Flyers hire Alain Vigneault as next head coach

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Alain Vigneault is returning to the Metropolitan Divison after the Philadelphia Flyers announced on Monday afternoon that they’ve hired him as their next head coach.

“Alain has always been somebody I’ve admired and respected,” said Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. ” I’ve watched the job he’s done over the years throughout his career, but particularly in Vancouver and with the Rangers. He’s been what I’ve considered to be a top coach in the NHL. I made a decision that I wanted to speak with him, and during our conversations it just became apparent to me he was the right guy. So once you kind of come to that conclusion it just made sense to pursue it, and we were able to finalize things this morning.”

Vigneault, who’s currently set to lead Canada’s entry at the IIHF World Championship in May, was fired by the New York Rangers after the 2017-18 NHL season. The 57-year-old was behind the bench for the Rangers for five seasons, guiding them to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals and the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. He’s won 648 games coaching three different franchise, earned the Jack Adams Award in 2007, and led both the Vancouver Canucks and Rangers to conference titles.

“It is an honor to be selected as the next head coach of the Flyers,” said Vigneault. “The history they have established and the passionate fan base has made this a first-class franchise. I am excited to work with Chuck, the talented group of players and prospects coming up through the system, in order to return Philadelphia to the top of the NHL landscape.”

It was no secret that the Flyers were hot after Joel Quenneville following his November dismissal by the Chicago Blackhawks. But Fletcher, who replaced Ron Hextall, decided to give the organization’s AHL head coach, Scott Gordon, the interim tag after Dave Hakstol’s firing. Even after Gordon led the team to a 25-22-4 record, it wasn’t enough as Fletcher apparently sees Vigneault as the better option going forward on a “multi-year” contract, which is reportedly five years, $25M, per Pierre LeBrun.

Now that he has a head coach, Fletcher can check another thing off his to-do list after assuming the GM job. The goaltending position looks to be set with Carter Hart‘s emergence this season. Who backs him up in 2018-19 is still to be decided. Up next is working on extensions for some of the team’s restricted free agents like Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Travis Konecny.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Flyers start search for coach after missing playoffs

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Flyers found a pair of rookies this season they expect to become superstars over the long haul.

The first one is obvious: Gritty, the mischievous furball that not only would win an NHL mascot MVP vote by a landslide, the googly-eyed giant just might win a popularity contest among all of sports’ greatest characters.

The next one is the spark the Flyers need more than a Phillie Phanatic knockoff: a goalie.

Carter Hart gave Flyers fans a reason to tune in when the season was left for dead and showed that – yes! maybe? – the franchise that has foundered between the pipes may have a goalie who can win them a Stanley Cup. Hart is just 20 years old but showed enough flashes of promise from his mid-December call-up from the minors that it convinced the Flyers (37-37-8; 82 points) they won’t have to chase another veteran this summer.

”Am I going to trade Carter Hart? I’d have to be crazy,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said.

Fletcher can scratch ”get No. 1 goalie” off his summer to-do list.

But the list is long for a franchise that has failed to reach the second round of the playoffs since 2012 and has alternated between missing and making the postseason each of the following years.

”We weren’t good enough,” Fletcher said Monday.

That’s why Fletcher was hired after Ron Hextall was fired in November after 4+ seasons on the job in which he tried to revive a depleted farm system and patiently build a championship contender. Fletcher fired coach Dave Hakstol weeks later and gave minor league coach Scott Gordon the interim label. Fletcher and Gordon met briefly Monday to discuss upcoming schedules – but not the fate of the coach. The Florida Panthers took one of the top candidates off the market when they hired Joel Quenneville on Monday. Gordon, who quickly became popular with the players, is among the candidates.

”I had a great time with the group of players,” Gordon said. ”What I liked about it, when I was up front and called them out and was hard and challenged them, I got a response from them. When you try and do that in this day in age and not have them resent you, that’s an important part.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Fletcher thinks it’s important, too.

”My search for the next head coach starts today and Scott remains a candidate,” he said.

Here are some key developments from 2018-19 that will remain relevant for the Flyers:

GETTING GRITTY WIT IT

Gritty was the undisputed star of the lost season.

He made 114 appearances this season, including cameos at the Stadium Series and All-Star weekend. The Flyers sold more than 17,000 pieces of Gritty merchandise at home games this season. The NHLPA voted Gritty the best mascot in the NHL and he was as in-demand as a Hollywood A-lister, with appearances on the late-night circuit with Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel.

The Flyers may have been unwatchable, but Gritty was a surefire smash.

HELP WANTED

The Flyers might continue to try to build from within. There is money to spend, but the NHL free-agent market is thin, with Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers and Anton Stralman among possible players the Flyers could target.

