Ron Hextall

Flyers weekly observations: Chuck Fletcher's message, Wayne Simmonds' professionalism, more

Flyers weekly observations: Chuck Fletcher's message, Wayne Simmonds' professionalism, more

The Flyers' win streak came to an end this past week.

However, the point streak is still alive, the team made a trade, a few prospects have arrived and the Flyers are lurking in the playoff chase.

Let's get into some observations:

• Would Philippe Myers be here right now if Ron Hextall was still in the general manager seat for the Flyers? 

It's a fair question to ask.

Hextall wasn't exactly the type of GM to call up a 22-year-old prospect with no NHL experience during a postseason race that has just 27 games remaining. Hextall was well-known for his staunch approach with prospects and their development. Former head coach Dave Hakstol's decisions often jived with Hextall's patience.

Current general manager Chuck Fletcher changed the Flyers' course in a few ways with the promotion of Myers from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. 

For one, Fletcher has no problems if the defenseman gets his number called, despite the magnitude of a playoff push and the team playing its best hockey.

"That's how you have to learn," Fletcher said. "He's earned the right. … I believe he can help us up here."

He also doesn't mind if Myers sits a few games and soaks everything in.

"If we can get him some experience, practice seems great, being around the team is great," Fletcher said. "If he can get some games, that'll only help him as he prepares for next year."

Hextall did recall then-21-year-old defenseman Travis Sanheim in March of last season, but that was under emergency conditions. Sanheim, who had already played earlier in the year, ended up being so good that he had to stay, helping the Flyers sneak into the postseason.

Fletcher was not brought in to practice patience. He's ready to see what Myers can do now.

• There's probably nobody out there envious of Fletcher's spot with Wayne Simmonds.

The decision gets tougher by the day.

Now wouldn't be an ideal time to move on from a player who is considered the heart and soul of the Flyers, beloved for truly embodying the city's spirit. The Flyers are the hottest team in hockey and showing life in the postseason hunt, exactly what upper management envisioned and desired when it summoned Fletcher.

What kind of message does it send to all parties — team, management, fans — if Simmonds is traded when there's actual hope?

Still, Fletcher understands the importance of not only this season, but also the next — a difficult and delicate balance to make, especially right now. Ironically, the Flyers going on a tear has made his job harder.

One thing is certain: Simmonds has been a true pro. Remember, he has seen a number of teammates rewarded with contract extensions.

As his situation has lingered, he hasn't changed.

That isn't lost on Fletcher ahead of the Feb. 25 trade deadline.

Wayne has played hard, he's been very good of late and I can't commend him enough on his professionalism, his attitude. You watch him in celebrations after we win a game, he’s pretty much the first guy out there to congratulate Carter [Hart] or Anthony [Stolarz], as the case may be. He's just a great teammate and has done a lot for this franchise.

• Goalies really can be the backbone of a team's confidence.

You have to marvel at how Hart, a 20-year-old kid, has been that for a team with a veteran core. It just shows you how vital the position is in this sport.

The Flyers are no longer fighting for confidence. Sean Couturier's quote on Saturday encapsulated Hart's impact.

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Dave Hakstol searching for new coaching techniques in Sweden

Dave Hakstol searching for new coaching techniques in Sweden

While the Flyers are thriving under interim head coach Scott Gordon, their old coach still won’t discuss his firing or the events that led up to it on Dec. 17. 

Dave Hakstol arrived in Stockholm as part of an exchange program set up by the NHL Coaches Association, and politely declined to speak on the record about what went down between himself and new Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher.

“I haven't talked about it and I'd rather not do it now either. I haven't talked to anyone in the media about it, and it would be unfair if I did this,” Hakstol said, speaking with Swedish hockey website Hockeysverige.

Unlike former general manager Ron Hextall, who met with reporters shortly after his firing, Hakstol has declined all media requests since he was relieved of his duties over a month and a half ago.

