VOORHEES – Once a less-than-flattering reputation gets started in professional sports, it’s a hard thing to stop.
And so it seems to be the case with new Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault, who somehow may have been perceived to be someone who really hasn’t shown an interest in developing young players.
At least that seemed to be the knock on him during his five-year tenure with the New York Rangers, that stint ending after the 2017-18 season.
Going back to his previous tenure with Vancouver, there appeared to be similar scrutiny, even though Vigneault did cultivate some kids during his tenure there.
So, of course, at Thursday’s press conference at the Skate Zone, media types from the Philadelphia area wanted to know if there might be any validity to this criticism.
After all, the Flyers are loaded with young players, starting with budding stars such as Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Oskar Lindblom, Travis Sanheim and, perhaps most prominent of all, rookie goaltender Carter Hart.
“I’m not perfect,’’ Vigneault admitted in response to a question about the Rangers. “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.’’
To his credit, Vigneault tried to do the best he could with the talent he had to work with on the Rangers.
Plus, to be fair, he inherited only five regulars (Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Derek Stepan and Michael Del Zotto) under age 25 when he took over the Rangers in 2013.
“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,’’ Vigneault said. “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.’’
At 57, Vigneault has heard just about every bad review one can imagine but he’s learned to develop a tough skin.
“Everybody has their opinion, I respect that,’’ Vigneault said. “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 (general manager) Chuck (Fletcher) 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.’’
Actually, it sounds like Vigneault is looking forward to getting some of the Flyers’ young players to learn to play the game the right way.
“Without a doubt, a lot, in my mind, goes into the development of young players,’’ the coach said. “It starts probably a lot before they get to my stage at the NHL level with the development coaches, the strength and conditioning coaches.’’
When all is said and done, Vigneault insists he has no prejudice against young players.
“At our level, there’s not one coach that will not play a player that will permit him to win,’’ he said. “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.’’