The Philadelphia Flyers brass had no choice but to dump Hextall

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Flyers made a shocking decision to remove Ron Hextall from his role as GM on Monday in the wake of the team’s poor start to 2018.

What a difference a blowout 6-0 game can make.

On Saturday, the Philadelphia Flyers, as both a team and an organization, were embarrassed in front of the entire hockey world by the Toronto Maple Leafs, losing by almost a touchdown in a truly gutless effort on Hockey Night in Canada. There’s no easy way to say it; it was just a completely non-competitive affair from start to finish. What’s most alarming is that these types of games have become all too familiar for this Flyers team.

And while it was just one loss, it felt like so much more than that. It was a loss that seemed to signal that the franchise was no longer moving forward, sputtering like a dying motor in transit to a destination that now appears further away than ever.

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The Flyers are not a good hockey team. But they should be, and that is why, in all likelihood, CEO Dave Scott felt he had to step in and take control, firing general manager Ron Hextall on Monday. It was a bloody Monday in a long history of bloody Mondays for this franchise.

There will be many questions after this move, but one of them has to be “Why”? Why did Hextall let it get to this point? Why was he so content to sit back and allow his team to endure losing streak after losing streak while only making minimal additions and subtractions in the offseason?

Why did he allow himself to be anchored to his lame duck coach, a guy who most assuredly is not going to have a job in this city at the end of the season? Why did he continue to employ Ian Laperriere, the architect of statistically one of the worst penalty kill units in league history?

There are so many questions that we may never get to ask Hextall, and it’s just a shame considering how his tenure started in Philadelphia. He brought promise and hope to a fan base that felt it was at a crossroads, having lost its only Stanley Cup final of the last decade just a few years prior and with no clear path to a championship on the horizon.

When Hextall was hired in 2013, the move was viewed as a positive one. He came to Philadelphia preaching patience; something Flyers fans had hardly ever known. He talked about his love for young players, and turning draft picks into high-level prospects. He said all the right things. But words are just words, and actions speak far louder.

And to be fair, Hextall’s plan did bear some fruit. The Flyers have a plethora of young talent that they otherwise may never have ended up with had Paul Holmgren remained as GM. They have a promising young goaltender who, though he doesn’t appear ready just yet, could be the diamond in the rough the franchise has been searching for decades.

There are certainly positives. Hextall delivered on a lot of his promises. He drafted well, rebuilt the farm system, and slowly brought those players up to the big club. Players like Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom, and Nolan Patrick are all here because of Hextall. For these things, we should be thankful.

But as we continue to acknowledge and analyze the benefits of Hextall’s actions, we must also acknowledge the damage of his inaction. I stated before that saying the right things is fine and well, but following through with that is all that matters to the fans. This is where Hextall’s plan went awry; it’s now why he finds himself without a job.

Hextall’s first and last mistakes center entirely around that of head coach Dave Hakstol, who was brought in as Hextall’s first choice to lead the team under during the second year of his tenure. The move was panned initially and considered something of a reach being that Hakstol had no experience as a head coach in the NHL, and had never won a championship at the collegiate level.

The results under Hakstol have been less than stellar, and the current group has flirted with mediocrity for four years. They’ve endured two ten game losing streaks, missed the playoffs, and been bounced twice in the first round, most recently in embarrassing fashion at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Now in fairness to Hakstol, his general manager did him no favors when it came to free agent NHL talent or goaltending. Some of Hextall’s free agent signings have been downright baffling, bringing in names such as Boyd Gordon, Brandon Manning, Jori Lehtera, and Dale Weis. His only credible free agent signing was James van Riemsdyk this offseason, and that move has yet to bear considerable fruit.

But Hakstol hasn’t proven that he can take a young team and turn them into a contender. The team continues to have poor starts to games, putting them in holes from which they are forced to climb out of. And his player usage has always been questionable. At times, Hakstol simply refuses to put his best players in position to help the team, especially the highly talented young players.

The 2018 season was supposed to be different. The team was supposed to take a step forward, and instead, they’ve completely fallen flat on their faces, getting pasted in a handful of games already. They’ve played 22 games, and in nearly half of those games the Flyers have given up three or more goals. It’s only November, and this team looks helpless at times. That’s coaching, and it’s not good enough.

But back to Hextall, look no further than the goaltending fiasco that is the 2018 season which has seen the Flyers dip to absurdly hideous levels of futility as they’ve been forced to play five different goalies. Hextall clearly drafted Carter Hart with the intention of having him become the future franchise goaltender, his unwillingness to sign a major player at that position or even just a player that could help bring the team a respectable and reliable level of play is arguably his greatest misstep.

Sure, he signed Brian Elliot who, for stretches of time was good to very good when he was healthy. But that’s the thing, Elliot hasn’t been healthy this year, and almost looks like he may not be able to play much longer in his 33-year-old body. And let’s not get started on Michal Neuvirth, a guy who practically injures himself every time he ties his skates. This is a player who hasn’t been healthy in years. Even thinking that these two would be enough to help this team win a playoff series this year was negligent.

Hextall has done a great deal to move the needle for this franchise, the biggest being his ability to move the team out of the salary cap purgatory that it was left in by Holmgren. For that alone, he should be applauded. But at the end of this day, Hextall has only himself to blame for his downfall.

No, the wheels fell off of his wagon when he decided to hitch himself to a coach that can’t win in the NHL and two injury prone goaltenders all while trying to convince the fan base that this year was the year that the expectations would be raised.

In all likelihood, it was Hextall’s refusal to fire his coach that ultimately led to his ouster. CEO Dave Scott and President Holmgren weren’t left with much choice. Once the fans stop coming and tuning in the games, that means loss of revenue, something the higher-ups cannot sit idly by and tolerate. Fans weren’t going to continue to stand by this product, and that apathy was beginning to manifest itself in the empty seats.

Hextall’s choice not to address the team’s biggest need was downright baffling. It’s a shame that it had to come to this, but in the end, the team and the franchise desperately needed a shakeup. If Hextall was not going to fire his coach, then the only choice was to remove him as general manager.

The Flyers must now decide what to do with Hakstol, but it’s very hard to see him continuing as this teams coach. It’s likely that the Flyers’ brass wants to leave that decision to the new GM, as replacing the GM and coach on the same day could perhaps be too much upheaval for one franchise to overcome when they still have playoff aspirations.

Next. Firing Ron Hextall draws speculation that Dave Hakstol could be next. dark

There is still much to come in the next few days, but the one thing that is certain is that the Flyers’ organization had no choice but to move on from Hextall as GM. As a player, he enjoyed a wonderful career and will always be celebrated in this town for his accomplishments, but as for his role as GM, something tells me the jury will be out on that one for a while.