Dave Hakstol

Respected writer applauds Ron Hextall, Dave Hakstol

Respected writer applauds Ron Hextall, Dave Hakstol

Remember those "Fire Hakstol" chants?

They were belted out by some fans at the Wells Fargo Center during the Flyers' ninth straight loss, a miserable 3-1 finish to the Sharks on Nov. 28.

What felt like the real low of this season so far forced general manager Ron Hextall to issue a state of the union address for his hockey club less than an hour after those chants were spouted into the air.

Including that moment, Hextall ever since has firmly defended and endorsed his head coach Dave Hakstol.

Hextall, a man of immense patience and a stay-the-course mentality, was not about to waver because of a group of disgruntled fans.

“If we were playing poorly, I’d be the first to say, ‘We’re playing poorly,’" Hextall said that night. "I would be. We are not playing poorly and to look objectively at our team right now and to say we’re playing poorly, no."

A day later, on NBC Sports Philadelphia's Philly Sports Talk, Hextall made himself especially clear regarding Hakstol's job security.

"He's the guy," Hextall said. "Dave Hakstol is our coach and he's going to remain our coach."

Maybe it wasn't what some fans wanted to hear, but Hextall didn't care.

And one well-respected writer, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, has been impressed with how both Hextall and Hakstol have responded. Here's what Friedman had to write Monday in his 31 Thoughts, a popular read among hockey people:

You’re always curious to learn how a new GM will react to a difficult situation, but I really liked the way both Ron Hextall (and Dave Hakstol) handled the “Fire Hakstol” chants and pressure in Philadelphia.

That organization has a historically short leash for coaches, but Hextall made it clear he wants to change that. He showed up in the dressing room to defend his coach, and, days later, passionately informed the media Hakstol wasn’t going anywhere. (The only thing missing from that burst was Hextall chopping down reporters with a goalie stick.)

Hakstol said he knows what he signed up for. The Flyers don’t admit it, but privately, word is they feel one year away from a true assessment of how good they are. Second, Hextall worked hard to convince Hakstol to leave North Dakota three summers ago, luring him to Pennsylvania with what is believed to be a six-year contract. He’s invested in his coach.

The Flyers fired Peter Laviolette three games into the 2013-14 season. They axed John Stevens 25 games into the 2009-10 campaign. And they got rid of Ken Hitchcock eight games into the 2006-07 slate.

There's definitely a history of short leashes, as Friedman mentioned.

But Hextall is not a guy that gets easily rattled by outside pressures. It probably makes him trust his evaluation and gut even more.

After the losing streak hit 10 games, the Flyers won three straight by sweeping their Western Canada road trip. Now they're back at the Wells Fargo Center for five games in a row, starting Tuesday.

A little more pressure at home sweet home.

h/t to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Tom Dougherty.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

A three-game win streak?!?!?! All through the daunting Western Canada road gauntlet?!?!?!

Here’s something we haven’t said in a while: what a week it was for the Flyers.

Ah, refreshing, isn’t it? I’m sure the guys in the locker room will tell you it is.

The Flyers’ kicked off the winning run with a 5-2 win Monday night vs. the Flames in Calgary to snap the dreadful 10-game losing skid. On Wednesday night, they skated past the Oilers in impressive fashion with a 4-2 victory in Edmonton. And capping things off the next night with by jumping out to a big lead in Vancouver and holding on to it for a 4-1 triumph.

Per usual, plenty of things to go through this week, but on the good side this time around.

So let’s get this party started, shall we?

• In their three victories this week, the offensively challenged Flyers scored 13 goals. They scored just 20 goals total throughout the prolonged misery of the 10-game losing streak. So what changed?

Like Frankenstein, the Flyers’ secondary scoring sat up and came to life. While Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek each still put up their points, they weren’t forced to do all of the heavy lifting this week. In Calgary, Scott Laughton scored for the first time in 22 games, Valtteri Filppula tallied for the first time in 18 games, Wayne Simmonds struck for just the second time in 19 games and Michael Raffl cashed in for just the third time all season. In Edmonton, Jordan Weal scored for the first time in 13 games and just the third time all year while Dale Weise beat a netminder for just the second time in 16 games. And in Vancouver, Shayne Gostisbehere scored for the third time in 20 games.

Now that … that is what the Flyers were drastically missing during the skid. If Giroux, Voracek and or Couturier weren’t scoring, it was basically game, set and match from the get-go and the Flyers would be fortunate to even get a single marker on the board. Heck, at one point a few weeks ago that trio had accounted for nearly 50 percent of the Flyers’ goals for the entire season.

Giroux, Voracek and Couturier will continue to get theirs. That’s just what they do. But when the others get theirs as well, you see it makes all the difference in the world.

• Have a good number of Dave Hakstol’s lineup decisions dating back to last season raised eyebrows and garnered legitimate questions? Yes, absolutely. But you have to give credit where credit is due as he made a bold decision and broke up the potent Giroux-Couturier-Voracek trio heading into the Calgary game Monday.

That was a gutsy decision to break up a line that was that lethal and one of the best in the league. I’m sure that decision raised a few more eyebrows across the Delaware Valley, but when you’re on a putrid skid and haven’t won a game in almost a month, you can try some crazy things.

This crazy thing worked as the Flyers’ goal-scoring pulse is alive again with those 13 goals in the last three games. Hakstol deserves a lot of credit for pushing the right button there.

• Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the recent line changes has been Raffl.

