It has been a hectic few weeks for the Philadelphia Flyers.
With the official firing of head coach Dave Hakstol on Monday, ending an awkward and uncomfortable weekend-long saga regarding his employment status, the team has pretty much completely cleaned house on the most important decision makers in the organization after several years of consistent mediocrity.
The general manager and assistant general manager are gone, with Chuck Fletcher and Brent Flahr replacing Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor.
Scott Gordon takes over behind the bench — at least for now — until they can figure out a way to get Joel Quenneville away from the ski slopes or find another permanent solution.
(For what it’s worth regarding the coaching job, Fletcher said on Monday he expects Gordon to coach the team for the remainder of the year, that he has not yet asked Chicago for permission to speak with Quenneville, and that “everyone is a candidate” for the job.)
Along with the management and coaching changes, the team also summoned its latest great goaltending hope to the NHL when it recalled top prospect Carter Hart and is seemingly ready to throw him to the wolves with the position in the shambles we usually find it in. He has played only 17 professional hockey games (all at the AHL level) and has had his share of struggles (.901 save percentage in the AHL so far).
Now that all of that is out of the way, what exactly should the Flyers do now?
While all of these changes will impact the big picture outlook for the organization, they still have 51 games remaining this season with a roster that has alternated between looking like a sneaky dangerous team at times over the past few years, to a team that has looked like potential lottery team at others.
With an upper management that is looking for a “bias for action” after growing tired of Hextall’s patience in building the team, that leaves quite a few possibilities on the table. Could they tear the whole thing down and start over? Do they try to salvage this season by making a big splash trade right now?
Before they do any of that, the Flyers have to be realistic about what they are and where they are in the standings. All of that points to a team that is most likely going to miss the playoffs this season.
As of Monday they have the worst record in the Eastern Conference and are eight points out of a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division (and 10 points out of a Wild Card spot). That is a huge gap to make up, and if you take into account the team they are currently chasing for the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division is on a 93-point pace, that means the Flyers would need to record at least 66 points over their remaining games to pass them. That of course assumes the team (currently the Pittsburgh Penguins) stays on a 93-point pace, which is far from a given. It will probably only increase as it usually takes at least 95 or 96 points (or more) to guarantee a playoff spot in the East.
That outlook is bleak, and is expecting a team that’s played at a 74-point pace over the first 31 games of the season to play at a 104-point pace over the next 51 games. Is there anything that leads you to believe that is going to happen?
Because of that here is what the Flyers shouldn’t do: They shouldn’t chase a short-term fix in an effort to try and salvage what is quickly becoming a lost season. That means not trading a premium asset like a top draft pick or a top prospect for a veteran goalie (looking at you, Jimmy Howard). It means not doing anything foolishly aggressive for the sake of making a trade.
The veterans are still high level players that have shown that they can be the foundation of a pretty good team, and it’s unlikely they will get the better end of any trade involving any of them at this point.
The younger players still have too much upside to give up on.
What they should do is let this season play itself out. See if this team as currently constructed really did just need a new voice and a new direction behind the bench. See if this roster, which is not totally without talent, is capable of more than it has shown. And if they really want to be bold, maybe give Hart a bit of an extended look to see what he is capable of at this point, at least until he shows he can not do it and needs more seasoning in the American Hockey League.
Once the season ends they should have a better understanding of what this team is, what it has to build around, and what it still needs. At that point they can enter the offseason with a fresh approach, find their next coach, work to fix the holes they still have, and maybe even get a little more luck in the draft lottery like they did a couple of years ago when they won the No. 2 overall pick in the draft and the opportunity to select Patrick.
The problem with this approach is that is almost certainly what Hextall was going to continue to do if he continued to run the show, and that is clearly not something Flyers upper management wanted.
This entire situation is a perfect illustration of what the Flyers organization is, from management all the way down to the ice — a wildly unpredictable team that is capable of almost anything at any given time.
The only thing we should expect from them at this point is the unexpected. If nothing else, it will always make them worth watching.