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Will Flyers’ disastrous road trip spell end for Hakstol?

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To put things mildly, there are a lot of reports and rumors revolving around the Philadelphia Flyers possibly firing Dave Hakstol to make Joel Quenneville their new head coach.

With a lot of conflicting information in the air (things do seem dire for Hakstol in most scenarios), let’s consider how the Flyers got to this point.

Terrible road trip

Look, the Flyers weren’t exactly setting the world on fire before the disastrous five-game road trip, which concluded on Saturday with a 5-1 thumping by the Vancouver Canucks.

Optics obviously matter, though, and things really devolved as this went along.

After beating the Sabres 6-2 on Dec. 8, the Flyers suffered a four-game losing streak, only managing a single standings point in a 6-5 OT loss to Calgary on Dec. 12.

Three of those four losses were absolute blowouts; Philly fell 7-1 to the Jets on Dec. 9, then really stunk up the joint during the last two losses, falling 4-1 to the Oilers on Friday and 5-1 to the Canucks on Saturday. There was little denying the negative feelings about that team, and Hakstol drew a lot of the blame for seemingly tepid efforts.

After scrapping their way to a somewhat surprising berth in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flyers currently sit last in the Eastern Conference with 28 points in 31 games (12-15-4).

Good and the bad

If there’s one obvious tweak Hakstol made that produced huge dividends for the Flyers, it was moving Claude Giroux from center to the wing.

Heading into 2017-18, there were serious concerns about Giroux. It seemed like his offense was slowing down, possibly pointing to him hitting the dreaded low end of the aging curve. Instead, Giroux appeared to be liberated by the freedom of playing the wing, often ceding the center duties to Sean Couturier this season. Giroux enjoyed an MVP-like season, powering his way to career-highs of 34 goals and 102 points.

One can debate how Hakstol used younger players versus veterans. You could do that with many teams, not to mention other Flyers staffers, whether you’re pondering Carter Hart or, say, Travis Sanheim.

There have been some structural issues. Much like Todd McLellan in Edmonton, much of Hakstol’s tenure has been marked by a questionable strategy to lean heavily on shots from the point.

Sure, it’s nice to get the puck on the sticks of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere when it makes sense, yet you’re far more likely to hit paydirt if you generate high-danger chances from the slot. Easier said than done? Yes, but some teams emphasize shots from defensemen to the detriment of creativity, making things too easy for the opposition.

The fall of a great power-play unit and a generally terrible PK might explain some of Hakstol’s struggles.

Since Hakstol came into the league in 2015-16, the Flyers’ PK unit has killed 77.1-percent of penalties, the worst mark in the NHL. If Quenneville or another coach could find answers where Hakstol and his crew failed, that could be a nice area of growth.

On the bright side, the Flyers have often had a deadly power play, although their overall mark (19 percent) under Hakstol is actually just tied at 17th.

Some of that might be tied up in Philly’s steps toward adding more talent over the years, but either way, that unit hit a big wall in 2018-19. They’ve connected on just 12.9-percent of their PP opportunities, the third-worst percentage in the NHL.

Hakstol didn’t sign the Flyers’ goalies, and it wasn’t his final call to opt against getting someone more established to compliment Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. A new coach’s system could absolutely make life easier for whoever ends up in Philly’s net going forward, but that could still be an area of serious concern.

A new coach – if the Flyers were to make such a rumored change – might be able to install systemic changes that could help optimize this team. Some might come from finding more innovative special teams strategies, or maybe tweaking personnel decisions. Leaning on different players in different situations may also move the needle.

It’s not necessarily a matter of Hakstol being a terrible head coach, but rather that there could be areas of improvement.

Granted, the Flyers have dug themselves a big hole, so if they’re making changes, they might want to keep their expectations in check.

Big decision coming Monday, and more later this week?

Working past the understanding that people have been wondering about Hakstol for a long time, and beckoning for Coach Q to take over in Philly basically the second he was fired, things seemed to escalate on Sunday. Business picked up as the Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac reported that the Flyers would make that decision. Things got blurry from there, with TSN’s Darren Dreger describing the situation as “status quo” and that “no decision has been made.” Crossing Broad’s Anthony SanFilippo reports that Hakstol’s firing could be announced “within 24 hours,” but an interim coach may be named, possibly because there might be some wrinkles to iron out with Quenneville. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi backs that up, noting no change officially happening Sunday night, yet to expect a “busy” Monday.