Possible.

”I don’t think it’s an elite market, but we’ll see,” Fletcher said. ”There are always players that can help your team.”

BAD HABITS

Like many bad teams, the Flyers fell behind first in games and got off to a slow start that left them buried in the standings before a midseason surge offered a glint of a playoff hope.

”We have some bad habits right now,” Fletcher said. ”It’s mindset, but you need the mindset to embrace the habits. It’s about making sure going into camp next year, we have to change some details, change our mindset and have a good start. A lot of reasons we fall behind in games is because we give up easy goals. It’s not about effort. It’s about thinking, about working smart and playing better.”

STEP UP

The Flyers need more out of once-prized prospects Shayne Gostisbehere and Nolan Patrick. ”Ghost” slumped from a career-high 65 points last season to just nine goals and 37 points this season.

Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom and Phil Myers played for Gordon in the minors and there’s hope that the familiarity can help them improve on their 25-22-4 record since the interim coach took over.

”I think we have good players,” Fletcher said. We just need a few more.”

More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

After tough start, JVR is showing why Flyers brought him back

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For a while there, JVR felt a little … well, JV for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Two main factors seemed to complicate things for James van Riemsdyk as he tried to justify that five-year, $35 million contract to return to Philly. The first was a freak injury, right in the beginning of the 2018-19 season.

The other was even more out of JVR’s hands than the bad luck of getting hurt: the Flyers were transitioning from Wayne Simmonds to JVR, particularly on the power play, and it wasn’t exactly a seamless passing of the torch.

[JVR came into this season under pressure.]

Bumpy start

Flyers coach Scott Gordon saw JVR’s season firsthand, as he went from hurt and a bit lost to his current red-hot streak, where van Riemsdyk now has 10 goals in his last 11 games.

“I think being out that time and not really …he almost didn’t have a role with the team for a while there,” Gordon said, via Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post. “He wasn’t playing as much power-play time, not playing as much top-six ice time and so now I find he’s skating more consistent, getting involved in the play up and down the ice and just has the puck more often. Getting to the front of the net more often obviously, whether it’s a tip or a rebound, that’s critical for anybody but to do that you’ve got to be around the net and he’s been around the net more.”

The turnaround truly has been remarkable, as JVR now has 25 goals and 42 points despite being limited to 56 games played.

2019 has been kind to JVR, so far

JVR is tied for the second-most goals since 2019 began with 20, and no player has more goals than his nine since the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

As with any sniper who’s scoring at an even higher level than usual, a hot streak will eventually be iced, and that’s true with JVR. His 18.8 shooting percentage overall this season is a little high – even for a player who has a knack for getting to the areas of the ice where you can get quality shots, and one who is among the best at finishing such chances – and his luck has been even better lately.

But, to me, it’s the renewed clarity of it all that bodes well for JVR’s short-term future, and the Flyers’ chances of getting the most out of him in 2019-20.

Yes, scoring nine times on 35 shots on goal (25.7 shooting percentage) is unsustainable, but it’s a great sign that van Riemsdyk is firing the puck that often.

It sure seems like JVR isn’t just getting the green light, but that he knows it. Not only does he have eight goals in as many March games, but after averaging 16:26 TOI or less in previous months this season, he’s averaged 18:18 per game during March. That’s an exciting development for a player who went from heavy usage during Toronto’s awkward years, to being shuttled into more of a specialist role during his final two seasons with the Maple Leafs. The thought was that JVR scored incredibly well considering a bit under 16 minutes of ice time in 2016-17 and a bit under 15 in 2017-18, so imagine what he could do with fuller minutes … but he was sort of relegated to that same, more supporting duty through most of this first season.

If the Flyers carry over this finish to giving JVR a heightened role in 2019-20, they might just enjoy the sort of rewards that would get people to look at his $7M as a bargain.

… At least for a while.

Will it all line up?

Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher faces an interesting question, with an invisible deadline from Father Time: can he put a few more pieces together to take advantage of what this team has, before a decline happens?

JVR is already 29, and will turn 30 in May. Jakub Voracek is 29 as well, while Claude Giroux is 31.

For every Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, and other player who continues to play at a high level past age 30, there are scary examples of other steep declines. The stories are especially frightening for power forward-types like JVR. Wayne Simmonds himself has already been showing signs of decay, while Milan Lucic and James Neal rank as some of the starkest examples of how steep the falls can be.

Will the Flyers be able to best take advantage of the remaining high-level years of productivity, however many there might be? As much as Philly can look at many positive developments heading into 2019-20 (and beyond), it remains to be seen if they can make all the pieces fall into place at the perfect time to contend – for real – for at least a few years.

