Flyers

Flyers organization struggles to answer the most basic questions about reasons for firing Ron Hextall

Flyers organization struggles to answer the most basic questions about reasons for firing Ron Hextall

There was an absolute disconnect between the decision to fire Ron Hextall and the reasons behind the move.

Reasons that weren’t made clear Tuesday morning.

Citing “philosophical differences” in a press release Monday, you’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint exactly what those differences were other than Hextall had his my-way-or-the-highway approach.

“I just felt in the best interest of the organization, it was time to look for a new voice with a different mindset that can push the team to the next level,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren said. “Without getting specific, Ron was unyielding in his approach. Unyielding. He had his plans and he was sticking to them. You can slice and dice that any way you want.”

Of course, that’s not for us to dissect and surmise, but rather for the team executive to explain thoroughly. He made the move. He owed the fan base an explanation behind it. While Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott allowed Holmgren to do most of the talking, he offered up a brief insight into the managerial shake-up. 

“For me, it sort of boiled it down to one question: Do I think we can do better as a team now, not two or three years, but now, and I think that answer is yes,” Scott said.

In the history of the team and organizational management, the “short-term” approach or “quick-fix" solution is firing the head coach. Plain and simple. A new general manager, with limited history and knowledge of the players in the organization, can’t turn around a team in-season that doesn’t involve firing the coach or massively shaking up the roster. 

Holmgren was adamant that Hextall was never given an ultimatum to fire Dave Hakstol, but you have to believe the subject of the head coach’s job performance had been discussed on more than one occasion. After all, Holmgren never had reservations about cutting loose a coach who was underperforming. He did it twice during his GM tenure: In December 2009, Holmgren replaced John Stevens with Peter Laviolette, and again in October 2013, just three games into the season, Laviolette was sent packing for Craig Berube.  

“Was he ever told to fire the coach? No. Was he ever told to make a trade? No. Why even bother having a GM if you have to have those conversations,” Holmgren said.

“I’ll just say, he was very confident in his plan and his vision and Paul said it, he wasn’t going to waver from that plan,” Scott said. “To me and to Paul, I mean, this is the fifth year and you guys look at the same data that we look at and we thought it was time for a change.”

Hextall’s plan was rather clear-cut. Draft picks and prospects need time to develop, the current goaltending situation was a bridge to Carter Hart, and Hextall had the utmost confidence in Hakstol as his coach. To a fault.

“My feeling right now is that under the circumstances with the injuries in particular to our goaltenders, you can question it if you want,” Holmgren said of a coaching change. “I think the coaching staff has done a decent job under the situations that they’re in.”

The divorcing of Hextall came swiftly and abruptly Monday morning, which also would explain the scramble-mode mentality of Tuesday’s press conference.

“It was a tough thing to go through yesterday,” Holmgren said. “Was he warned? No, not warned. I don’t know how Ron felt in the conversations we had.” 

Holmgren could have fired the head coach on the same day he dismissed Hextall, similar to what the organization pulled in October 2007 when then-GM Bob Clarke stepped down and Stevens replaced Ken Hitchcock behind the bench.

But 11 years ago, the Flyers organization actually had a succession plan in place.

This time around, it couldn’t find the answers to the most basic questions.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

Future Flyers Report: Wisconsin's Wyatt Kalynuk one of four prospects to watch in Big Ten

Future Flyers Report: Wisconsin's Wyatt Kalynuk one of four prospects to watch in Big Ten

It’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

• The Flyers have some exciting young defensemen at the pro level. They also have some at the college and junior ranks.

Two that have received a lot of attention are Cam York and Egor Zamula. York was the Flyers' first-round pick this summer and is in his freshman year at Michigan, while Zamula is a near-point-per-game 19-year-old playing for the WHL's Calgary Hitmen.

Another defenseman to keep tabs on his Wyatt Kalynuk, who the Flyers selected in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. The junior at Wisconsin had a goal, eight shots and seven blocked shots over two games against Notre Dame last weekend.

The 16th-ranked Badgers sport exciting underclassmen with Cole Caufield (2019 top-15 pick), Alex Turcotte (2019 top-five pick) and K'Andre Miller (2018 top-25 pick).

“The goal is to win a national championship," Kalynuk said this summer at Flyers development camp.

Kalynuk is a huge piece for Wisconsin. The 22-year-old has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) through 12 games.

"Probably my biggest strength is skating," Kalynuk said. "At Wisconsin, getting bigger, stronger and faster just improves it even more.

“I would consider myself a late bloomer, but it’s not a knock on me or anybody."

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher checked out the Badgers last season in February. Wisconsin was playing Flyers prospect Tanner Laczynski and Ohio State. With Kalynuk, Laczynski, York and Bryce Brodzinski (2019 seventh-round pick at Minnesota), the Flyers will be watching plenty of Big Ten hockey this season.

