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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