Flyers

Flyers weekly observations: What is Ron Hextall's rock bottom?

Flyers weekly observations: What is Ron Hextall's rock bottom?

Update, 11:15 a.m. Monday: The Flyers have fired GM Ron Hextall.

The Flyers snapped a season-worst four-game losing streak this week but went 1-2-0 with a pair of lopsided losses.

Let's look at some observations:

• The way in which the Flyers lost to the Maple Leafs was bad, but that game felt like a loss before the puck was dropped.

Did anyone expect Calvin Pickard to quiet the NHL's fourth-highest scoring team?

It would have been nice to see more resistance, pushback and effort from the Flyers, but it's deflating when you're down 3-0 before you can blink. When you don't have a chance from the jump, coming back is impossible. The Maple Leafs scored three goals in the game's opening 7:44 and after that, the Flyers were done.

So that 6-0 loss is bothersome, but I wasn't expecting much from the Flyers. They're inadequate in net and that's what is most bothersome. And to act like this wasn't at all predictable is silly.

- Hall

• I want to know what Flyers general manager Ron Hextall's rock bottom is. I really do.

At what point does Hextall look at this team and say enough is enough, it isn't working?

For most, Saturday night's 6-0 embarrassment in Toronto would have been the final straw.

Dave Hakstol does not deserve all of the blame for what is going on here. Hextall deserves a huge portion of it. The Flyers' penalty kill is an eyesore, and Hextall has not held Ian Laperriere accountable or brought in proven NHL players who can kill penalties. The Flyers' goaltending situation is pathetic. While, in theory, Hextall did the right thing by using a stopgap until Carter Hart is ready, he didn't execute it in reality. The Flyers trusted a goaltender in Michal Neuvirth who has consistently been injured his entire career to be part of a tandem with 33-year-old Brian Elliott, who's been fine when healthy. Sure, injuries are part of the game, but it's not like we can say we couldn't see them coming. Hextall has to do something about the NHL goaltending situation as they've now used five goalies this season.

I've been thinking about this a lot since Saturday night's debacle ended, trying to process everything and form a measured opinion rather than one strictly made on emotion. I don't necessarily believe Hakstol is the answer here. This team just has no consistency, no structure and too often, just no fight. There are times it seems the players are not playing for their coach and considering there are actually viable options on the market, it's hard to justify staying on their current course.

But, and this is a huge but, are we pointing the blame toward the wrong person? Perhaps Hakstol isn't the big problem here. Hextall has done a great job digging the Flyers out of salary cap hell and restocking their farm system. There are a lot of underlying positives of the Hextall era, but he has ignored the NHL team for far too long and this season was supposed to be a "step forward." It's been anything but that. In many ways, it's been one enormous step back.

It feels like change is on the horizon. A coaching change will not solve the organization's negligence of the goaltending position and penalty kill, which both fall on the GM. A new voice behind the bench may help solve the consistency issue and inspire the players in the room. But perhaps we're pointing all our anger at the wrong person; perhaps it's time to start putting Hextall under the microscope.

Perhaps we'll see shuffling up the assistant coaching staff, perhaps we'll see a major trade, perhaps the head coach will go. Perhaps we'll be talking about this again next week. We just don't know what Hextall's breaking point is with mediocrity.

- Dougherty

• Hey, there are some positives for the Flyers … right?

Sean Couturier looking like himself again is a good one. 

Here's a look at his turnaround from a slow start:

First 11 games: 3 goals, 0 assists, 3 points, minus-3.

Last 12 games: 7 goals, 8 assists, 15 points, plus-3.

Couturier clearly needed to shake off some rust and find his legs after missing a chunk of training camp and the preseason with a knee injury. He's so important to the Flyers and at least they have that going for them.

- Hall

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Matt Niskanen: Claude Giroux 'holds his own, for sure,' in trash-talking

Matt Niskanen: Claude Giroux 'holds his own, for sure,' in trash-talking

Matt Niskanen has played 38 career games against the Flyers, so he's seen Philadelphia a lot.

Since 2011, the 32-year-old played 390 games for the Capitals and 214 for the Penguins. Those two teams aren't liked too much around the Delaware Valley.

He was on the Capitals when bracelets were thrown on the ice by frustrated Flyers fans during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was on the Penguins during 2012, when the Flyers last won a postseason series by beating Pittsburgh in the first round.

Now, he's wearing Flyers orange with Claude Giroux and company.

