Flyers hire Alain Vigneault as next head coach

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Alain Vigneault is returning to the Metropolitan Divison after the Philadelphia Flyers announced on Monday afternoon that they’ve hired him as their next head coach.

“Alain has always been somebody I’ve admired and respected,” said Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. ” I’ve watched the job he’s done over the years throughout his career, but particularly in Vancouver and with the Rangers. He’s been what I’ve considered to be a top coach in the NHL. I made a decision that I wanted to speak with him, and during our conversations it just became apparent to me he was the right guy. So once you kind of come to that conclusion it just made sense to pursue it, and we were able to finalize things this morning.”

Vigneault, who’s currently set to lead Canada’s entry at the IIHF World Championship in May, was fired by the New York Rangers after the 2017-18 NHL season. The 57-year-old was behind the bench for the Rangers for five seasons, guiding them to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals and the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. He’s won 648 games coaching three different franchise, earned the Jack Adams Award in 2007, and led both the Vancouver Canucks and Rangers to conference titles.

“It is an honor to be selected as the next head coach of the Flyers,” said Vigneault. “The history they have established and the passionate fan base has made this a first-class franchise. I am excited to work with Chuck, the talented group of players and prospects coming up through the system, in order to return Philadelphia to the top of the NHL landscape.”

It was no secret that the Flyers were hot after Joel Quenneville following his November dismissal by the Chicago Blackhawks. But Fletcher, who replaced Ron Hextall, decided to give the organization’s AHL head coach, Scott Gordon, the interim tag after Dave Hakstol’s firing. Even after Gordon led the team to a 25-22-4 record, it wasn’t enough as Fletcher apparently sees Vigneault as the better option going forward on a “multi-year” contract, which is reportedly five years, $25M, per Pierre LeBrun.

Now that he has a head coach, Fletcher can check another thing off his to-do list after assuming the GM job. The goaltending position looks to be set with Carter Hart‘s emergence this season. Who backs him up in 2018-19 is still to be decided. Up next is working on extensions for some of the team’s restricted free agents like Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Travis Konecny.

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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.

What should Flyers do after cleaning house?

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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.)

[Related: Stumbling Flyers fire head coach Dave Hakstol]

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.

They shouldn’t gut their core of veterans like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, or even youngsters like Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, or Nolan Patrick.

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.

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.

Stumbling Flyers fire head coach Dave Hakstol

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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.

“It is my expectation that Scott will be the head coach for the remainder of the year,” Fletcher said during a Monday press conference.

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.

“At this point, everyone is a candidate moving forward,” Fletcher said. “This will be a process.”

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.

”To my eyes there was a disconnect between what he was preaching and how the players were playing,” Fletcher said. ”We need a new voice. We need to have the coaching staff [give] the message to the players and hopefully have the players receive that message and that’s why I decided to make the move.”

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.

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.

Will Flyers’ disastrous road trip spell end for Hakstol?

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(UPDATE: It has. The Flyers announced Hakstol’s firing on Monday.)

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.

It was another rough night for Flyers goalies

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Look, Andreas Johnsson is a pretty good player for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 24-year-old’s carved out a nice niche for himself, particularly considering the fact that he was a seventh-rounder (202nd overall in 2013). Johnsson would probably be at least a medium-sized deal if he were on a team that wasn’t so loaded with young talent.

Still, it’s not the greatest sign in the world when Johnsson scored a hat trick on you … in a single period. It’s even worse when his hat trick doesn’t even cover all the goals allowed in a troubling 20 minutes.

That’s the plight of the Philadelphia Flyers so far in Saturday’s game, as Johnsson – who came into this game with two goals in 27 career NHL games – delivered such a drubbing, while Patrick Marleau added a goal to provide a 4-0 early edge.

Calvin Pickard ended up allowing four goals while making just two saves, extending what’s been a miserable run with the Flyers. It has to sting a little extra for Pickard, as he went from a respectable backup to something of a journeyman last season, as the expansion draft process scrambled him into the Maple Leafs’ once-deep pipeline of goalies who weren’t quite at the NHL level.

Instead of getting a little bit of revenge against his old club by living well, he instead languished.

By my eyes, Johnsson’s first goal was probably the ugliest, as Pickard really seemed to lose his angle or simply find himself out of sorts:

The second tally was a semi-breakaway that would probably give a lot of goalies trouble, but the third one might be another tally Pickard would want back, although Johnsson was able to wade in with his backhander before any defenders could really give him any trouble.

And that last point is really the thing. You can get in a chicken-and-the-egg argument about who’s most to blame for the Flyers’ goalie issues, at least from a bigger picture standpoint. Because … make no mistake about it, this continues to be a crisis.

Coming into 2018-19, it was somewhat understandable why GM Ron Hextall decided to stand pat, although you could probably charge him with possibly being a little too gunshy.

After all, Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth are a) quite experienced, b) cheap options, and c) in expiring contracts. The hope would be that those two veterans could hold down the fort while Carter Hart develops. Hextall also made a reasonable (but so far disastrous) decision to claim Pickard on waivers, rather than going the free agent route.

None of those goalies have solved things, and Alex Lyon looked overmatched in his first appearance at the NHL level (and is now hurt), too.

Now, Hart hasn’t been a brick wall at the AHL level, yet this seems like another beacon to the Flyers: why not just roll the dice and see if Hart could be like Matt Murray. The Pittsburgh Penguins probably wanted to let Murray marinate at lower levels a little longer, but injuries sort of forced their hand, and then Murray forced them to keep him around with strong early play.

For the Flyers, Hart standing above his colleagues would be filed under a “good problem to have.” And, worst-case scenario, Hart could instead fail, but get sent down to the AHL to continue working on his game.

(Even if he struggled, management would likely receive a better understanding of how close Hart is to full-time NHL work, and gain greater insight about how to approach either the next goalie free agent summer [Sergei Bobrovsky reunion tour, you might ask?] or the trade deadline [other Bob opportunity?].)

Speaking of standing pat instead of making more aggressive decisions, this latest hiccup and the wave of coach firings naturally make some wonder – again – about Dave Hakstol.

Is it possible that Flyers goalies aren’t put in ideal situations to succeed, too? Should Philly play a system that possibly plays to the strengths of its roster in ways they don’t now? Perhaps the solution might just be to shrug your shoulders at your Swiss cheese in net, hold your nose, and just try to “outscore your problems?”

There are a lot of questions stemming from a rough period of play, and they’ll only bubble up more often if the Flyers fail to find answers. Granted, these issues have been plaguing this franchise since their GM stopped being their goalie, so it’s obviously a situation of easier said than done.

Either way, something has to give, especially if nights like these continue … right?

The Maple Leafs ended up winning 6-0, with Garret Sparks pitching a 34-save shutout. Anthony Stolarz experienced a busy night in relief of Pickard, stopping 33 out of 35 shots.

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.