Flyers

Was Ron Hextall's authoritarianism too much?

Was Ron Hextall's authoritarianism too much?

VOORHEES, N.J. — Executive vice president and general manager Ron Hextall was relieved of his duties Monday morning in a move that signaled a completely different direction within the Flyers organization. 

The move comes less than 48 hours after arguably the most embarrassing loss of the Hextall era, a 6-0 drubbing to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a game in which several players appeared to stop playing.

Team president Paul Holmgren issued a statement that read in part, “It has become clear that we no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team. In light of these differences, we feel it’s in the organization's best interests to make a change, effective immediately. I have already begun a process to identify and select our next general manager, which we hope to complete as soon as possible." 

Hextall replaced Holmgren as GM in May 2014 and immediately took over all decisions in the hockey operations department. His philosophical ideology to building a championship contender was in direct contrast to the way Holmgren constructed Flyers teams in the past by putting a premium on a win-now approach.

Much of the criticism surrounding Hextall’s authoritarian command was an unwillingness to listen to differing viewpoints and opinions. Hextall deviated from that position in some regard when he brought aboard his former boss in Los Angeles, Dean Lombardi, who was hired in September 2017 as a senior advisor to the GM.

No word if Holmgren is considering Lombardi, who led the Kings to two Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014, as a replacement to Hextall.

With the removal of Hextall, who steadfastly stood by Dave Hakstol through three-plus seasons, there’s now a belief that the head coach is firmly on the hot seat and could be the next to be replaced within the organization. Hextall's decision to hire Hakstol to replace Craig Berube following the 2014-15 season raised eyebrows as he was the first collegiate coach since 1982 to make the jump to the NHL.

However, Hextall’s position to maintain organizational control also meant he didn’t want a head coach to challenge personnel decisions, which is a primary reason why Hextall wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to bring in three-time Stanley Cup champion Joel Quenneville, who the Chicago Blackhawks fired in early November following internal differences with upper management. 

There was also an internal feeling within the Flyers that Philadelphia had no longer become one of the more desirable free-agent destinations for marquee players such as John Tavares, who ultimately chose the Toronto Maple Leafs, even though Hextall expressed afterward that he had a strong desire to add Tavares, who apparently never met with Flyers management.

Once the Flyers secure a general manager, it remains to be seen how new management will view the organization’s current roster and a core that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup playoff series since 2012. 

The Flyers will have no additional statement until Comcast Spectacor Chairman and CEO Dave Scott addresses the media at 11 a.m. Tuesday morning.

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Flyers film review: Carter Hart steadies the crease in NHL debut

Flyers film review: Carter Hart steadies the crease in NHL debut

Carter Hart didn't do anything extraordinary Tuesday night. He didn't turn water into wine. He didn't stand on his head in his NHL debut.

Hart did what he's been doing since he was 8, stopping pucks, and he did so calmly and as if he belonged. It was a steadying performance from Hart for several reasons. He didn't look overwhelmed and the Flyers looked comfortable with him between the pipes. He made 20 saves and ended the Flyers' four-game losing streak in a 3-2 win over the Red Wings.

In doing so, Hart became the youngest goalie in franchise history at 20 years and 127 days to win his NHL debut, the fifth-youngest NHL goalie since 1996-97 and the youngest since Carey Price (20 years, 55 days), a goalie that Hart has long tried to emulate.

"He made some saves to motivate us," Claude Giroux said, "but for a 20-year-old goalie, it's pretty impressive how calm he is in there. I know it's only one game, but he was solid out there."

It was only one game. It was against a Detroit team that doesn't score — 2.80 goals per game, 23rd in the NHL. The Flyers defended well and didn't allow high-danger chances.

All of this is true. But Hart made the saves he needed to make and was a calming force in a net that desperately needed it. Shayne Gostisbehere said Hart gave the Flyers "a jolt."

That often happens in these cases, and it happened with Hart. We'll know more about whether Hart's ready to swim perhaps as early as Thursday against the Predators.

Let's take a look at the film to further break down Hart's Flyers debut.