Maybe some of this comes down to semantics (official versus looming?), it all seems a touch odd, and a bit confusing.

A lot to take in, right? PHT will keep you updated, whether Monday ends up being busy or just … awkward for Hakstol and the team, if nothing is actually happening. Buckle up.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Chuck Fletcher’s plate will be full as new Flyers GM

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The Philadelphia Flyers have made it official and hired Chuck Fletcher as their new executive vice president and general manager, replacing Ron Hextall, who was fired on Nov. 26.

“At the conclusion of a rigorous review of GM candidates, Chuck Fletcher clearly stood out from the field of talented and capable executives we considered,” said Comcast Spectacor Chairman and CEO David Scott in a statement.  “Chuck has earned success throughout his impressive NHL career and offers the right mix of expertise, business acumen and leadership qualities that the Flyers need today as we work to achieve our ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup Championship.”

“The Flyers are proud to have Chuck Fletcher as the new general manager of our hockey club,” added Flyers president Holmgren. “Throughout his career he has helped shape teams that have consistently competed in the playoffs. In addition, Chuck’s tireless work ethic, wealth of knowledge and experience in the hockey community will be instrumental in leading our team into the future. I’d like to personally welcome Chuck to the Flyers family.”

The New Jersey Devils had employed Fletcher as a senior advisor this season, and when Hextall was fired the Flyers asked for permission to interview the 51-year-old, who was considered the front-runner. Holmgren said last week that the new GM would be from outside of the organization and someone who has a “bias for action,” a shot at Hextall’s desire to remain patient and not make irrational moves in the face of tough times.

Fletcher, who did not have his contract renewed last April following nine years with the Minnesota Wild, takes over a Flyers team out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and with a number of decisions that need to be made.

• How aggressive will Fletcher be to implement change? Hextall’s patience didn’t mesh with the vision the Flyers’ brass had for the team, and as they kept sinking down the standings and goaltenders continued getting injured, there was no big move made. In fact, Hextall really didn’t make any blockbusters during his tenure. Among his notable moves in Minnesota, Fletcher did acquire the likes of Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Jason Pominville and Devan Dubnyk through trades. He did, of course, sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to those massive 13-year contracts and dealt Brent Burns and Nick Leddy away. (He picked up Coyle through that Burns deal, at least.)

• Can he fix the goaltending situation? The Flyers have used five goalies through 25 games, the most by any NHL team this season. Carter Hart, 20, is the future in net, but he still needs time to develop in the AHL before being handed the reins. Stop me if you’ve heard this before but there currently is no answer in goal in Philadelphia. Solving that problem should be atop Fletcher’s to-do list.

• Will Dave Hakstol last? “I hate to say Dave Hakstol’s fate is in the next GM’s hands but it is,” said Holmgren last week. “I’m not going to make that decision.” An 11-12-2 start as December gets rolling isn’t an ideal way to make playoff dreams become a reality. There are certainly names out on the coaching market — Joel Quenneville, Todd McLellan, Alain Vigneault — and you’d expect given all the talk from upper management they’re going to be aggressive to make improvements up and down the team. Replacing Hakstol might be a costly decision, but the Flyers have never been an organization to shy away from splashing the cash.

• What is the future of Wayne Simmonds? The 30-year-old forward is in the final year of his contract. With the addition of James van Riemsdyk and the need to extend restricted free agents Ivan Provorov, Scott Laughton, Travis Sandheim and Travis Konecny this summer, there may not be enough salary cap space to keep Simmonds, who was acquired as part of the Mike Richards trade in 2011.

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In Fletcher’s nine seasons with the Wild, he went through four head coaches and the team made the Stanley Cup Playoffs six times, managing to get out of the opening round only twice.

The Flyers haven’t won a playoff series since 2012. Let the fun begin.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Hextall’s patience failed to move Flyers forward

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The Philadelphia Flyers did things a little differently.

