VOORHEES – At next month’s World Championships in Slovakia, Team Canada head coach Alain Vigneault will get a head start on getting to know some of the players on his Flyers’ roster.
That’s because Flyers goalie Carter Hart and star forward Sean Couturier just happen to be on Canada’s roster.
Actually, it’s going to be like one big homecoming because former Flyers coach Dave Hakstol will be one of Vigneault’s assistant coaches and ex-Flyer general manager Ron Hextall will serve as one of three “managers’’ for the squad.
Maybe they can all get together and be “four wild and crazy guys’’ some night in downtown Bratislava.
But seriously folks, Vigneault looks forward to the challenge of leading the Canadian contingent and also becoming acquainted with Hart and Couturier.
Who knows? He might even get Flyers captain Claude Giroux to change his mind about not playing, although that’s doubtful since the Giroux family is expecting child No. 1 in a few months.
“Right now we have a solid young goaltender (Hart),’’ Vigneault said. “We’re going to be able to work with him at the World Championships.
“We have a young goaltender who has a tremendous amount of potential that might become one of the top goalies in the NHL. Hopefully he can continue to improve.’’
Couturier has blossomed into one of the top two-way forwards in the NHL.
“You can trust him in any situation,’’ Vigneault said. “And he comes to play. Really looking forward to getting to know him at Worlds and then helping him grow here as a Flyer.’’
On Thursday, Flyers forward and New Jersey native James van Riemsdyk was named to the Team USA roster.
>Working on that goal negative differential
It’s no secret the Flyers will have to work more on keeping pucks out of their net than worrying about scoring in the opponent’s net.
Vigneault is well aware that the Flyers were a minus-37 this past season and that has to change.
“There are certain things you have to do to be successful in this game,’’ the coach pointed out. “There are certain things you need to do with the puck and without the puck.
“I expressed those things to (general manager) Chuck (Fletcher) – puck management can be as important and as effective to playing good defense. When you know what to do with the puck, you’re not defending as much.’’
Can this be a quick turnaround?
“You can’t have success in this league if your goal differential is in the minus,’’ Vigneault said. “You look at all the teams that are successful that are in the playoffs. That’s one stat that makes it easy to see where your team is and where it’s going.’’
>Flyers fans frustrated
It’s been 44 years since a Stanley Cup in Philadelphia and Vigneault feels their frustration.
“I understand their disappointment,’’ he said. “But I would say that’s all behind us. Chuck is here, he’s new. I’m here, I’m new. There’s nothing I can do about what’s happened in the past. I can focus on the future and what we all want it to be.’’
>Vigneault’s coaching staff
No decisions have been made about Vigneault’s coaching staff just yet. Vigneault was meeting with Team Canada officials the past few days, which is why he wasn’t present last Monday for interviews when he was hired by the Flyers.
Vigneault did say Thursday that Flyers goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh will be on the Canada staff for the Worlds, so that would seem to bode well for his return to the Flyers next season.
As for the other assistants – Ian Laperriere, Rick Wilson, Kris Knoblauch – not much is known yet.
“We’re going to talk a little bit more today and a little bit over the next week or two,’’ Fletcher said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a rush to hire or a rush to judgment here’’
Added Vigneault: “For me and to complement what Chuck said, this (hiring) happened rather quickly. 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.’’
>Restricted free-agent contract updates
Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim head the list of restricted free agents who are due new contracts.
Provorov would like to get signed before he commits to Russia for the Worlds. Likewise, Sanheim and Canada.
Fletcher hopes to have these done in a timely fashion.
“Typically these things don’t go quickly,’’ Fletcher said. “I’ve reached out to both. I’m not optimistic it will happen quickly but I’m not pessimistic.’’