April 15, 2019. A day of optimism for the Philadelphia Flyers organization.
That was the day that the Flyers made Alain Vigneault their 21st head coach in team history. He was a Jack Adams Award winner and had over 1,200 games of NHL experience, so he was a known quantity. Vigneault was the man Chuck Fletcher believed could get the job done.
Just over two years later, Vigneault is gone, and the Flyers find themselves in an uncertain spot.
Vigneault was fired on Monday morning after a 7-1 loss to Tampa Bay last night, with the Flyers now sitting second last in the tough Metropolitan Division with an 8-10-4 record in 22 games and an 11-game losing streak. Only the New York Islanders have played worse in the division, with the team boasting an 11-game losing streak through COVID-19 and injury issues.
It was time for change. Vigneault took two different teams to the Stanley Cup final in a four-year span. The hope was that Vigneault could do the same with a Flyers team that had hope, but couldn't get anything done under Dave Hakstol.
And they couldn't with Vigneault, either.
Vigneault was Fletcher's first full-time coaching hire with the Flyers, but it was better to just cut all ties at this point. Fletcher finds himself on the search again after taking over for Ron Hextall in December of 2018, with the 2020 bubble playoffs being the team's only playoff appearance to date with Fletcher in charge.
When something isn't working on the ice, the coach is the first person to go. But now it's up to Fletcher and Co. to right the ship - because right now, it's the Titantic headed towards the iceberg.
Rick Tocchet is one of the names being floated around for the job, and that might get the old-school Flyers fans excited. He spent his best years in the NHL with Philadelphia, often recording around 200 penalty minutes and 60-plus points a year during the 80s. He came back to finish his career with the Broad Street Bullies at the turn of the century and kept his physical, menacing game alive.
Tocchet has coached Tampa Bay and Arizona, most recently with the Coyotes last season, and was a two-time Stanley Cup champion as an assistant with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017. Is he the answer? Is he the guy to shake things up on the bench? Maybe, but regardless, change needed to happen, and the Flyers got it.
Just think: had the Flyers made this move a few days ago, Bruce Boudreau would have been available.
Fletcher told reporters on Monday that he wants the team to forge a new identity. He was hoping getting players back from the sidelines would turn things around, but that the team ultimately kept digging a bigger hole. His overall press conference suggested that he believes the team has the talent to turn things around somehow.
Philadelphia needs a miracle to make the post-season. It's nearly impossible to lose so many games this early in the season and somehow save grace. So the Flyers need to try and figure out where they are and where they're going to be in the next few years. Is this a team that can skirt out an extended playoff run with the right man behind the bench? Or does the club need to stop doing patchwork and do a full-on rebuild?
There are merits for both. The team could ship out someone like Claude Giroux and get a boatload of assets in return from a contending team needing a big boost. That might be the best fit if the team feels it needs a reset while building around Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov and Carter Hart. But it doesn't seem like the Flyers want to do that, or else they wouldn't have made big changes last summer, like bringing in Ryan Ellis, Cam Atkinson or Keith Yandle. Fletcher clearly thought the Flyers could contend this year after falling short of expectations last season.
The team's top players are underperforming. The talent is definitely there, but they aren't getting utilized. Ideally, the team will keep it's core alive and find a new coach to see if it's more of a voice issue or a deeper roster problem. If the Flyers suddenly go on a five-game winning streak, all thoughts of a rebuild go out the window - so it's not time to blow things up just yet.
But many core players will be on a short leash. The Flyers can't keep slumping like this.
And, of course, you have to wonder if Fletcher can get the job done himself. Fletcher signed two contracts in Minnesota - Ryan Suter and Zach Parise - that doomed the team's success for a decade. He won the Stanley Cup in 2009 as an assistant GM with Pittsburgh, but the teams he has controlled himself have nothing to show for. At some point, something has to give. He's in his fourth year with the Flyers, and you can see where the club is currently standing.
It's an interesting time to be a Flyers fan. The focus isn't on making the playoffs - it's on the future. And that means trying things out and see what happens next. Or, heck, maybe the Flyers go on an absolute tear a la the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues and stun the hockey world. Mike Yeo was the coach that got replaced that year in St. Louis - he could have a chance to redeem himself with the Flyers after becoming the interim coach on Monday.
At this point, the Flyers still have a promising base that can be massaged and made better. It's just going to take some deep tissue work because, boy oh boy, it's been pretty painful this season.
It's a long road ahead for Philadelphia. Let's see where it takes them.