Flyers

Did Ron Hextall take the fall for Dave Hakstol?

Did Ron Hextall take the fall for Dave Hakstol?

Did the Flyers fire the wrong guy? Or was Ron Hextall relieved of his duties as general manager precisely because he wouldn’t dismiss Dave Hakstol as head coach?

There were no clear reasons given for Hextall’s removal in the club’s 89-word statement released Monday, but if you read between the lines, Flyers president Paul Holmgren may have dropped a hint.

“We thank Ron for his many significant contributions, but it has become clear that we no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team,” Holmgren said. “In light of these differences, we feel it's in the organization's best interests to make a change, effective immediately.”

Hextall’s vision was aligned enough with the Flyers’ to lead the team through the NHL draft in June and free agency in July. What changed over the last four months?

Nothing. Hextall hasn’t made any notable changes amid the Flyers’ 10-11-2 start, which has the team in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division. And seeing as November isn’t a particularly busy period for franchise-altering trades, there was only one obvious move to make.

Fire the coach — an action Hextall had staunchly refused to take on numerous occasions.

Hextall has been fiercely loyal to Hakstol since the hire in 2015. Much was made about what it took to lure the surprise candidate to so much as an interview, let alone give up the comforts of coaching an established college program he created at North Dakota. Hakstol’s decision to take the job sounded like it boiled down to job security; a promise he would have an opportunity to see the rebuilding process through, not ousted at the first sign of trouble.

Of course, this is Hakstol’s fourth season with the Flyers, and the team’s slow start is far from the first sign of trouble. Yet, Hextall was continuing to stand by Hakstol amid calls for the coach to get the ax.

Did Hextall get the call from Holmgren, or possibly Flyers ownership? And did the former GM choose to defy the order out of loyalty to Hakstol, even if it would result in his own termination?

That would be incredibly noble of Hextall, if true.

It’s also possible, perhaps even likely that what got Hextall fired was the team's continued mediocrity five seasons into his plan. Maybe Flyers brass doesn’t blame the head coach for young talent not developing into superstars, for the overall lack of success.

Maybe the Flyers simply grew tired of the pace at which Hextall’s rebuild is moving. Maybe it is the fault of the GM for not giving Hakstol the right players. When they speak on Tuesday, maybe Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor CEO and chairman Dave Scott will be honest and open about the thought process behind Hextall’s departure while Hakstol remains.

Yet, given the timing — after a pitiful 6-0 Flyers loss — the cries for Hakstol’s firing and Hextall’s constant defense of his hand-picked leader, it’s hard to believe this sudden decision wasn’t related.

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Because of coronavirus outbreak, James van Riemsdyk sees possible 'unique opportunity' for NHL playoffs

Because of coronavirus outbreak, James van Riemsdyk sees possible 'unique opportunity' for NHL playoffs

There always seem to be the people out there pleading for the NHL to become more marketable, more fun, more appealing.

If there's a silver lining to the suspension and uncertainty of the 2019-20 season amid the coronavirus outbreak, it could be the doors opening for some experimentation by the league.

Wednesday morning saw the calendar flip to April. The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs were originally scheduled to start April 8. Nobody knows when or if they'll begin. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL has been out of commission since March 12 and on Tuesday extended its isolation period to April 15.

Every NHL team has at least 11 games left on its regular-season schedule. The Flyers, who are a point behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals, have 13 games left.

With each passing day, the hopes of finishing the 2019-20 season in full weaken.

"That’s been the hardest part, for not only us but I feel like everyone in the world — there’s all this uncertainty around everything," James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers' NHLPA representative, said Tuesday night in a conference call. "It’d be nice to be like, ‘You know what, you sit at home for a month and then everything will go back to normal.’ I think that would obviously be a lot easier for everyone to handle than these daily to weekly updates on stuff and you’re kind of still unsure about what’s going to go on. A lot of people feel like, I’m sure, just running in place right now trying to stay busy and keep yourself in shape.”

Will the NHL find a way to drastically change its plan throughout the summer to play 2019-20 in its entirety? Should the league ax the remainder of the regular season and jump right into the playoffs? Could the postseason format change? Is the season going to resume at all?

A veteran of 11 seasons, van Riemsdyk knows all options will be on the table.

"I’d like to think we’ll find a way, but ultimately we want to guarantee the safety of everyone involved whether that’s players, staff, fans, families — we don’t want to do anything at the expense of any of that," van Riemsdyk said. "This is a way bigger issue than sports.”

He sees the NHL's predicament as a possible tryout opportunity for the league.

“Ultimately it’s going to come down to timing and how we can fit everything in," van Riemsdyk said. "In a perfect world, you’d like to finish the regular season and play it out as it may and go from there. But if some of those timeframes become a little bit too shortened where we can’t fit that in, it kind of creates a unique opportunity, in my opinion, to maybe try something a little bit unique with the playoff structure.

"I know that’s been talked about in the last couple of years especially is try to maybe add some more teams to it. If we’re in a situation like we are this year, it’s basically a free chance to try something a little bit outside the box maybe and see what might work.

"We’ll cross those bridges when we get there as far as time-wise and when we’re able to start things up and how that might look.”

Sixteen of the NHL's 31 teams qualify for the postseason. Each round features a best-of-seven series. The NHL playoffs have always been must-see entertainment. They could be a whole lot more fun, for all viewers, with a look that will be different to everybody. After all, 2019-20 has now become much different than other seasons in the past.

“If it gets to the point where we don’t have enough time to play out the regular season, which I’m sure everyone obviously would like to do," van Riemsdyk said, "then we can be more creative in the sense of trying something a little bit outside the box with the playoff structure potentially.”

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Predictions for who wins Flyers' 2019-20 Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as most improved player

Predictions for who wins Flyers' 2019-20 Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as most improved player

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Taryn Hatcher and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Predicting who wins the Flyers' 2019-20 Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as most improved player.

Destra

When it comes to most improved from last season, Travis Konecny is the first that comes to mind. He didn’t have a poor 2018-19 season by any means but when looking back and the leaps and bounds he has made since then, it just makes sense to award him the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy. 

Before the season started, I noted that Konecny was the most important puzzle piece for a successful year and he has continued to prove that with every game played. 

Konecny bettered his two-way game, cleaned up his puck work in the neutral zone and can be on a line with just about anyone and still find a way to drive play. He’s grown every aspect of his game and now leads the team in points, as well. 

Not to mention, he’s also a pest to play against, a ton of fun to watch, made his first All-Star appearance back in January … and he’s only 23 years old. 

Emmer

Konecny is the most improved player.

Fans were expecting a breakout season from Konecny and he’s having it. With 61 points through 66 games, he’s already 12 points past his previous career high of 49 points in 82 games last year. 

Konecny’s average ice time has gone up by almost two minutes more than last season and he has continued to dominate in his 5-on-5 play, while his presence on the Flyers' power-play units has grown as he leads the team in man advantage assists with 18.

The Flyers' 2015 first-rounder obviously had talent from the start, but this season he really blossomed on the score sheet and grew that confidence Flyers fans had certainly seen hints of before, but now see it on another level. 

His confidence could have spiked for many reasons: his offensive success, his coaching staff and new linemates and maybe even that six-year, $33 million contract he inked at the start of the season.

Whatever it was, that confidence is hopefully here to stay. Konecny certainly improved the most this season and I think Flyers fans have plenty to look forward to out of this 23-year-old for the next five-plus years.  

Hatcher

The Flyers have quite a few players who have taken the next step in their game this season, but Scott Laughton deserves this one in my opinion.

Statistically speaking, Laughton played 82 games last season, netting 12 goals and tallying 20 assists. After battling through two injuries this year (finger, groin), he’s still managed to pass that goal total with 13 in just 49 games so far in 2019-20. Laughton has also jumped from a minus-11 rating last year to a plus-13. He’s a key piece of the Flyers' significantly improved penalty kill.  

Not to mention, when Alain Vigneault has needed to shake up lines, Laughton has been able to find success as a top-six player. But, when called upon to contribute in the bottom six, he’s assumed the role without issue. Laughton still finds ways to distribute the puck well and produce with a different cast of players.  

Hall

With Konecny making such an important jump for the Flyers, he'll rightfully be the favorite for this award and should even be in consideration for the Bobby Clarke Trophy.

However, Oskar Lindblom won't be counted out for most improved. Don't be surprised if some teammates cast their votes for the 23-year-old forward — and those votes would be deserved.

Before being diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma during mid-December, Lindblom was thriving in his biggest role yet, scoring 11 goals and 18 points through 30 games. He was projected to finish with 30 goals after a promising rookie season in which he recorded 17 while playing fewer minutes.

Lindblom, who continues to undergo treatment, quickly won over Vigneault with his smarts and skill. His improvements were significant and evident.

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