Another week’s passed and once again the big story is a firing. This one took some people by surprise as many expected Flyers coach Dave Hakstol to lose his job, but instead GM Ron Hextall was shown the door. That doesn’t mean that Hakstol will end up sticking with the Flyers, but the next general manager will handle the coaching situation, so in the short-term Hakstol is in limbo. Not unlike the team he coaches, which is a mediocre 10-12-2 this season.
The common synopsis I saw about Hextall after his firing is that he did good job of building up the Flyers’ prospects pool, but ignored the NHL squad for too long. It’s believed that he exercised too much patience, in stark contrast to the Paul Holmgren years that came before him where the Flyers were known for making bold moves, some of which paid off and others that blew up in their face.
Maybe Hextall’s style would have eventually paid off, and whoever takes over the team will certainly reap the benefits of the up-and-coming players he’ll inherit, but the Flyers are on course to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in seventh years and they haven’t been passed the first round since 2012. Not all of those struggles were during Hextall’s tenure, but that prolonged stretch of being bad-to-mediocre in a city that’s used to at least being competitive speaks to why people got tired with Hextall’s measured approach.
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At the time of writing, the favorite to succeed Hextall appears to be Chuck Fletcher, who served as the Minnesota Wild’s general manager from 2009-18. Fletcher oversaw six straight years of Minnesota making the playoffs, but never got them passed the second round.
Fletcher is another bold moves guy, who most notably signed Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts in the summer of 2012. One of his best trades was also securing goaltender Devan Dubnyk from Arizona in exchange for a third-round pick and if Fletcher gets the job in Flyers, he’ll be taking over a team that needs goaltending help – at very least in the short-term while 20-year-old Carter Hart develops in the AHL.
Of course, it might not end up being Fletcher. Former Hurricanes GM Ron Francis has also been brought up. As has Blue Jackets assistant GM Bill Zito.
We’ve also had a trade over the last week with Arizona sending Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini to Chicago in exchange for Nick Schmaltz. Basically, what’s happening is a trio of former first-round picks are getting a change of scenery in the hope that they might get back on track. If any of those three had lived up to expectations, they likely wouldn’t have been traded.
Strome sticks out to me as the one with the most potential, but he’s also been the biggest disappointment thus far. After being taken with the third overall pick in 2015, he ended up with just seven goals and 16 points in 48 career contests with Arizona. That’s the same draft that featured Mitchell Marner (4th), Noah Hanifin (5th), Ivan Provorov (7th), Zach Werenski (8th), Mikko Rantanen (10th), Mathew Barzal (16th), and Thomas Chabot (18th). In other words, the Coyotes had a big miss in the 2015 draft and it’s hard not to wonder how their situation might be different today had they picked Marner over Strome.
While the door might be closed on Strome in Arizona though, all hope isn’t lost for the player. He did have a goal and an assist in his Blackhawks debut, so maybe this trade really will succeed in sparking him. I wouldn’t get too excited over one good game, but he’s not a bad player to roll the dice on if you’re in a position to do so. If need be, you could always drop him again in a week or two if he fizzles out.
I also might as well take this opportunity to talk about William Nylander one last time before whatever happens with him, happens. As you’ve probably been told a million times by now, Dec. 1 is the deadline for something to happen. If Nylander isn’t signed on Dec. 1, then he cannot play at all in the NHL until next season.
Despite the fact that we’re right up against the deadline, there have been some optimistic chatter suggesting that the Maple Leafs and Nylander are closing in on a deal. Pierre LeBrun also reported that the Maple Leafs have contacted teams to advise them that this is the time when they need to submit their best trade offers for Nylander. That makes sense as the Maple Leafs need to cover all their bases. If they reach a point where they don’t anticipate signing him by the deadline, then he will likely be traded instead so they need to know what’s on the table for them.
Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs have gotten off to an 18-8-0 start without Nylander. Even missing Auston Matthews for a month didn’t slow Toronto down much. None of that is to suggest that the Maple Leafs don’t need Nylander. If they are pushing to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup in 2019, then they need all the help they can get and Nylander could certainly be a huge help. It does show though that the Maple Leafs have become a resilient team.
The Maple Leafs are far from the only dangerous team in the Atlantic Division though. In fact, the Atlantic Division has become a juggernaut and a big reason for that is the rise of the Buffalo Sabres. They’ve won 10 games in a row and currently hold the Atlantic Division lead at 17-6-2.
Jack Eichel being healthy is a big part of that, but he’s got help this season. Jeff Skinner has an incredible 19 goals in 25 games since being acquired from Carolina over the summer. Meanwhile, Jason Pominville is enjoying a bounce back season with nine goals and 18 points in 25 games. In goal, Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark have proven to be a very effective duo too.
I think the Sabres’ winning streak has overinflated them – as tends to be the case with prolonged winning streak – but even with that disclaimer, I do consider the Sabres to be one of the rising powers in the NHL. In another couple years, if all goes well, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them regarded as a favorite to win the Stanley Cup.