NHL Notebook: Vigneault's return, Cherry's uncertain CHL future, Makar's rise

The Canadian Press

The last time Alain Vigneault got fired, it didn't take him long to find work.

Axed by the Vancouver Canucks in May 2013 — after securing six division titles, two Presidents' Trophies and finishing one agonizing win short of hoisting the Stanley Cup — he was introduced as the New York Rangers' head coach 31 days later.

But when Vigneault's five-season run in the Big Apple ended in the spring of 2018, he waited a year for his phone to ring.

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"I didn't have a choice," Vigneault said with a laugh. "Nobody wanted to hire me. Last time there was an (immediate) opportunity.

"This time there wasn't."

That opportunity — the right one, in his words — eventually came in April when the Philadelphia Flyers signed him to a five-year contract worth a reported US$5 million annually.

"Through third parties, I knew that if I wanted an opportunity I was probably going to get one," Vigneault said. "But I wasn't going to take just any (job)."

The Flyers are certainly glad he settled on theirs.

Philadelphia is off to a solid start under the 58-year-old, playing an up-tempo, aggressive style with a roster that features both exciting youngsters and a group of chip-on-the-shoulder veterans looking to prove doubters wrong.

"He's really structured," Flyers centre Sean Couturier said of Vigneault's approach that has Philadelphia sitting third in the Metropolitan Division. "He knows the league really well. He knows what it takes to go far in the playoffs and have a winning culture.

"His track record speaks for itself."

Some of that history, rightly or wrongly, includes a reputation of being hard on young players. That certainly doesn't fly in today's baby-faced NHL, and this incarnation of Vigneault seems to have meshed well with the team's makeup.

"He's been great," said 22-year-old winger Travis Konecny. "Honestly, I don't think he's picked on any of the young guys. You have a job you have to do and he holds you accountable. He holds everyone to a high standard. He wants us to be the best we can be. 

"We believe in what he's teaching."

Philadelphia's so-called second line of Konecny, Oskar Lindblom and Couturier sat 1-2-3 in team scoring heading into Wednesday's action with a combined 46 points and a shot differential of better than 60 per cent at 5 on 5.

"We don't take anything for granted," said Lindblom, 23. "If we stay humble, we're going to keep playing good.

"The whole team's going in the same direction right now."

And while Vigneault, who will be just two regular-games shy of 1,300 for his career following the 2019-20 campaign, is getting a lot of credit, he's quick to point to some of the veteran voices he has behind the bench as assistants —former NHL head coach Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo.

"Great discussions," said Vigneault, the winner of the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year in 2006-07 with Vancouver. "Nobody knows more what a head coach has to go through than another head coach. Those guys know exactly what I'm looking for as far as in-game management, in-game feedback, and day-to-day what our group needs.

"I feel very fortunate."

Vigneault, who won his third Presidents' Trophy with New York and made another trip to the final, said that although the game has changed drastically since he broke in as a head coach with the Montreal Canadiens in 1997, some core principles remain.

"Players look for direction," he said. "If you're capable of giving them the direction, that's going to permit them to succeed and play well.

"Then they're going to follow you."

 

CHERRY'S TOP PROSPECTS FUTURE

Don Cherry has been a fixture at most editions of the Canadian Hockey League's annual top prospects game since its inception in 1996. It remains to be seen if that changes after he was fired by Sportsnet this week for on-air comments many felt targeted immigrants for not wearing poppies ahead of Remembrance Day. The 85-year-old usually leads Team Cherry, often against a roster coached by Bobby Orr in the showcase for NHL draft-eligible players. Cherry's name was mentioned in the March 2019 press release announcing the 2020 event, but a CHL spokesman said in an email that coaches and rosters are still being reviewed for the upcoming game set for Jan. 16 in Hamilton.

 

MAKAR-ING HIS CALDER CASE

Buffalo Sabres winger Victor Olofsson, 24, jumped out to an early lead in the race for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year with six goals in his first seven games. After a November surge, Colorado Avalanche defenceman Cale Makar is now making his case with four goals and six points over his last four outings. The 21-year-old Makar, who has 18 points in 18 games, scored a beauty against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday to become the eighth rookie blue-liner in league history to bag the game-winner in back-to-back contests.

 

POWERLESS POWER PLAYS

The NHL is roughly a quarter of the way through its schedule, and the Ottawa Senators and Anaheim Ducks are on course to register the two worst power-play performances on record. Ottawa entered Wednesday with an abysmal success rate of just 6.6 per cent, while Anaheim isn't much better at 8.2 per cent. Since the 1977-78 season, only two teams have finished with single-digit power plays — the 1997-98 Tampa Bay Lightning (9.3 per cent) and the 2000-01 Minnesota Wild (9.6 per cent).

 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2019.

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Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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