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When Chuck Fletcher was hired general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this month, he said he wanted to understand the situation around the team before making changes, especially at the head coach position.
Well, Fletcher needed two weeks as the Flyers announced on Monday that they have fired Dave Hakstol. Their AHL head coach Scott Gordon will be behind the bench on an interim basis. No full-time replacement has been announced despite rumors over the weekend that they were eyeing former Chicago Blackhawks bench boss Joel Quenneville.
Here’s Fletcher’s statement:
“After meeting this morning with Dave Hakstol and thoughtful consideration, I have decided to relieve him of his duties as head coach. As I continue to assess the team, I feel that this is the best course of action for our group moving forward. I’d like to thank Dave for his service to the team and the organization. Scott Gordon will serve as head coach on an interim basis.”
In the seven games since Fletcher’s hiring the Flyers have won only once, and their three-game Western Canada trip ended Saturday night with three losses, which included ugly back-to-back defeats to the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks. They currently sit dead-last in the Eastern Conference and 29th overall in the NHL. It was pretty evident that as the team headed home change was in the air and the new GM was ready to get on with reshaping things.
Hakstol, who was hired in 2015, was given plenty of rope under former GM Ron Hextall, but once Hextall was gone it seemed inevitable that Hakstol’s days were numbered as the struggles continued. As John Boruk of NBC Philadelphia notes, Hakstol’s 277 games behind the bench is third all-time in Flyers history, but a .560 points percentage (134-101-42) is outside the top 10.
The head coach wasn’t the only big move by Fletcher on Monday. The Flyers also announced they’ve called up top goaltending prospect Carter Hart, who will likely make his NHL debut Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings. After a tough start in the AHL this season, he will be netminder No. 6 for the team this season. He’s played well of late to earn this recall, helping the Phantoms to wins in four of his last five starts and posted a 1.81 goals against average and .938 save percentage.
As James detailed Sunday night, it’s been an ugly year for the Flyers and Fletcher believes this move is a chance to look toward the future.
In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at the players, lines, and positions that have put together the most dominant performances through the first two-and-a-half months of the NHL season.
There are a lot of the usual suspects in here, from the top line of the Colorado Avalanche, the ridiculous depth of the Tampa Bay Lightning, to the unstoppable force that is the Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom duo.
There are also a few pairings that have maybe been overlooked so far this season.
1. Colorado’s top line. There should be no debate as to which team boasts the NHL’s best line and it is the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. Their performance so far this season has been nothing short of dominant and has been the driving force behind what is looking to be a second consecutive playoff appearance for the Avalanche. Individually, they are each among the league’s top-15 scorers while Rantanen and MacKinnon are first and second in the league having both already exceeded the 50-point mark. They are on track to be one of the best duos the league has seen in recent history, and when you combine them with Landeskog they make the NHL’s most complete line. When that trio has been on the ice together during 5-on-5 play this season the Avalanche are outscoring teams by a 31-16 margin and controlling more than 54 percent of the total shot attempts. When that line is not on the ice the Avalanche are a negative team in both areas.
[Related: Avalanche duo chasing rare feat]
2. The duo of Ovechkin and Backstrom. Individually they have been sensational. The perpetually underrated Backstrom is off to one of the best starts of his career, while Ovechkin is scoring goals at a pace that is unprecedented in this era even for him. When they have been on the ice together the Capitals have been an unstoppable force. They’ve only spent about 200 minutes together at even-strength but the Capitals have a 15-4 goal different during those minutes and their work on the power play is as great as it has ever been. They won a Stanley Cup, partied all summer, and came back even stronger.
3. Connor McDavid. He is trying to almost single-handedly carry the Edmonton Oilers to a playoff spot. He is playing more than 23 minutes per night, is on pace for more than 120 points, and has had a hand in literally 50 percent of his team’s goals. When he is not on the ice the Oilers are still playing at a lottery team level, just as they have throughout most of his career.
4. The Lightning. The whole team. Everything about them. Entering play on Monday the Lightning have a six-point lead over the second-best team in the NHL. No team has had that large of a lead in the standings on Dec. 17 since the 2008-09 San Jose Sharks, and the Lightning have done that despite not having their top defender, Victor Hedman, for seven games earlier this season and not having their starting goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, for more than a month. Both players were awards finalists a year ago, with Hedman actually winning the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defender. If that is not enough, they are still averaging four goals per game while their 138 goals are the fourth most through a team’s first 34 games over the past 25 years. Only the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins, 1995-96 Avalanche, and 2005-06 Ottawa Senators had more goals after their first 34 games during that stretch. Truly dominant team across the board.
5. Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner. Buffalo Sabres fans have reason to believe again, and this duo is the biggest reason why. Not only are they wildly productive together, but they have been a highlight reel almost every night. Skinner is second in the league in goals as of Monday while Eichel is in the top-six in total points. The Sabres are a plus-18 (32 goals for, 14 goals against) when they are on the ice together at even-strength. This is everything the team could have possibly hoped for when they acquired Skinner before the season to play alongside their franchise player.
