Ron Hextall

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My Favorite Goal: Lemieux’s end-to-end masterpiece; Hextall scores again

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Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers and personalities remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, we have two selections from our NHL on NBC analysts. First, Patrick Sharp’s choice is one of the NHL’s most famous goals.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins holding a 2-1 lead in the second period of Game 2 of the 1991 Stanley Cup Final, Mario Lemieux took a pass from Phil Bourque and proceeded to make mince meat out of the Minnesota North Stars. Shawn Chambers, Neil Wilkinson and Jon Casey had no chance at defending “Le Manifique.”

The Penguins would go on the win the game 4-1 and the series in six games to take home their first Stanley Cup title.

Our second choice is from Keith Jones, who picked a goal that made NHL playoff history.

A year and a half after Ron Hextall became the first goaltender to actually shoot and score a goal, he became the first to do it in the playoffs against the Washington Capitals. The Philadelphia Flyers netminder had always wanted to score in a game and was going to take advantage of every opportunity that was presented.

While Billy Smith was the first goalie to be credited with a goal, no NHL netminder had shot the puck down the ice at an empty net and scored until Hextall first accomplished the feat in Dec. 1987 against the Boston Bruins. He was the first to do it twice.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY FAVORITE GOAL
McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final
Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie
Malik’s stunning shootout winner
Paul Henderson scores for Canada

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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.

Flyers’ Hayes under pressure to produce after big contract

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Philadelphia Flyers.

In his short time as general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, Chuck Fletcher has already proven to be far more aggressive than his predecessor (Ron Hextall) in building the team’s roster and re-shaping the organization.

His biggest player move to date might just be the sequence of events that saw him acquire the unrestricted free agent rights to forward Kevin Hayes, and then promptly sign him to a massive seven-year, $50 million contract.

The $7.1 million cap hit per season places him third on the team (behind only Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek) and among the top-50 players in the entire league. That sort of contract is going to bring some serious expectations regardless of what we already know about the player.

What we know about Hayes is this: He is a pretty good player and would be a fine complementary piece for a Stanley Cup contender. He will help the Flyers and probably make them marginally better.

But when you are one of the highest paid players in the league, taking up 9 percent of your team’s allotted salary cap space, and signed for seven years the expectation is going to be a lot higher than “pretty good player” and simply making the team a little better. For that price and that commitment you need to be getting an impact player that is going to dramatically change the outlook of your team.

For as solid as Hayes has been throughout his career he has never really come close to being that sort of player.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three Questions | Patrick the X-factor]

He has never scored fewer than 14 goals in a season, but has scored more than 17 just once (this past season).

He has failed to top the 40-point mark just once in five years, but has only topped the 50 point mark in a season one time (again, this past season).

He is not a player that dramatically drives possession and flips the ice territorially in his team’s favor (career 48 percent Corsi player; only twice over 50 percent in a single season).

You can pretty much pencil him in for 15 goals and 45 points every year and probably never miss the mark on him. He is consistently good, but never really takes a step above that. Now that he is entering his age 27 season it is fair to wonder if he will ever do that.

The question that has to be asked is if he continues to produce and play like he has over the first five years of his career how much patience will Flyers fans have for that? More importantly, how much patience will the Flyers themselves have for that?

Every dollar a team spends in a salary capped league is a dollar they can not spend on someone else, and tying up more than $7 million per season in a player that is only giving second-or third-line production without dramatically impacting the game in other areas is something that can quickly turn out to be problematic for a team that has hopes of building a contender. There is a reason most long-term free agent contracts end in either a trade or a buyout; teams have to pay a premium for a player that has probably already played their best hockey for someone else.

Hayes is a fine NHL player, but for the price the Flyers paid to get him they will probably need him to be more than that if they want to avoid buying out his contract or frantically trying to trade it in a couple of years.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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 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.

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.