Quick hits

• Goalie Kirill Ustimenko, a 2017 third-round pick, had a 32-save shutout for the ECHL's Reading Royals in a 1-0 win last Saturday over the Wheeling Nailers. The 20-year-old has a 2.57 goals-against average in 10 games (six wins).

• Isaac Ratcliffe has missed the Phantoms' last three games with an injury. The 2017 second-round pick is transitioning to the pro level with three points (one goal, two assists) in 12 games.

• Noah Cates scored his team-leading fifth goal in Minnesota Duluth's 3-2 win Saturday over Miami (Ohio). The 2017 fifth-round pick is a sophomore on the country's ninth-ranked team.

"We talk about him every day and we can't stop bragging about him," Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said this summer.

• Jay O'Brien, a 2018 first-round pick, is second in the BCHL with 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists) through 26 games for the Penticton Vees.

• Wyatte Wylie, another defenseman to watch, is a point-per-game player right now with five goals and 14 assists in 19 contests for the WHL's Everett Silvertips.

 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

Morgan Frost call-up has to do with everyone (especially James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes, Jakub Voracek)

Morgan Frost call-up has to do with everyone (especially James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes, Jakub Voracek)

VOORHEES, N.J. — Could Morgan Frost have used more time in the AHL?

Possibly.

But 20 games into the 2019-20 season, the Flyers were in a spot where they needed the 20-year-old’s ability. Uniquely, Frost impacts all four of the Flyers’ lines.

The Flyers are searching for greater balance and consistency within their forwards. They haven’t had it through 20 games and it’s a reason why they’ve been up and down during a 10-6-4 start.

Frost’s advertised prowess for playmaking permeates the big club’s makeup. Monday’s arrival of the 2017 first-round pick allows head coach Alain Vigneault to do many desired things with the Flyers’ lineup.

It moves Claude Giroux from the middle back to left winger, where he’s had his career-best success, without seriously hampering the Flyers at center. Frost will play between Giroux and Travis Konecny, a spot that accentuates the prospect’s strengths.

“T.K. is not a 10-year veteran, but he’s one of our young players that is definitely on the uprise and playing real well,” Vigneault said. “We’re playing Morgan with our captain. The captain will lead the way and help the young man out.”

It pieces back together the Flyers’ fourth line of Andy Andreoff, Michael Raffl and Tyler Pitlick, which was strong and gives the Flyers the necessary depth to augment Vigneault’s system.

“We felt that by bringing Morgan in and being able to go back to Raffy’s line, which had success with Andy on the left side and Tyler on the right side, it gave us better balance,” Vigneault said.

It keeps Sean Couturier with Oskar Lindblom, a duo that has highly performed, while adding Joel Farabee to the group. The trio showed promise in the 4-3 shootout loss Saturday night and it’s important the 19-year-old Farabee is around talent.

“Whoever we’ve played with Coots has played well,” Vigneault said.

And, most notably, it creates a line of James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes and Jakub Voracek, three players that haven’t produced the way everyone expects them to produce. JVR, Hayes and Voracek have combined for 29 points in 20 games. They are three of the Flyers’ four highest-paid players, all with an average annual value of $7 million or above. 

Vigneault knows those players must perform overall and especially at 5-on-5 for his team to take a legitimate step forward.

The Hayesy line, Jake and James, that should be a big, good NHL line, they should be able to contribute 5-on-5 and play well both offensively and defensively.

All those guys, I love the person. I love Kevin Hayes as a person, James and Jake I’m starting to know, they’re great people. I need more from the hockey player. Two different distinctions, right? The person and the hockey player. Those three guys, I need more from the hockey player. I know that they want to do well. We’re 20 games in. It’s time. I’m not telling you anything that I haven’t told them. Obviously they feel pressure, but that’s why they’re paid the big bucks. You’ve got to deliver, you’ve got to produce, and we expect those guys to produce.

Older guys, because of their reputation, because of what they’ve done in the league, they have more leash, they have more money in the bank. Some of our guys, they’ve used a few withdrawals. I’m not stating anything that [anybody doesn’t know], but I expect more from James, I expect more from Kevin, I expect more from Jake as far as 5-on-5 play. You’d ask those guys, they’d tell you the same thing. They need to be better for our team to get into the playoffs and we’re aware of that.

Vigneault and general manager Chuck Fletcher speak daily with AHL affiliate head coach Scott Gordon. On Sunday, Vigneault spoke with Fletcher for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. After hearing from Gordon, they felt the time was right for Frost.

“Putting our two minds together, we came up with this,” Vigneault said. “It wasn’t about coming up with a plan, it was just looking at our overall team — our four lines, our defense.”

As much as it was about Frost and the Flyers, it had a ton to do with van Riemsdyk, Hayes and Voracek. Frost is here and will make his NHL debut Tuesday night against the Panthers in Florida. While many eyes will be on Frost, Vigneault will continue to look for more from van Riemsdyk, Hayes and Voracek.

He’s a head coach with a track record of making the playoffs — and he sure doesn’t want to miss them in Year 1 with the Flyers.

 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers