record of 25-22-4.
“He did a good job for the Flyers,’’ Fletcher said. “He came in under tough circumstances, I thought he did a very good job with our team.
“I spoke to him this morning and he was disappointed. He wanted to be the head coach. I advised him to take some time, we can talk again over the coming weeks. The Lehigh Valley job is his if he wants it.’’