Point-blank range

Both Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon and Gostisbehere highlighted this save as one that stood out most. It doesn't look like much, but Hart squared up the Red Wings' best player, Dylan Larkin, alone in space and got the knob of his stick on the puck.

Some context as for why this simple-looking save meant so much for the Flyers. It came on the penalty kill and it came after Radko Gudas failed to clear the puck along the sideboards. Thomas Vanek quickly whipped the puck to Larkin. Which led to this:

That's Larkin in space with Ivan Provorov the lone defender. Remember, Provorov has to account for Gustav Nyquist. It was virtually a 1-on-1 scenario with Detroit's leading scorer. Hart positioned himself well, made the save and kept the game scoreless.

Simple but smooth, and it's something this team has lacked this season.

"He made a big, timely save on Larkin," Gostisbehere said. "It hit his knob or something, but a save is a save and I think it's good for his confidence and whatever happens, happens."

Hart's first goal allowed

After a largely untested first period, Hart surrendered his first NHL goal shorthanded with 15:49 left in the second period on a Dennis Cholowski shot he almost had no chance on. 

Vanek was left all alone in front of Hart and set up shop. The veteran winger did an excellent job obstructing Hart's view and causing the 20-year-old to lose track of the puck.

By the time the puck got to Cholowski, Hart had already lost sight of it. Hart tried to locate it, moving to the left and looking past Vanek. The problem was, Cholowski had already fired his wrist shot.

There really wasn't much Hart could have done on this one.

Hart's toughest test

The most difficult stretch Hart faced Tuesday night came in the waning seconds of the second period when the Red Wings were swarming. Detroit applied pressure in the period's final 30 seconds and Hart faced two high-danger challenges from Nyquist.

The first came with about 22 seconds left:

Hart made the pad save but left a juicy rebound in the slot. Not great but his recovery was solid and he got himself in position for the next wave. Giroux blocked a Larkin shot, which relieved some pressure.

The second stop came with 14 seconds left when Nyquist fired a shot in the faceoff circle with traffic around Hart.

Hart did a really nice job making the stop and staying calm with the puck still loose. Much better rebound control on this one.

The Flyers survived the period largely because of the calmness Hart displayed in a high-pressure situation.

“He’s got ice in his veins if you watch him out there,” James van Riemsdyk said.

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Scott Gordon's trip to Atlantic City and Dave Hakstol's classy move

Scott Gordon's trip to Atlantic City and Dave Hakstol's classy move

It's been a chaotic time for those in the Flyers' organization.

With change comes a lot of moving parts.

One of those moving parts got a little lost the other day.

Scott Gordon felt the effects of all the hustle-bustle. The poor guy was just trying to get to his new job after being named the Flyers' interim head coach Monday.

He did everything right. He was following his directions and even studying up while on the commute.

Gordon was focused. Maybe a little too focused.

The new bench boss couldn't help but laugh when he shared the story after Tuesday's 3-2 win at the Wells Fargo Center.

There's been so much going on. I was telling the guys from TV, I was driving in here last night and speaking to the captains and a couple of the players that I knew, and I was so into the conversation that I looked up and I see a casino in front of me — I had driven into Atlantic City on the way to Voorhees. So it's been a bit of whirlwind here and I'm like, 'What just happened?' So what happened was I put the Skate Zone in and I got some other Skate Zone.

Whoops.

Hey, he's learning on the job — now he knows there are multiple Skate Zone facilities.

And Gordon's phone must have been buzzing nonstop Monday.

One of the first calls he received after taking the gig came from the man he was replacing.

A classy move from Dave Hakstol on the day the head coach was fired.

I wasn't expecting it, it kind of caught me off-guard. Hak and I, we didn't talk often but I felt like we had a good relationship. The first thing that he said was, 'I just want you to know that this is a really good group of guys. They care, they want to win … off the tracks a little bit right now.' 

But I just felt that … usually when a team struggles, there seems like there's some dissension, there doesn't seem to be enthusiasm in the pregame skate, the meetings, the game tonight, on the bench. That [enthusiasm] was there.

Gordon didn't have any problem finding it.

This time, his directions were just fine.

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