Flyers CEO Dave Scott, general manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Alain Vigneault all agree the team’s performance just wasn’t acceptable.
But they are also in concert that the problem involving this year’s playoff misfire can be fixed.
During wrapup interviews on Tuesday, the three key people in Flyers’ decision-making made it clear they didn’t want to use things like the pandemic as an excuse but rather a way of stating they want to be patient before making any drastic offseason moves.
In particular, Vigneault was emphatic with his comments about wanting to experience a “normal’’ schedule with a complete training camp and a full slate of 82 games.
That, he said, will be a true test of what this team’s potential really is.
Apparently, Scott agrees because he has given both Fletcher and Vigneault the proverbial vote of confidence.
One gets the impression if this had been your average, uninterrupted season and the Flyers had fallen flat, Scott and the boys at Comcast might not be so lenient.
If the Flyers are to rediscover the game that got them within one win of the Eastern Conference finals in the 2019-20 season, it will be up to Vigneault to put his foot down and demand more than he got this past year.
Some of the drawbacks – goaltender Carter Hart’s struggles, a lack of progress by some of the young players, failure to replace valuable veteran defenseman Matt Niskanen – all conspired to set up the Flyers for failure once COVID-19 struck.
“I think I have a couple of theories,’’ Vigneault said during a media Zoom call from the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. “After starting the season where we got off – at least results-wise — to a good start, mainly due some real solid goaltending, our team started to play better.’’
Then, after COVID hit in early February, things started to slip. Still, the Flyers had the highest winning percentage in the East Division as of March 1 until the struggles began.
“Our goaltending slipped a little bit. COVID hit us and after COVID, all we basically did was play games and not practice,’’ Vigneault said. “(Our) younger players, when the game slips a little bit, were not quite executing the way we need to have success.
“You have to practice and we didn’t have any practice time. I’m not saying that’s the reason. A lot of things happened, but I’m going to need some time to reflect on it. But I do think that played a part in our game slipping and our season going the way it did.’’
Rather than worry about adding a flashy 35-goal scorer or a Niskanen look-alike, Fletcher might consider recruiting a few foot soldiers to bolster a cellar-dwelling penalty kill and a league worst goals-against average.
Tied to that is the public perception that changes should be made to the team’s leadership, but that’s a group Fletcher says he can’t fault. He’s studying the big picture, examining whether this is the “right mix’’ of players.
“I think that’s something we’ll take a look at,’’ he said. “I don’t know that I’m sitting here questioning our leadership. I thought our leaders played hard this year.
“If you look at the last couple months, nobody played harder than Claude Giroux. Sean Couturier played really hard on his line, carried our team early in the season. Jake Voracek led our team in scoring again, or tied for the lead.’’
In other words, the entire roster should share the brunt of the blame, right?
“A lot of these players that have been here a while I thought did their part,’’ Fletcher said. “Hockey’s a team sport. Twenty players on the ice. I don’t know that one guy giving a speech in a dressing room or doing something can turn a season around.
“We had a tough March, there’s no question. We had 17 games in that month. I’ve never been on a team that played 17 games in a month. I think I’ve been on a team that played 16 maybe once. Typically you’re playing 15 games a month, so it was tough. There wasn’t a lot of time to reset.’’
It sounds like Fletcher still has complete faith in Vigneault and his core players.
“A lot of other teams went through it,’’ Fletcher said. “It was probably a harder time to go through when you’re struggling, you don’t have much time to practice or reset. To me, I’m not sure leadership is the first thing I’m looking at in this group, but we’ll take some time over the next few weeks here to look at every angle. Find a way to plug the holes we need to plug.’’
Fletcher was Scott’s hand-picked choice to replace Ron Hextall in November, 2018, so deep-down, the CEO is still on board with the program, although he used some pretty strong words to express his dissatisfaction.
“It’s just not an acceptable level of performance, period,’’ Scott said. “We’ve all talked about it. We’re not happy with where we are. There’s been frustration. There’s been anger. This is where we sit.
“It comes down to accountability and we’re all accountable for the success of this team. That starts with me, ownership, the front office, the coaching staff and the players.’’
Scott doesn’t want to go through this again. The Flyers haven’t missed the playoffs in two straight seasons since 1994.
“At this point, the season is over and we’re picking up our heads, Scott said. “I think Alain said it best, it’s time to reflect a little bit about where we’re going. Certainly we have the resources to put something pretty good together this summer. We have the time. Not easy in a cap world, but I’m confident that Chuck will be creative. We’ll figure a way to improve as we look to the next season.’’
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