Alain Vigneault is certainly a relapse coach. It’s not a secret. He is demanding. He blames his players – sometimes publicly. It’s especially tough on young players. He plays mind games.
Some players like his coaching style. Others hate it. Hell, some guys who have never played for him have publicly called for him to be removed from hockey:
– Robin Lehner (@RobinLehner) October 3, 2021
We all remember that tweet, right? It was later suggested that the trainer was a pill pusher that Robin Lehner went back to. But that tweet, that first tweet, called Vigneault a dinosaur for treating his players.
Guess what? This dinosaur knows about hockey – and he knows there are players who still want to play the game the … um … “old-fashioned” way and can still be successful at it.
Case in point was the late night jewel of a hockey game on Wednesday when the Flyers presented the Edmonton Oilers with their first 5-3 defeat of the season in the Alberta, Canada hinterland.
Why was it a gem? Because it was the fastest team in the world, led by the best player in the world, playing against a Flyers team that liked to play big, strong and physical.
And while there were some penalties in that game, pronounced by two veteran umpires in Ian Walsh and Kelly Sutherland, they found that the pace of the game was a nice dichotomy of contrasting styles and the two zebras that let the teams play for the most part so that a type of hockey can be played that is not often seen in today’s game.
There was the Oilers darting all over the ice, and not just their skating speed, but also their passing speed and their shooting speed, playing the game at a playoff-like pace in their sixth game of the season.
And there were the Flyers, trying at times to keep up, but mostly trying to derail the Oilers by overtaking them and playing a check game reminiscent of a long-lost era of Flyers hockey. One that existed and was popular long before meeting rooms, arena sports betting, lavish clubs, and overexposed mascots:
The clash of styles here is actually pretty neat to watch. Edmonton is all about speed, and not just about speed in skating. They whip the puck around incredibly quickly. While PHI plays a physical, well-trained style when attacking. And both teams get their chances.
– Charlie O’Connor (@charlieo_conn) October 28, 2021
Charlie is spot on that it is beautiful to look at. Really because it’s so rare. But that, friends, that was hockey before the 2004-05 lockout, with some rule changes of course to get rid of the clutch and the grave log.
Here’s the thing though; This “dinosaur” coach may have worked hand in hand with GM Chuck Fletcher to create a Jurassic Park type team that, if they buy in and believe in the system they play, can and will win games.
The flyers are 3-1-1 at the start of the season. You played against two undefeated teams and broke up with them. They beat Boston and lost in a shootout to a much improved Vancouver team that they will see again tonight. Oh, and they dismantled Dave Hakstol’s crack collection of octopuses.
This is a very good start. And the thing is, they can get better. They have all played a game with their full defensive line-up. They toppled the Oilers on home ice minus Ryan Ellis for a second game.
The difference this season for the Flyers? Veteran Depth, for example. And a group that fits the coach in second place.
Justin Braun, for example, was great to replace Ellis in the top pair against the Oilers. Nick Seeler continues to be a solid defender recording the third couple minutes. Derick Brassard has been brilliant so far this season, playing in the second row instead of the injured Kevin Hayes.
No matter where you go, you can find players who believe in this team and want to win with this team and play whatever role the coach demands of them.
It’s kind of refreshing.
Brassard told Russ and me about it last week at Snow the Goalie. Vigneault and a veteran squad were the reason he chose to sign with the Flyers rather than signing elsewhere for more money, as two teams offered him more than the Flyers.
In early September, I unexpectedly ran into a Flyers Hockey employee, in a mall of all places, and we talked for a long time about the off-season.
He told me that Fletcher “gave the coaching staff everything they asked for” in the offseason, and now it’s up to the coaches and the players to prove it was all worth it.
And you can see how it works. This team is close. It’s tight. There are players who like to keep things relaxed and fun, but also know when the time is right to play hard and be serious.
There are players who really enjoy playing together. There are players who cause excitement and in turn let it rub off on their teammates.
It’s a closed group that brought together a lot more good than bad phases in the first five games. And I toss it to Charlie O’Connor again, because in the third third he was right with this assessment:
Flyers really take this “win a period, win a game” thing to heart on the third. You’ve been fantastic so far.
– Charlie O’Connor (@charlieo_conn) October 28, 2021
Gain a period. Win a game. Sounds like one of those hockey stereotypes a dinosaur coach might use.
But if that is the result and Vigneault is the coach who finally breaks the Flyers’ decades of drought at the championship, be it this season, the next season or the following season, the fans will not mind if the footprints ” walking together “forever”, as another dinosaur trainer Fred Shero once said, will be found as fossils along Broad Street in a few thousand years.
Because it will have been worth it.