Following an offseason trade from the Capitals, he's embracing the opportunity to be on the Flyers' side for a change.

I've played two playoff series against the Flyers in my career," Niskanen said last month in a sit-down interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia's Taryn Hatcher and Derek Souders. "Things have gotten a little heated, a couple wild ones, a couple wild games, too. There's been some yapping back and forth and Giroux holds his own, for sure.

I won't dive into what he has said to me in the past, but yeah we've chatted before on the ice, I'll put it that way.

Niskanen won the 2018 Stanley Cup with the Capitals and the Flyers are expecting him to impact their young defensemen. Over the past six seasons, Niskanen has averaged 22:31 minutes per game while compiling a plus-91 mark. He is a skilled puck mover, which leads to positive goal prevention.

He has 125 career postseason games on his résumé. Prior to this offseason, Giroux had played the most playoff games on the Flyers' roster with 69.

Niskanen's experience is a welcomed addition for the Flyers.

"Played in Pittsburgh, who everybody seems to hate," Niskanen said. "Washington, who has had success recently, so they've been the hunted. And now in Philly, where it's rowdy. Games get physical, they can get nasty — you never leave Philly without a couple of bruises. It's going to be fun to see all three sides of this. I think Philly missing the playoffs last year, we're going to be the ones on the hunt this year — hungry, trying to get back into the playoff picture and try to leave a mark.

"We're going to chase down those teams and we might have to knock one of them out of the playoff picture. Wouldn't that be sweet?"

For more from Niskanen on the Flyers' young blueliners, winning the Stanley Cup and his expectations, watch the "Break the Ice" video above.

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No longer watching James van Riemsdyk, Flyers prospect Morgan Frost gets eye-opening audition

No longer watching James van Riemsdyk, Flyers prospect Morgan Frost gets eye-opening audition

VOORHEES, N.J. — If Morgan Frost had trouble sleeping last night, it would be completely understandable.

On Wednesday, when he saw his name written next to James van Riemsdyk's, his eyes widened.

"It was pretty cool," he said Thursday.

And for a few reasons.

Not only is this his best chance to showcase himself as he pushes for the Flyers' roster, but he's also playing alongside a guy he watched as a kid.

Growing up in the Toronto area, Frost was a Maple Leafs fan. From 2012-18, van Riemsdyk played for Toronto and delivered a pair of 30-goal seasons. On Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the 20-year-old Frost will center van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek in the Flyers' third preseason game.

Pretty cool, huh?

"I was watching the Leafs a lot, so I've watched a lot of him and kind of know what he's about," Frost said of van Riemsdyk. "I like to be a playmaker and he can obviously score goals, so if I can set him up, I think there's a good chance he's going to put it in the back of the net."

Frost is just as excited for the opportunity. He played one preseason game last year before being sent back to his junior club and missed the Flyers' first two exhibition games this week because of a groin injury. If anyone knows that preseason games are precious, it's Frost. 

Here, he gets a golden chance to make an impression on the Flyers' front office and coaching staff. Over the past six seasons, Voracek owns the NHL's seventh-most assists, while van Riemsdyk has scored the league's 19th-most goals.

"You want to put players in a situation where they can have success," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said. "That's what we're trying to do right now. It does not mean that Frost might not come back at some point and be on a fourth line, but right now, there are some spots that are available."

Leading up to camp, it appeared Frost's best shot at the Flyers was along the wing given the team had a bottom-six opening at the position. With Nolan Patrick's injury, Frost's window of opportunity has opened much more. Vigneault said the Flyers, right now, want to watch Frost at center and see what he can do between high-end talent.

"The battle for the bottom six is, in my mind, fully on," Vigneault said. "It's good. We've got some decisions to make in those positions."

Frost put up 221 points (79 goals, 142 assists) and a plus-103 rating in 125 regular-season games over his final two junior seasons with the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

"You hear all the scouting reports on him," van Riemsdyk said. "Highly, highly skilled, very productive player, good instincts, smart player."

While Frost watched van Riemsdyk as a fan, Maple Leafs connections helped JVR learn a little bit about the prospect.

"The first time I remember hearing about him was in training camp last year," van Riemsdyk said. "Talking to some of my former teammates in Toronto who had played against him and I heard the same things — super, super skilled, really smart player."

Since being drafted 27th overall by the Flyers in 2017, Frost hasn't had an audition like this one. Just how quickly can he show the Flyers he's ready for the part?

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