It’s one thing when you see a player wearing a t-shirt with some sort of inspirational slogan or message, as Claude Giroux and others did at the first day of Flyers training camp Thursday, proudly brandishing the franchise’s new hashtag “Bring it to Broad,” which replaced “Anytime, Anywhere.”
Seeing those t-shirts have become so common place that most times, you don’t even notice that they’re wearing them.
But when Alain Vigneault is wearing one, it definitely catches your eye.
And when you ask him about it, and he stands up to show it more clearly, and to also show you the message on the back, you know that this is a shirt that was worn by the coach with a purpose and wasn’t just one he found folded neatly on the top of his drawer after putting away the last load of laundry.
Vigneault’s was different. His said, “Something to Prove.” On the back it said “Got to get to work.”
“That’s what it is,” Vigneault said. “Everyone on our team – the coaches have something to prove, young players coming in have something to prove. Veteran Philly players have something to prove, and new veteran Philly players have something to prove. We all have something to prove individually or collectively. The only way to do it is by getting to work, which is what we are trying to do.”
You can sense the collective chip on this franchise’s shoulder from the minute the offseason began. Last year was unacceptable, in so many ways. This season was going to be different. It had to be, or else…
So, with the mandate from above and the request for specific types of players from the coaching staff, General manager Chuck Fletcher remade the Flyers into a new look team that feels it can compete for a Stanley Cup this season.
But, it’s not just going to happen. It’s going to take the work that Vigneault so frequently preaches. It’s going to take chemistry. Cohesion. Players pulling on the same rope. It’s going to take accountability. It’s going to take confidence, believing in oneself and in the team. It’s going to take a complete buy-in from the players.
And that kind of collaboration is possible, but it usually only truly comes together for a handful of teams each season.
For the Flyers to be one of them, it’s going to have to start with the coaching staff.
Vigneault admitted as much at his first press conference of the season on Tuesday. He said Fletcher did his part as the general manager now it was time for the coaches to do theirs.
But the coaches can only do so much. Yes, they need to do their jobs well, but when it really comes down to it, it’s on the players to perform. If the players don’t perform, well, you end up with a 2020-21 type season.
The Flyers can ill-afford that.
And that’s why Claude Giroux, speaking for the first time since he wrapped up that forgettable season in May, put the onus on the expanded leadership group.
“Anytime you bring guys with experience, whether they have an ‘A’ or not, it doesn’t matter, you bring leadership,” Giroux said. “Our leadership group got a little bigger, but you can’t have too many leaders in one team. I think the important thing is to make sure we are all on the same page and there is one message out there. I think that is one thing we will have to work on.”
It was a substantive comment form the Flyers captain. It suggested that maybe there wasn’t a unified message in the locker room a season ago.
There were rumblings of that that leaked out in various reports. Whether it was the younger players and the older players that didn’t see eye-to-eye, or certain players just weren’t buying what Vigneault and the coaches were selling. That some players were malcontents. All of that dirty laundry gets hung on the line when teams go that far south.
But this is a new season. The taste of last season was washed out of the franchise’s mouth little by little with each trade or signing by Fletcher.
This is a fresh start, less than five months later, but a fresh start nonetheless.
And there a bunch of new faces – Ryan Ellis, who wore an ‘A’ in Nashville. Rasmus Ristolainen, who wore an ‘A’ in Buffalo. Keith Yandle, who wore an ‘A’ in Florida. Cam Atkinson, who wore an ‘A’ in Columbus. Derrick Brassard, who wore an ‘A’ in Arizona. Nat Thompson, who wore an ‘A’ in in Winnipeg.
Acquiring those players, or those types of players was no accident.
“One of the things that stood out with the new players [was] a lot of new guys wanting to get to the front of the lines during drills,” Vigneault said, when asked about his observations of the first day of training camp. “The people that were brought in, a lot of them were leaders, part of the core group in their teams prior to coming here. [They were] paying attention to the video, paying attention to the pre-ice… Even though it was our first practice together, a lot of the guys wanted to go to the front of the lines and do it the right way so that’s a very positive sign.”
Positive because he didn’t have that buy in a season earlier?
“I don’t want it to come across that the guys who have left weren’t good people,” Vigneault said. “From Jake (Voracek) to Phil Meyers to (Nolan Patrick), they were good people. We have brought in other good people that we believe is going to change the team dynamic and we believe that the team dynamic will be better. Time will tell, but we really feel strongly about that.”
They have something to prove. Time to get to work.
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