PHILADELPHIA -- Alain Vigneault knows it will feel like more than just a regular-season game when he coaches the Philadelphia Flyers against the New York Rangers at Wells Fargo Center on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NBCSP, MSG 2, NHL.TV).
It will be Vigneault's first regular-season game against the Rangers since he was fired after five seasons as New York's coach April 7, 2018.
"It's going to be special to me," said Vigneault, who was 226-147-37 in 410 games with the Rangers and got them to the Stanley Cup Playoffs four times in five seasons. "There's not a lot of players left from the time I coached there, even though it's only been a year and something. But that's the game today.
"All I can say from my time in New York, first-class people, first-class organization. They did what they felt was right and I've been in this game long enough to respect that and understand that. They've moved on, I've moved on, and now it's my time here in Philly and I'm enjoying it."
To enjoy the game, Vigneault said he had to get away from it. Rather than seek another NHL job immediately after the Rangers fired him, he opted to take a year off and spend time at his home in Florida.
"I had been 12 straight years, seven years in Vancouver (Canucks), five years in New York, two big markets, and I probably needed the year off mentally to re-energize, really fall in love again with the game," the 58-year-old said. "And I did. I didn't follow it at all until I want to say February, something like that; maybe a period here and there, but I was really working on my golf. When I realized my golf game wasn't getting better I said maybe I should get back into coaching.
"The time away permitted me to miss the game. And when I got the opportunity to coach the national team (Canada at the 2019 IIHF World Championship), and then a little after that (Flyers general manager) Chuck (Fletcher) called, the excitement was back and I was ready to get back at it."
Vigneault coaching the Rangers during the 2014 Stanley Cup Final
Vigneault was hired April 15 and has found early success.
The Flyers are 20-11-5 through 36 games, far ahead of their 15-16-5 mark through the same point last season, when they missed the playoffs for the fourth time in seven seasons.
Despite his vast experience as an NHL coach, nothing could have prepared Vigneault for what happened Dec. 13, when the Flyers announced 23-year-old forward Oskar Lindblom had been diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a form of bone cancer.
Vigneault said he learned of Lindblom's illness from Flyers director of medical services Jim McCrossin when the team was flying to Denver on Dec. 10 to start a three-game road trip. Once in Denver, Vigneault and McCrossin called Lindblom along with teammate and friend Robert Hagg to his hotel room to tell him the news.
"That was one of the toughest things I've ever been part of, one of the most emotional things I've ever been part of," Vigneault said.
Lindblom returned to Philadelphia before his teammates could say goodbye, and the Flyers lost all three games on their road trip (0-3-0). The players didn't see Lindblom again until the morning skate ahead of a 4-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Dec. 17.
"Us coming back from the trip and being able to see Oskar was 1,000 pounds off me to see that he was in a good place," Vigneault said. "Met his dad, real nice man, real positive. At the end of the day I choose to believe that everything's going to work out, everything's going to be fine.
"Hockey's a real strong and it's a good community. Oskar is one of the good people and one of the strong people in this community. He's going to be fine."
Vigneault said he believes his ability to grow, from when he started as an assistant with the Ottawa Senators in 1992 through coaching jobs with the Montreal Canadiens, Canucks, Rangers and Flyers, have allowed him to become one of the most successful coaches in the NHL; his 668 wins are 12th in League history and fourth among active coaches after Joel Quenneville of the Florida Panthers (907), Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders (833) and Paul Maurice of the Winnipeg Jets (716). Vigneault guided the Canucks (2011) and Rangers (2014) to the Stanley Cup Final.
"Coaching has evolved, society has evolved, science has evolved, and if you want to stay in the business you've got to evolve with it," he said. "Every year I've gotten better and that's how I've been able to stay in the game.
"I think the experience that I bring to the table enables me to recognize different situations quicker and with that experience respond the right way. ... My dealings with players, veteran players, core players, young players, I know that each one of those types of players have different needs, and with my experience I think I know how to handle those needs and how to deal with them and at the end of the day get them to be the best they can be. Because if I can get them to be the best they can be I can help the team win. And that's what I'm here to do, I'm here to get the Flyers to win."