The 29-year-old Austrian started the season as part of an effective fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier. But as the Flyers started to flounder like a fish out of water, Raffl was juggled up and down the lineup with no set spot. That was until this week when Hakstol injected Raffl into the top six on the second line with Voracek and Filppula. It was one of Hakstol’s bold moves, considering Raffl hadn’t scored since January prior to his goal vs. the New York Islanders on Nov. 22, a span of 42 games (Raffl missed the final month and change last season with an injury).

And the confidence the coach put in the winger is paying off. Raffl looks like a new player out there. He’s using his speed and strength to his advantage, barreling down the ice and setting up shop in front of the net to wreak havoc and cash in. And that’s his game — he’s got a power game and is more than capable of putting the puck in the net. And he’s got noted chemistry with Voracek. Remember, the two were on the Flyers’ top line three seasons ago when Raffl potted a career-high 20 goals. Raffl could be quite the important piece moving forward if the Flyers are to dig out of this hole.

• I’d be remiss beyond comprehension if I didn’t show Brian Elliott some love here. He was pretty darn good for the Flyers over that 10-game losing skid when he went 0-3-5 with a 3.06 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. The best numbers in the world? No. But he made the saves he needed to make and gave the Flyers chances to win night in and night out, exactly what they needed. Elliott’s teammates in front of him just couldn’t pick him up.

But Elliott took his game to another level this week as he was stellar in the three games the Flyers took out in Western Canada. All told, he made 103 stops on 108 shots with a 1.67 goals-against average and .954 save percentage. His best showing of a sterling week came Monday vs. his old mates in Calgary when he stopped 43 of 45 shots faced. The Flames were pouring it on, especially in the second period when they fired 21 pucks on net. But Elliott stood firm and righted the Flyers’ ship with his play. He then stopped 24 of 26 Wednesday in Edmonton and 36 of 37 Thursday in Vancouver.

The guy has been the steadying veteran presence in net and in the locker room. He’s been invaluable to the team so far. He’s taken the reigns of the No. 1 job, and that was even before Michal Neuvirth’s most recent injury. The Flyers clearly have their No. 1 goalie. And Elliott has earned every ounce of that role.

• If you haven’t yet, check out my colleague Jordan Hall’s column from Saturday morning on Hakstol and how the Flyers’ current philosophy has put him in a tricky spot behind the bench.

The Flyers have been toeing this line between development and trying to win for a while now and it’s been a tug of war for Hakstol with his coaching decisions. While some are rightfully questioned, he is still in a tricky spot. It’s a deep dive into that position for Hakstol. Well worth any Flyers fan’s time.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Toronto (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Thursday vs. Buffalo (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Dallas (7 p.m. on NBCSP).

In current state, Dave Hakstol has tricky job with Flyers

usa-dave-hakstol.jpg
USA Today Images

In current state, Dave Hakstol has tricky job with Flyers

Dave Hakstol has to walk a fine line between winning and development.

When it comes to Ron Hextall's organizational blueprint, those two concepts intertwine. While the future is important, so is being competitive in the present.

There is no tanking, nor is there a disregard for tomorrow.

As the head coach overseeing the day-to-day operations of such a model, Hakstol finds himself in a daily conundrum of sorts, trying to strike that balance between Hextall's two all-important objectives.

Lately, though, Hakstol has probably been more focused on winning the day than he's ever been, compared to worrying about a year, month or even a week down the road.

And can you blame him?

Less than a week ago, fans were calling for his firing, almost coming together like an angry mob outside the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers were mired in a losing streak that bottomed out at 10 games and had Hakstol's boss being peppered with repeated questions surrounding the head coach's job status.

So, yeah, in this current climate, Hakstol is in the business to win hockey games, no matter what the cost — and it showed during the team's three-game resurgence in Western Canada.

As the Flyers tallied off three straight wins and outscored the opposition, 13-5, the organization's young building blocks quietly saw their ice times dip considerably. Nolan Patrick played an average of 8:55 over the three games, down from 12:31 prior, while Travis Konecny averaged 9:54, down from 14:07, and Travis Sanheim 11:47, down from 16:08. 

All three players are foundation pieces. All three first-round picks. All three no older than 21 years old, but here because they belong and are in the NHL phase of their development.

The minutes don't exactly jive with development. Many would like to see Patrick, Konecny and even Sanheim provide more offense in greater ice time.

But the tactic of shortening his bench a bit to close out games and place more experience on the ice has worked for Hakstol.

With an increased role, Michael Raffl has five goals in his last eight games after playing just 10:55 a night the previous 21 contests. The 29-year-old Austrian put up four points (three goals, one assist) in the past three games on the Flyers' new second line, alongside Jakub Voracek and Valtteri Filppula. Voracek went off for seven assists over that stretch, while the 33-year-old Filppula totaled four points (one goal, three assists) of his own playing 19-plus minutes a game.

On defense, 31-year-old veteran Andrew MacDonald played heavy minutes (22:51), as did Ivan Provorov (25:25), lightening the load on the rookie Sanheim.

None of this is to say Hakstol is forgetting the long game, which Hextall values so greatly. Before the Flyers staggered into desperation mode of try anything and everything, Hakstol actually allowed for the youth to play bigger roles.

Patrick, Konecny and Sanheim have all seen opportunity throughout the Flyers' first 29 games, and Hakstol will have to understand the importance of finding them more as this season chugs forward.

Because with Hextall, the future is always in sight.

As for Hakstol, discovering a happy medium becomes the challenge ... in a season full of them.