Hakstol and his family still reside in the Haddonfield, New Jersey, area, but this week the former Flyers coach is spending time in Sweden as he follows and shadows Swedish head coach Rikard Grönborg during the Beijer Hockey Games. 

“When I was fired in Philadelphia, I wanted to continue to be active,” Hakstol told the Swedish website. “We are coaches and we coach. It is our lives. I wanted to find different opportunities and be with different people and different coaches, see different things and different ideas.

“Hockey is hockey. There are new and different ideas all the time. There are various ways to be successful. For me, it is an opportunity to be learning something new from good people and maybe discover something new that can work for me. That's what this is.”

There’s no idea what Hakstol’s next move might be, whether it’s an assistant job with another NHL team or perhaps returning to coach at the NCAA level, but according to his old GM, he has league-wide respect. 

“Dave Hakstol is one of the hardest-working people I know,” Hextall said. “He’s got a lot of respect around the league. You’d be shocked when I talk to my colleagues how much respect he has. He’s a good coach.”

Hakstol has one more year remaining on a five-year contract that pays him $2 million annually, so any interest in the former Flyers coach between now and the end of next season would require permission from the organization.

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Chuck Fletcher facing a crossroad with Flyers and their 'bias for action'

Chuck Fletcher facing a crossroad with Flyers and their 'bias for action'

As Paul Holmgren and Dave Scott sat side by side, their message was clear.

Ron Hextall's picture had become too broad, too long term for the Flyers' liking, to the point in which Holmgren and Scott wanted a new general manager to fix the now more than anything else.

"It's my job to challenge Paul, and Paul to Ron," Scott, the chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, said Nov. 27 when discussing Hextall's firing. "But that was a big question: What can we do now, today, to make the team better now? Not two years or three years from now. I think we debated that a lot.

"Do I think we can do better as a team now — not in two years or three years, but now? I think that answer is yes."

The problem is the now has turned so ugly, you wonder if it's even salvageable.

The Flyers entered Wednesday with more points (35) than just two NHL teams — the Blues (34) and Senators (34). They are 6-12-4 since Nov. 13, a stretch in which they've been outscored 80-53. In two more games, they will be at the halfway point of the season; that's no small sample size.

All of the above creates a brewing awkwardness and dilemma for Chuck Fletcher, brought in to quickly strap on his cape and save the Flyers from their mess.

Holmgren and Scott summoned Fletcher for the purpose of expediting the Flyers' process and to supplement the current team so it can realize its potential.

"We're looking for bright, energetic, strategic thinkers," Scott said when the Flyers were starting their GM search. "But also, balancing that with a bias for action and really making some things happen.

"We're very focused on the trade deadline coming up Feb. 25. We think there's going to be some opportunities out there and frankly, we don't want to miss out."

What in the world does Fletcher do now? Try to somehow buy on this team and give it a shot at the playoffs, a goal that is waning by the game? 

Fletcher will be strongly debating his course, with the difficult win-now reminder in the back of his mind. He has been on the job for barely a month and a hopefulness at the outset is starting to spiral into hopelessness.

Arguably the biggest decision on his growing plate: Wayne Simmonds. The 30-year-old has 17 points (11 goals, six assists) over 39 games and can become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

If Fletcher sees no other route than to sell ahead of the Feb. 25 deadline, then Simmonds becomes a prime trade chip the Flyers should cash in on as they look forward, instead of possibly losing the winger for nothing during the summer.

And that's just the beginning.

The next challenge would come at goalie. At this point, Fletcher very well may be best off learning more about Carter Hart at the NHL level while riding Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott (when healthy) the most he can before addressing the goalie predicament in the offseason. Both Elliott and Neuvirth will be unrestricted free agents then, opening everything up for Fletcher, who also has pending UFAs in forwards Michael Raffl and Jordan Weal at his disposal.

The situation, as a whole, oozes with irony because the Flyers moved on from Hextall for the sake of the all-important present. One way or the other, the new GM will give the Flyers their desired action.

Fletcher, though, may have no other choice but to take a page out of Hextall's book and look at what's next.

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