6. Calgary’s top pairing of Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie. This might be the best defense pairing in hockey this season, and I’m not sure anyone else is really close. Giordano is having a career year and should be a mid-season contender for the Norris, while he and Brodie have been outstanding as a pairing. How good have they been? In 470 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time with them on the ice the Flames have allowed just nine goals (that is only 1.15 goals per 60 minutes) and only 45 total shot attempts per 60 minutes. For some perspective on that the Vegas Golden Knights are the best team in the league when it comes to suppressing shot attempts … they give up 51.2 shot attempts per 60 minutes. The Boston Bruins are the best team when it comes to 5-on-5 goal prevention … they are giving up 1.84 goals per 60 minutes. Just total defensive dominance from these two, while Giordano is also having a spectacular year offensively.
7. John Gibson and Ryan Miller. No potential playoff team bleeds shots and scoring chances against quite like the Anaheim Ducks do. With anything less than outstanding goaltending they would probably near the bottom of the Western Conference standings instead of in contention for the Pacific Division crown. But they are not only getting outstanding goaltending, they are getting the best goaltending in the NHL. Together the Gibson-Miller duo has combined for a league-best .920 save percentage this season, .004 points better than any other team in the league and .012 points better than the league average.
8. Auston Matthews. He would probably higher on the list had he played in more games, but 16 goals and 19 games is a ridiculous scoring pace, as is the fact he already has six two-goal games this season. Only Ovechkin (with seven) has more. Matthews, again, has only played in 19 games while Ovechkin has played in 32 for the Capitals.
9. David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. It does not matter if their center is Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci, this duo is the engine that drives the Bruins’ offense, and by extension, the entire team. The Bruins aren’t really getting any scoring outside of this line so they are going to need them to continue carrying the load if they are going to be a playoff team. They have been great with Krejci, but they are even better with Bergeron, and he seems to be getting closer to a return to the lineup.
10. Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin. The Pittsburgh Penguins do not have a particularly good defense, and they are not a great defensive team by any stretch, but they do have one of the NHL’s absolute best defensive pairs in Letang and Dumoulin. Together they’ve doubled up their opponents in the goals department (28-14) and have controlled nearly 60 percent of the shot attempts and scoring chances when they are on the ice together. Letang is the dominant player in this group due to his offensive ability (nearly a point per game), but Dumoulin is a perfect complement to him and they have been exceptional together from the start.
A breakup between Daniel Sprong and the Pittsburgh Penguins seemed inevitable. He clearly had the ability, but could not find a regular spot in Mike Sullivan’s lineup, hence the Dec. 3 trade to the Anaheim Ducks.
Since moving west, the 21-year-old Sprong has enjoyed his time on the left coast. In five games with the Ducks he’s scored three times — with all three goals being pretty meaningful ones. Compare that to the nine points he compiled in 42 career games with the Penguins over parts of three seasons.
On Saturday night, he scored both goals, including the overtime winner, during 2-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
During his time in the AHL, Sprong showed he could score, but it never translated during his chances in Pittsburgh. He never played more than 18 games in a season during his three years there and averaged a total of only 9:40 of ice time a game. Now that he’s getting a bit of a bigger opportunity with the Ducks and playing an average of 14:50 a night, it’s clicking for him on a line with Adam Henrique and Nick Ritchie.
“The coaching staff and management gave me an opportunity to play the role I think I can play,” said Sprong after the OT win against Columbus. “Playing with Rico and Ritchie has really been helping me out. Right now I’m getting the looks and putting pucks on net. I’m excited to be here.”
He’s certainly firing the puck more now. Through five games he already has 15 shots on net. He had 61 shots in those 42 games with the Penguins.
“We’re going to try to put him in situations where he can use his shot,” said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle. “Put him with a grouping of offensive players. I don’t think it would be fair to the player to put him into a fourth-line role when he’s provided offense in every other level.”
Sprong will get a chance to show the Penguins what they’re missing as the Ducks visit Pittsburgh Monday night. Anaheim has won 10 of their last 12 games and five straight games away from Honda Center. They’ve been a resilient bunch as shown in the fact that they’ve either been tied or trailing in the third period of each of their last nine victories.
It will certainly be a meaningful one for Sprong.
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• So how are things going with the St. Louis Blues? “We were terrible in the first period. Every player. Terrible.” [Post-Dispatch]
• Seattle’s NHL arrival will only grow the already rich history of the sport in the community. [NHL.com]
• This will be a fun headline to remember: “He’s baaaaack – Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli looking like the resident genius” [Edmonton Sun]
• A busted finger means the Oilers will be without Oskar Klefbom for the next 6-8 weeks. [Oilers Nation]
• Which NHL players are carrying the biggest offensive burdens for their teams? [ESPN.com]
• Some ideas on how to fix the New York Islanders power play. [Gotham Sports]
• The Guy Lafleur disco album is really something. [Punk Junk]
• Washington Capitals roll out welcome for the Black Girl Hockey Club’s first meeting. [Color of Hockey]
• Injuries have really put a damper on the Arizona Coyotes’ season. [Featurd]
• Finally, our good friend Gritty had a special Christmas message for ESPN’s Katie Nolan: