Like many of us, Alain Vigneault has Covid fatigue.
He saw his first season with the Philadelphia Flyers paused after 69 games, with his club red hot. Then, there were the playoffs in the bubble, with no fans in the stands.
Eventually, the fans began to return, under a rigid set of rules. Meanwhile, players, coaches and team staff faced rules of their own as they tried to keep the Covid-19 virus at bay — not always successfully.
“I need a normal season,” Vigneault said as the Flyers conduced their season-ending media availability last week. “I need people to go out and get vaccinated, so that we can have a normal season next year. I’ve been here two years and we haven’t had one of those.”
What does that entail?
“I want guys coming into camp, having trained in a normal way in the summer. I want to go through a normal camp; to go through a normal season that’s 82 games worth. I want to go through normal playoffs where you play in front of your fans. You feel the energy, you feel the passion, you go on the road. Tight-knit group: you try and win on the road.
“Chuck (Fletcher) can’t give me a normal season, but society can, if we do our part. Hopefully, we can all get there for next year.”
Return to Normalcy
The arrival of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has resurrected the feeling of normal NHL hockey. Larger crowds are being allowed into arenas, and fans are showing the passion that Vigneault craves. As a result, the on-ice intensity has been phenomenal.
The NHL has also announced that restrictions will be eased for U.S. teams that are at least 85% vaccinated. They’ll be allowed more social interactions with each other and less-rigid testing and mask-wearing requirements in certain situations.
The Flyers’ in-season battle with Covid-19 was well documented. Seven players landed on the NHL’s Covid Protocol list as the club was shut down for 10 days in mid-February. Also, Shayne Gostisbehere started the season on the protocol list and later revealed that he had tested positive, and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms were shut down for a time due to positive tests.
Add it all up, and it makes a significant impact.
“I think of the 28, 29 players that were around our team this year, counting the players on the taxi squad, 20 players over the course of the last five or six months had Covid,” general manager Chuck Fletcher told the media last week. “We got hit pretty hard at various times.
“Some players seemed to come back stronger. I give Giroux a lot of credit, Voracek. Some of these guys came back and seemed to get better. Other players seemed to struggle.
“Other players got hit in November and December right before camp, which wasn’t ideal for coming into a shortened camp in top shape.”
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Nolan’s Double Whammy
Nolan Patrick is one player that Fletcher believes had a particularly tough time with his preseason preparation. He was dealing with his own unique challenges as he worked to resurrect his career after missing nearly two years with migraine disorder.
“He wasn’t fully cleared to play until just prior to camp,” Fletcher said. “He’s one of those players that I’m not sure had a normal offseason.”
“I’m a huge fan of Patty,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. “He’s got the whole skill set. Big body. He competes every night. That’s the guy you want to go to battle with. For me personally with Patty, I’m very excited to see him play and come to camp next year.”
“I think we’ll have a better feel where Nolan’s at into next year,” said Fletcher. “Our expectation is that he has a great summer, gets a little stronger, and gets a little more explosive. Comes into camp in a type of condition that he wasn’t able to achieve this year. That, in turn, will allow him to play the game at a higher level.”
Patrick turns 23 in September. He’s a restricted free agent, one year away from being eligible to file for arbitration. The second overall pick in 2017, he signed a one-year contract last season that carried a cap hit of $874,125, according to CapFriendly.
Hayes Heads For Surgery
Kevin Hayes impressed during his first season in Philadelphia, but his impact was more muted this year. He told the media that he’d be going under the knife, for what has now been revealed to be core-muscle surgery
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) May 17, 2021
No recovery timeline has yet been shared.
Vigneault Takes Responsibility
In the end, Vigneault did not shy away from being accountable for a season that went off the rails.
“I feel like I’ve let people down,” he said. “I’m going to regroup, analyze and come back better next year.
“It’s adversity. If adversity can help Carter Hart become better, adversity can help Alain Vigneault get better. Adversity can help the Flyers get better.
“Maybe the Flyers have been through a lot of that in the last little while, but it’s our job, Chuck and I, to get these players to play up to their full potential. That’s what we’re going to do, starting next year.”