After the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, and St. Louis Blues all fired their head coaches over the past month as a result of their disappointing starts, the Flyers decided to go in a different direction on Monday by keeping their coach (for now) and instead parting ways with Ron Hextall, the general manager who assembled the roster.

Team president Paul Holmgren said in a statement that it had become clear they “no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team.”

What exactly that means still remains to be seen. Was there a disagreement on the fate of head coach Dave Hakstol, with Hextall maybe not wanting to fire with the guy he hired? Or was Holmgren and Flyers ownership simply fed up with a lack of progress and what has become a stale, consistently mediocre team?

The results do not lie. In the Flyers’ four full seasons under Hextall they made the playoffs twice, missed the playoffs twice, never recorded more than 98 points in a single season, never recorded fewer than 84 points in a season, never finished higher than third place in the division, and never got out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

At times they would lose 10 games in a row, and at times they would win 10 games in a row.

There was never any consistency, except for the final mediocre result in the standings every year.

A quarter of the way through season five the team looks to be headed for a similar finish, and management had apparently seen enough.

[Related: Flyers fire GM Ron Hextall]

What stands out about Hextall’s tenure with the Flyers is that he didn’t really do anything to hurt the team long-term. They are not in a worse position today compared to when he took over. If anything, he did quite a few good things early on to help improve their situation. He ditched a lot of troublesome contracts in Vincent Lecavalier, Nicklas Grossmann, Luke Schenn, Braydon Coburn, and the end of the Chris Pronger contract, while also getting some decent value back in return.

In exchange for those five contracts he acquired Jordan Weal, Radko Gudas, and the first-round draft pick that would eventually become Travis Konecny, all of whom are still members of the team today. That is probably more than could have been reasonably expected based on what he was giving up at the time.

In the first round of the 2015 NHL draft they selected Ivan Provorov and Konecny with the seventh and 24th overall picks, both of whom are now core parts of the team.

They selected Carter Hart, their (hopeful) goalie of the future, in the second-round of the 2016 draft.

And while trading Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera may have downgraded the team in the short-term, the trade did net them first-round picks in 2017 and 2018, giving them multiple selections in each of those rounds.

His outlook was clearly more long-term, not only with the way he made draft picks the key part of the (Brayden) Schenn trade, but with the way he refused to part with any of the team’s young prospects in an effort to make the team better right now.

Just take a look at all of the players and assets Hextall traded since the start of the 2016-17 offseason.

Filppula, Tokarski, and Mrazek were all basically acquired out of desperation due to injury situations at center and in goal in those years, but the main focus is clear — draft picks and the future.

That patient approach was also evident when it came to free agency where the Flyers were mostly quiet under Hextall. It wasn’t until this past summer when they brought back James van Riemsdyk on a five-year contract that the really tried to make a big splash on the open market.

Before JvR, the two biggest free agent signings under Hextall were Dale Weise and Brian Elliott.

The common theme you keep coming back to here is simply, this move isn’t great, but it’s also not really terrible. Do you know what that gets you on the ice if you keep making moves like that? A team that isn’t really great, but also not really terrible. In the end that will probably be Hextall’s lasting legacy the Flyers’ general manager.

His patience and methodical approach to building the team might work out in the long-run, but it was clearly not working for an ownership that seemingly grew tired of not seeing any real progress at the NHL level.

It’s okay to have faith that Hart might one day, finally, solve the Flyers’ cursed goalie position. It’s okay to believe in Shayne Gostisbehere and Provorov as the foundation of the defense for the next eight years. It’s okay count on Nolan Patrick and Konecny to be your future at forward.

But you can still do all of that while also making some improvements in the short-term to try and take advantage of a roster that still has top-line veteran players in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Wayne Simmonds on it.

You don’t have to keep turning to a revolving door of mediocre goalies as stop-gap options until Hart is ready.

You can try to find some better defenders to complement Gostisbehere and Provorov, even if it means trading one of your many first-round picks or a couple of prospects.

Hextall was seemingly unwilling — or unable — to do that.  It resulted in a team that was stuck in neutral for too many years, and leads us to where we are today.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flyers fire GM Ron Hextall; where does that leave Hakstol?

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Philadelphia Flyers fans were waiting for the organization to make a change of some sort following the team’s 10-11-2 start. On Monday morning, it was announced that general manager Ron Hextall was fired.

“The Flyers organization has decided to relieve Ron Hextall of his duties as Executive Vice President and General Manager,” wrote Flyers President Paul Holmgren in a statement. “We thank Ron for his many significant contributions, but it has become clear that we no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team. In light of these differences, we feel it’s in the organization’s best interests to make a change, effective immediately. I have already begun a process to identify and select our next General Manager, which we hope to complete as soon as possible.”

The Flyers hired Hextall as GM in May 2014. One year later he made the surprising move of hiring North Dakota’s Dave Hakstol as head coach. The two had a relationship already with Hextall’s son having played college hockey under Hakstol.

That could have also played a part in why Hextall stuck with Hakstol despite a 10-game losing streak a year ago and the rough start to this season, even as there seems to be a different goalie injury every week.

The line in Holmgren’s statement “we no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team” is interesting because it makes you wonder if some in the Flyers organization wanted Hakstol canned, but Hextall, as he did a year ago, wanted to preach patience and not make a switch behind the bench.

Under Hextall, the Flyers made the playoffs twice and were bounced in six games both times in the opening round.

The team has compiled a good cupboard of prospects and younger players currently on the NHL roster under his watch like Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Carter Hart, Nolan Patrick, and Morgan Frost. But there was no big trade that helped push the team from playoff bubble to contender. There were a lot of draft picks brought in and one big free agent signing (James van Riemsdyk). None of that has led to the team taking that next step. We can also never forget about the inability to find a solution in net while they wait for 20-year-old Hart to be NHL ready.

Now that Hextall is gone, how much rope does Hakstol have left? That will be up to the new general manager since this wasn’t a full house cleaning. One win in their last six games and no signs of a turnaround might necessitate another big change coming soon for the Flyers.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Rangers visit Flyers in 2018 NHL Thanksgiving Showdown

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Friday’s NHL Thanksgiving Showdown between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers at 1 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It’s a meeting of two teams currently heading in different directions. The Flyers have spun their wheels for most of the season while dealing with numerous injuries to their goaltending. That’s led to a 9-10-2 start and a seat near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. It was only two weeks ago they were on a nice 5-0-1 run.

The Rangers, on the other hand, have come around after a slow start under new head coach David Quinn. The Blueshirts are 9-1-1 in their last 11 games and find themselves tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets atop the Metropolitan Division.

“We were 3-7-1 at one point, and I don’t think the feeling in this room was that (bad). We felt we had a chance to win a lot of those games,” said forward Kevin Hayes. “We stuck with it. We’re a hard-working team. Our coach preaches hard work, and I feel like we do that all year and now we’re stringing together some wins.”

One of the nice surprises during this run has been 19-year-old Filip Chytil, who is riding a five-game goal streak. That makes him the 20th different teenager in NHL history to record a goal in five or more consecutive team games

How important is playoff position on Thanksgiving Day? History says it’s a good indication of which teams will be in the postseason. Here are how things have shaped up since the NHL adopted its current playoff format:

Since 2001-02, at least three teams each season have reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs after being outside the postseason picture at Thanksgiving.

While Philadelphia does not currently occupy a playoff spot, the Flyers were not in playoff position on Thanksgiving last season and ultimately made the playoffs by going 34-17-9 (77 pts) the rest of the way.

[WATCH LIVE – 1 PM ET – NBC]

What: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers
Where: Wells Fargo Center
When: Friday, November 23rd, 1 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Rangers-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
Vladislav NamestnikovMika ZibanejadJesper Fast
Mats ZuccarelloLias AnderssonSteven Fogarty
Chris Kreider – Kevin Hayes – Filip Chytil
Jimmy VeseyBrett HowdenRyan Strome

Brady SkjeiTony DeAngelo
Marc StaalNeal Pionk
Fredrik ClaessonKevin Shattenkirk

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

FLYERS
Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Dale WeiseNolan PatrickJakub Voracek
James van RiemsdykJordan WealWayne Simmonds
Oskar LindblomScott Laughton – Tyrell Goulbourne

Ivan ProvorovRobert Hagg
Shayne GostisbehereChristian Folin
Travis SanheimRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Calvin Pickard

Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule