Ron Hextall

Flyers hire Alain Vigneault as next head coach

19 Comments

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.

————

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?

11 Comments

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.

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

15 Comments

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.

***

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.

————

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.

Former GM Ron Hextall ‘stunned’ losing Flyers fired him

14 Comments

VORHEES, N.J. — Former Philadelphia general manager Ron Hextall said he was stunned the Flyers fired him this week, despite their losing record.

Hextall, a former Flyers goalie, was fired Monday after 4 + seasons on the job.

”I didn’t see this coming in any way,” Hextall said Friday. ”I was shocked. I was stunned, yeah.”

The Flyers are 10-12-2 and in last place in the Eastern Conference under coach Dave Hakstol headed into Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh. Flyers President Paul Holmgren said he fired Hextall because it had ”become clear that we no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team.”

Hextall had preached patience and tried to rebuild the Flyers through the draft instead of making short-term fixes with high-priced veterans. When the development didn’t come quick enough, Hextall was given the boot.

”There were a lot of things that just went the wrong way on us,” Hextall said.

Holmgren said this week the next general manager will decide Hakstol’s fate. Holmgren had few solid answers this week as to why he made the move, other than to repeatedly call Hextall ”unyielding.”

Hextall said he took a three-stage approach toward trying to build a contender: clean up the salary-cap mess left behind by Holmgren, his predecessor; watch prospects grow as a team; make a big splash through free agency or a trade when the Flyers were close to ”go time.”

”I didn’t feel we were at go-time,” Hextall said.

The Flyers had two first-round playoff exits in Hextall’s tenure and they show no sign this season of winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since the back-to-back titles in 1974-75.

”I certainly expected to take a step this year,” Hextall said. ”There’s a few more growing pains with our young players than I expected.”

Hextall was criticized for refusing to listen to scouts and advisers and had been accused of cutting off alumni access to the team. Hextall, a star goalie and one of the franchise’s more popular players, had wanted his own process on his terms.

He said Friday at a hotel across the street from the team’s New Jersey headquarters that he was wrong to deny former players access to the locker room during an alumni game. But he said he was a team player in contact with scouts and other key personnel and was close a few times on making a major deal or signing a key free agent that could have helped the Flyers.

”I can assure you, I was being aggressive,” he said. ”If we would have had something that made sense for us, short term and long term, we would have done it.”

More NHL hockey: https://www.apnews.com/NHL and https://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

Flyers eye new approach in GM, unlike ‘unyielding’ Hextall

4 Comments

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Flyers fired general manager Ron Hextall because – to swipe a page from their glory days – he was Broad Street Bullheaded.

Hextall preached patience.

The Flyers want to win now.

That clash of ideology turned toxic in Philadelphia’s front office, and it cost Hextall his job in his fifth season as GM. Paul Holmgren, the Flyers’ loyalist and team president, had few solid answers Tuesday as to why he made the move, other than to repeatedly call Hextall ”unyielding.”

Hextall’s arrival signaled a new era in Flyers history, one where short-term fixes, big-budget spending and mortgaging the farm system were no longer in vogue. He gamely tried to restock the farm system and refused to make a major trade for a star that could instantly inch the Flyers closer toward contention.

And when all that got the Flyers were a pair of first-round playoff exits and a 10-11-2 record this season, Hextall got the boot.

”He was unyielding in his plan and remained that way,” Holmgren said. ”Good for him. He’s a well-thought out, deep-thinking guy.”

The deep thoughts included packaging draft picks and prospects for All-Stars capable of carrying Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Vorcek and James van Riemsdyk at least into May.

The Flyers expect to hire a GM in weeks and he’ll have to make an urgent decision: keep or fire coach Dave Hakstol.

”I hate to say Dave Hakstol’s fate is in the next GM’s hands but it is,” Holmgren said. ”I’m not going to make that decision.”

Hakstol, 132-97-40 in three–plus seasons, was set to coach the Flyers on Tuesday night against Ottawa.

Holmgren said he never asked Hextall to fire the coach he hired with no NHL experience out of North Dakota. But Holmgren said Hextall had told him ”of course, I’m thinking about it.”

But, Holmgren added, ”he never did it.”

The Flyers did at least discuss the potential of adding Joel Quenneville after the Chicago Blackhawks fired the three-time Stanley Cup champion coach.

”I can tell you his name came up right away when he was let go,” Comcast Spectacor CEO Dave Scott said. ”I think Ron was set on, stay the course.”

With his biggest backer gone, and the Flyers wallowing, Hakstol’s job is in serious danger.

”I like Hak. I think he’s done a decent job under the circumstances he’s coached under,” Holmgren said.

”Decent” isn’t exactly an encouraging vote of confidence. Hakstol has had his issues – the Flyers are last in the NHL in the penalty kill (69.7 percent) – but Hextall’s decision to enter the season with two oft-injured goalies haunted the team. The Flyers have matched a franchise-high with five goalies this season while prized prospect Carter Hart lingers in the minors.

”Is he our long-term solution? I don’t know that,” Holmgren said. ”I’m not prepared to answer that. That’s another topic for the next GM.”

Holmgren punted about every major issue facing the Flyers to the next GM, and there are plenty of top candidates. The Flyers have about $7 million in salary cap space, and enough talent that should entice some heavy hitters for the job. Former Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi, who won two Cups and now works for the Flyers, told Holmgren he wasn’t interested. But Chuck Fletcher, Ron Francis, Sean Burke and Brian Burke are sure to pique the interest of a team eyeing its first Stanley Cup since the back-to-back titles in 1974 and 1975.

”What can we do now, today, to make the team better now? Not two years or three years from now,” Scott said.

Hextall was criticized for refusing to listen to scouts and advisers and had been accused of cutting off alumni from access to the team. Hextall, a star goalie and one of the franchise’s more popular players, had wanted his own process on his terms.

”His plan was his plan and we’re really hoping for a little more openness going forward,” Scott said.

Asked when the Flyers decided to shift from long-term rebuild to legitimate contention, Holmgren was blunt.

”We’re in the fifth year,” Holmgren said. ”That’s a long time in hockey years.”

The Flyers haven’t made the Cup finals since 2010 and haven’t won a playoff round since 2012.

”It’s a long time,” Scott said. ”We’re gonna go for it.”

The decision to dump Hextall was about dollars and cents as much as it was the state of the roster. Fan apathy is at a low, attendance is down and tickets are steeply discounted on StubHub. There is little buzz apart from the new googly-eyed mascot.

What’s more, the 76ers, their fellow Wells Fargo Center tenant, have overtaken the city in popularity, with big stars and packed houses.

”They were having some challenges and then (Jimmy) Butler coming certainly helps things,” Scott said.

So the Flyers need their own Butler?

”Couldn’t hurt, that’s for sure,” he said, laughing.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports