You could say the customers at the Wells Fargo Center stuffed the suggestion box with their complaint cards Tuesday night when they chanted “Fire Hakstol” at different periods of Tuesday night’s game.
How Ron Hextall was going to answer those requests was the response the fans and media were waiting for when the general manager addressed the team’s nine-game winless streak.
“I try to make this team better every day, if there’s something that can be done,” Hextall said after a 3-1 loss to the Sharks (see observations). “That doesn’t change throughout the year.”
However, making a change on the bench doesn’t appear to be a move Hextall is considering, especially when the GM's assessment of the Flyers' overall performance has been mostly positive, regardless of the outcome.
“Have you seen our games?” Hextall asked. “If we were playing poorly, I’d be the first to say, ‘We’re playing poorly.’ I would be. We are not playing poorly and to look objectively at our team right now and to say we’re playing poorly, no.
“As a manager, I have to be realistic with how our team is playing. I think right now, as a whole, I think we’ve played better than our record.”
It’s difficult to measure the length of rope Hextall has extended to the only head coach he’s ever hired, but every indication is that Hakstol is part of the GM’s process of slowly building a competitive Stanley Cup contender that can be sustained over the long term. Replacing the coach right now wouldn’t move up that timeline, nor would it make sense in Hextall's eyes to replace a coach in Year 3 of a five-year contract.
"One of the impressive things is that this group hasn’t started pointing fingers at each other,” Hextall said (more from the players here). “That’s the sign of strong character, that’s a sign that we’re going to come out of this. I give this group credit, they’ve stuck together. They’ve battled through it. If we weren’t battling, we’d have a problem.”
Prior to the season, Hextall elected to move forward with two rookie defensemen who would mix into the team’s core of blueliners. What came unexpectedly was the rash of problems to the veteran defensemen — Andrew MacDonald, who missed five weeks of action (lower-body injury), and Radko Gudas, who’s serving a 10-game suspension (slashing penalty).
“When I looked the other night, we had a 20, a 21, two 22 and 24-year-old defensemen. That’s five of our six,” Hextall said. “That might be the youngest defense I’ve ever seen, and to say right now that we need to get younger on defense, I’m not sure that’s the solution. We’ve missed A-Mac. He’s a veteran guy. He’s a glue guy. He’s a guy that makes the younger guys feel better.
“The veteran presence is something I can’t explain to you guys, but it makes a huge difference. Just to patch six kids together and say, ‘Go get ‘em guys.’ You’re looking for disaster. You’re not helping those kids.”
Hextall reiterated that this year’s team he’s assembled is a playoff team, just like he said last season. And at some point the results have to outweigh the process itself, and under Hakstol, the Flyers have just 28 victories over their last 74 games dating back to last season.
“The point is we have to find ways to win,” Hextall said. “Nobody is looking for excuses around here. We are going to battle through this. We are going to get through it.”
Hextall may believe that. The bigger sell job is convincing a very impatient fanbase.