If nothing else, JVR looks far more capable of being a big part of that solution as of today, compared to earlier this season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers may ‘both buy and sell’ at NHL trade deadline

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Their playoff hopes are incredibly slim, and while a prolonged win streak could have them flirt with an Eastern Conference wild card spot or even the No. 3 seed in Metropolitan Division, the Philadelphia Flyers are eyeing 2019-20, which will have an affect on the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline.

General manager Chuck Fletcher has decisions to make over the next four weeks about not only who’s staying and who’s going, but also who may be brought into the fold for the future.

Speaking to the media ahead of Monday’s meeting with the Winnipeg Jets (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN), Fletcher indicated that he won’t just sell at the trade deadline and will also be looking to bring in players to help the Flyers for next season and beyond. He won’t be shipping out the team’s 2019 first-round pick to acquire a rental, but if there’s a player with term available and the right deal can be struck, he’s all for going that route to improve.

“We can both buy and sell,” Fletcher said. “Every decision we make, if we’re going to try to improve our team going forward and we can get that player now — great. There’s always opportunities. To me, it’s not the next eight games or even the rest of the year. From this point forward we’ve got to get better. To be better next year we may have to try to get better this year. That’s what we’re trying to do, whether it’s the coaches on the ice or adding players, I can see us buying and selling. But the bigger focus is we’d like to get some pieces in here that can be a part of this for a few years. That’s really where my focus has been.”

[PHT Power Rankings: 10 people who will impact NHL playoff race]

The Flyers entered their bye week winners of three straight, so some things have gone well of late. But their special teams units, which Fletcher described as “atrocious,” currently features a 28th-ranked penalty kill (76.3 percent) and a, per the GM, “historically unlucky” 29th-ranked power play (13.3 percent).

“We’re not good enough right now. We’re playing better,” Fletcher said. “The odds aren’t great for this year, but with this group you never count them out. This group’s had some tremendous runs. … But we’re at a stage where we need a big run here. We finished well before the break and we’ve got an opportunity here [with six of next eight games at home]. Clearly we need to get a lot of points here.”

One player who likely won’t be part of that future is Wayne Simmonds, who can be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The 30-year-old forward, who has a 12-team no-trade list per Cap Friendly, has 15 goals and 23 points on the season and is one of the names in the rumor mill given his contract status. Fletcher has had dialogue with his agent, but wouldn’t say if any offers have been made. The situation, he says, will be resolved by the trade deadline one way or another.

Simmonds may not be the only Flyer gone within the next month. Fletcher only dubbed captain Claude Giroux as an untouchable given his status on the team as well as the no-movement clause in his contract. And while he added the typical GM-speak of “you can’t say never,” you could probably also add Carter Hart, Jakub Voracek, James van Riemdsyk, Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Sean Couturier, and a few others to the list of those players who will be staying as part of a core the GM wants to build with moving forward.

“To me, it’s not the next eight games or even the rest of the year. From this point forward, we have to get better,” Fletcher said. “To be better next year we may have to try to get better this year. That’s what we’re trying to do, whether it’s the choices on the ice, adding players, whatever we have to do. I could see us buying and selling to use those terms.

“The bigger focus is we’d like to get some pieces in here that could be a part of this for the next few years. That’s where my focus has been.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL on NBCSN: Should Chuck Fletcher blow up or retool Flyers?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

SEAN: This season is long gone, so Chuck Fletcher will need to make some big decisions between now and the Feb. 25 trade deadline. By the end of February he’ll have been Flyers GM for nearly three months, more than enough time to get a feel for the organization and have an idea the best way forward to turn around their fortunes.

Flyers brass wanted someone with a “bias for action” to replace the patient Ron Hextall. You can be sure the team will be aggressive in trying to become a playoff team in 2020, but at what cost?

Wayne Simmonds will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, so he’ll have some suitors. He’s 30 and his offensive output has diminished this season. He’s an easy one to cut bait on and bring back a return full of futures. After that, do you rip up the core that’s been together for years like Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek? At their ages, they still have good years left, you’d hope. And with the development of Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick up front and Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere on the backend, plus the future in Morgan Frost, Philippe Myers, Joel Farabee, there’s no reason to blow it up. Factor in Carter Hart getting an extended run due to the numerous injuries that have hit the position and you can still see some bright spots ahead.

A number of Flyers are having down years, which will happen given their current state of mess. But players like Giroux, Voracek and Gostisbehere still have lots of term left on their contract, making them difficult to deal away.

The Flyers have never been shy about spending money to improve, so it’s realistic that with a smart off-season (No 13-year contracts, Chuck!) that may include hiring a replacement for interim head coach Scott Gordon they can be back in the playoff mix in 2019-20.

JAMES: During almost a decade with the Wild, Fletcher took some massive swings for the fence. He was able to make contact here and there, but that franchise will need to deal with his whiffs for ages.

With that in mind, there might be some hesitation in Philly, but let’s be honest: Hextall’s firing came, in large part, because management was already getting patient with the slow-burn approach. The “microwave” solution will have to do, which means smaller (but still unpleasant) moves like trading away Simmonds, rather than really hitting the reset button in parting ways with Giroux or Voracek.
Besides, it would take multiple drafts to compile many of the assets Philly already has. Beyond Giroux and Voracek, the Flyers have to fantastic young defensemen in Provorov and Gostisbehere. Couturier is the sort of two-way beast teams crave for playoff battles. Konecny and Patrick are both the types of forwards who could theoretically make leaps forward under the right coach.

Of course, there’s a lot of arduous work to be done, including answering the age-old question of finding a competent goalie. This dismal 2018-19 season might obscure this notion, but people (myself included) were intrigued by what this group could accomplish if they took the next step. Maybe Fletcher can push steer them in that positive direction? Taking that risk makes a lot more sense than starting from square one all over again.

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JOEY: I really don’t think the Flyers have to blow this thing up right now. I realize that Giroux, Simmonds and Voracek are older players, but this team has a lot of youth on the roster and in the pipeline. There’s no need to sell off veterans or make sweeping changes. This team has what it takes to get back on track in the near future. If it doesn’t happen this year, it should happen fairly soon.

Patrick, Konecny, Gostisbehere, Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Couturier are all 26 or younger. Most teams in the NHL would kill to have a young core made up of players that are that talented. Add guys like Hart, Frost, Myers and Isaac Ratcliffe, and you’ve got another group of youngsters that are close to making it to the NHL.

I feel like the Flyers were a victim of the success they had last year. No one really expected them to make the playoffs in 2018, but they did. So now that they’re struggling this season, it’s a much bigger deal. Look, I realize that they should be better than they’ve been, but some key players have had down years.
The organization has fired a GM and a head coach this year, so they just have to give Fletcher the opportunity to make a few small tweaks to see if they can salvage this situation. Don’t blow it up.

SCOTT: The time is now, isn’t it?

New coach, new GM — a fresh start in upper management and a fresh set of eyes at some big problems. Sure, Fletcher has made some interesting moves, but he also made a playoff contender, too.

They’ve lost seven straight and are in the basement of the Metropolitan Division and are a couple flights of stairs away from the bottom of the entire league. You’re already setting yourself up for a good draft pick, and there are some juicy prospects lining up for this coming draft in late June.
You have guys like Simmonds who will command a nice return at the trade deadline from a team looking to break the bank as they take a run at the Stanley Cup. Cash in now. Perhaps it’s time to shop Giroux, too. Look, nobody wants to fire it all into the Sun, but at what point do you have no other choice. Have they not been trying to re-tool on the go already?
There are some good players to build around still, but it’s not going to take some re-tooling on the fly to get it done this time. Look where that sort of thing got St. Louis — last place in the Central Division.
And they simply can’t let Hart go to waste and add another tombstone in that goalie graveyard.

Do it right.

ADAM: When Fletcher took over my opinion was that he shouldn’t do anything drastic or potentially detrimental to the long-term outlook of the team to try and salvage this lost season. He needed to take the rest of the year, let it play out, see what the team needs, find a permanent coach (whether it is Joel Quenneville or somebody else), and go from there. I still think that has to be the case when it comes to the bigger moves. But for as awful and dysfunctional as this season has been, I am still not sure if this is a “blow-it-up” type of situation.

I came into this season thinking the Flyers were a boom or bust team that could either make the playoffs and do fairly well, or totally fall flat on their face.

The X-factor for which path they would follow was the goaltending.

And, well, obviously the goaltending has sent them on the wrong path.

I don’t think this is a terrible team. They have a good mix of veteran stars (Giroux is still great. Voracek is good. Couturier is outstanding) some really good young players that can be part of something, and who knows, maybe even a shot at a top lottery pick. With better goaltending this season is probably going in a very different direction and we’re having a different conversation right now. Remember, this was a playoff team a year ago and I don’t think the forwards and defenders are playing that much worse this year. It’s the goaltending that has crushed them. Again. Fix that and maybe you have something decent here.

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Flyers-Capitals from Capital One Arena. Paul Burmeister, Keith Jones and Anson Carter will handle studio coverage.