To cap off a season in which he had too few answers for what was happening right before his eyes, Alain Vigneault half-closed his eyes Tuesday and made a wish.
"I’m just stating that I’d like to coach the Flyers in a normal year," still-Flyersf-coach Vigneault said. "With everything going on in the world, I don’t want to make it sound like I’m complaining, because it’s been hard on everyone. But I would really enjoy coaching the Flyers in a normal year and in a normal setting."
Not that everyone else hasn't been wishing for or protesting in the streets for returns to normalcy in so many circles of society, not to mention for 30 other NHL clubs.
Vigneault knows this, and voiced it. But what he didn't really say on this day, which served as a virtual version of the 46th consecutive Flyers "Breakup Day" without a Stanley Cup parade, was why he put so much blame for his team's failures on one, once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
"COVID hit us," Vigneault said, "and after COVID, all we basically did was play games and not practice.
"I think this group, because we’ve got veteran players, and just a small group of players in that middle age frame of 27-28, and a lot of younger players. those younger players when the game slips a little bit were not quite executing the way we need to have success. You have to practice and we didn’t have any practice time. I’m not saying that’s the reason. A lot of things happened. ... But I do think that played a part in our game slipping and our season going the way it did."
To a man, the Flyers (25-23-8, 58 points) hinted at a few reasons why they fell short of the playoffs for the fifth time in nine years. But their head coach, who heads up a staff of assistants that includes two former NHL head coaches, couldn't seem to get coronavirus out of his thoughts.
"At the end of the day, what I need, Chuck can’t give me," said Vigneault, who received a 5-year, $25 million contract from general manager Chuck Fletcher in 2019. "Society can give (it to) me, though. I need a normal season. 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. I want guys coming into camp, having trained in a normal way in the summer. I want to go through a normal camp. I want 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. ... Chuck can’t give me a normal season, but society can if we do our part.
"Hopefully we can all get there for next year."
Hopefully, for Flyers' fans' sake, they can all get there with a competent defense, a clear-headed starting goalie determined to put an embarrassing season behind him, a backup goalie who is more competitive and pushy rather than cushy and supportive.
Oh, and for Lord Stanley's sake, someone younger than the 33-year-old team captain that knows how to play a semblance of offensive hockey, and a stud defenseman willing to kick an opposing backside or two.
Is all that too much to ask out of one short offseason?
"I think we have quite a few priorities," Fletcher said. "Certainly we could upgrade everywhere; up front, defense. Certainly we’re going to have to take a look at our situation in goal, which has kind of been a constant struggle here for years. We have different areas we have to look at. We also need a lot of our young players to be better."
Yes, it all has much ado with the players on this team, and nothing to do with management's inability to replace veteran defenseman Matt Niskanen, whose sudden retirement last year not only left a hole in the defensive corps, it apparently cratered the entire unit to the point where Niskanen is held in almost supernatural regard now.
It also has nothing to do with the almost mind-boggling fact that a coaching staff with a head coach earning $5 million a year (with three years remaining on that deal), who has two assistant coaches who are former successful NHL head coaches (and paid accordingly), along with a couple of goalie coaches and sports psychologists, somehow could not find a way to get inside goalie Carter Hart's head, or prevent the obvious fact that almost all of the young players on the squad took major steps backward in their progression.
Is that enough uncertainty for one NHL GM to mentally handle heading into the offseason?
"It's difficult to replace the whole team," Fletcher concluded.