Dean Lombardi

Flyers weekly observations: Chuck Fletcher's telling trade, Jim Montgomery's candid comment, more

Flyers weekly observations: Chuck Fletcher's telling trade, Jim Montgomery's candid comment, more

In a way, things have picked up a little bit for the Flyers.

They made a deal and won a game last week, while the Feb. 25 trade deadline gets closer with each day.

So let's get into some observations:

• Obviously, the Jordan Weal trade was not an earth-shattering move, but it was telling. Chuck Fletcher had not made a trade as Flyers general manager and there was no sign of what his deadline motives would be with this underachieving team.

This gives us some idea. If the Flyers were contending at all, they wouldn't have shipped Weal away in January for just a sixth-round draft pick and an ECHL player. There would have been no real reason to for such an unappetizing return.

But it's something for a player that frankly had no more value because the season no longer does. Now it's clearer that Fletcher will start selling some parts, logical moves before the offseason.

Wayne Simmonds is the no-duh big decision (see story). However, keep an eye on Michael Raffl, a role forward set to become an unrestricted free agent like Weal.

Another small, under-the-radar deal would involve defenseman Christian Folin, a pending UFA as well. Receiving anything for Folin makes sense, as it would also open a roster spot for possible call-up Philippe Myers, who could see audition time in the second half.

• The Flyers brought the whole crew to Newark, New Jersey, for Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Devils. 

It's not often you see these many members of the front office at a road game. The NBC Sports Philadelphia broadcast showed president Paul Holmgren, general manager Fletcher, senior vice president Bob Clarke, senior advisor Dean Lombardi and assistant general managers Brent Flahr and Barry Hanrahan all together at the Prudential Center (see story).

Don't make too much of it. The New Jersey trip is one of the easier ones and very well could have been planned ahead of time for Clarke and others. However, Fletcher is a listener and values input. You can bet things are being discussed.

After all, these are critical months for the Flyers and their direction.

• Want some outside perspective on the Flyers?

First-year Stars head coach Jim Montgomery provided an interesting and honest comment following his club's 2-1 loss Thursday to the Flyers.

The Flyers typically at home come out strong and it's a team that can score goals, they feel good about themselves and if they don't score goals, they tend to not stick with the process sometimes.

Montgomery was talking about the importance of the game's first 10 minutes, which assuredly was highlighted on the Stars' scout — how vitally a start can dictate the Flyers.

If anything, Montgomery, who played 13 career games for the Flyers and 159 for the Phantoms, explained what many are seeing. The Flyers are who they are right now. They've battled confidence issues, especially at home, where they sport an 8-10-3 record.

• On Saturday, Carter Hart allowed just his third first-period goal through nine starts. He has kept the Flyers in games. He has a 2.28 goals-against average and .932 save percentage over his past four starts.

He has been the team's best goalie this season among the seven to play.

Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth are both on injured reserve. When they are deemed healthy, the Flyers will have a decision to make on Hart.

Could you justify sending him back to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley? Right now, you can't (see story).

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Paul Holmgren: Flyers' next GM will be from 'outside our organization'

Paul Holmgren: Flyers' next GM will be from 'outside our organization'

We can slice through the Flyers' mostly nothing press conference Tuesday morning addressing the firing of general manager Ron Hextall and come away from it wondering what exactly did we find out.

The "philosophical differences" in the initial statement were never clearly defined. Hextall was "unyielding" in his approach and wasn't going to "waver from that plan." That stubbornness ultimately cost Hextall his job.

Flyers management, like the fan base, grew tired of the stagnation, felt the current team was underperforming and wanted to do something that can "make the team better now, not two-three years from now," as Comcast Spectator Chairman and CEO Dave Scott put it.

Multiple times during the press conference Flyers president Paul Holmgren used the term "fresh" but never really expanded upon what "fresh" means. He said, "It was time to look for a new voice with a different mindset that can push the team to the next level."

Afterward, we received some clarity as to what Holmgren is looking for in the Flyers' next GM. When asked if it was fair to say if Dean Lombardi is a candidate, Holmgren adamantly responded with:

No, it's not fair to say that. I've talked to Dean, I don't believe Dean has interest. I think he's not at a point in his life where he wants to do that again right now. I have a short list. … Preferably, I would love to go outside our organization. In fact, I can probably guarantee that we'll go from outside our organization.

So, there's that. We can cross Lombardi off the list. Per Holmgren, Lombardi, the architect of the two-time Stanley Cup champion Kings, will remain with the team as a senior advisor.

One of the few things we can take away from this day is, the Flyers seek a fresh perspective, because, of course, they do. That's what happens when change is made without scandal. And a fresh outlook is a good thing, really.

Far too often does this organization reward old players and familiar faces with jobs. Loyalty is what the Flyers' brand is built upon. Even Hextall was a former player and front office face before he returned as GM, though by his managerial philosophy, you'd never know.

If the next GM hire came internally, it would go against everything Holmgren and Scott said Tuesday. It certainly wouldn't be the first time executives fibbed about business.

Holmgren said he has "a number of people that are interested" and that the team's GM position is a top job. A lot of that has to do with Hextall's "unyielding" approach.

We've already seen some names surface, including former GMs Chuck Fletcher and Ron Francis. Some interesting names to keep tabs on are Sabres AGM Steve Greeley and Kings AGM Michael Futa. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman mentioned Chris Drury, among others.

When asked what they're looking for in a new voice, Scott added, "I think we're looking for bright, energetic, strategic thinkers but also balancing that with a bias for action and really making some things happen."

Of course, "bright, energetic, strategic thinkers" is corporate speak. But the key part of Scott's statement is this: "Balancing that with a bias for action." Hextall wasn't capable of that. The next GM hopefully will be.

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Ron Hextall not veering from Kings' path with Flyers' young defensemen

AP Images/USA Today Images

Ron Hextall not veering from Kings' path with Flyers' young defensemen

If that “mirror, mirror on the wall” actually existed, Flyers fans would be lined up right now wanting to know, “Who’s the most deserving of them all?”

And rightfully so.

Unfortunately, without that magical piece of glass from the movie “Snow White,” you may not get the straightforward answer you’re looking for. "Preseason 2017," for lack of a better title, will be remembered as “The Battle on the Blue Line,” and now that we’ve cycled through the credits, culminating with the final game against the Islanders, it appears as if a sequel is already in the works.

It was an intense competition revolving around the team’s talented, homegrown defense. Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim competed for the two vacated positions. Sanheim displayed an impressive and rare offensive skill set with a team-high-tying three goals, but he flashed shortcomings with his penchant for turnovers. Morin was strong in all phases, most notably his imposing physical presence, while also showing a tendency to contribute offensively. Morin’s mishaps, perhaps not nearly as glaring as Sanheim’s, were mostly positional play. Hagg was perhaps the least flashy and noticeable of the trio, but remained consistent throughout.

All three rookies had their bags ready to go Sunday night — destination unknown at the time. Either they would be joining the rest of the Flyers team on the charter to San Jose or they would be carpooling to Allentown as they begin another season in the AHL. Now with the upper-body injury to Shayne Gostisbehere, all three rookies are California dreaming, and more importantly, California unpacking.

If "Ghost" suits up in the season opener, then in all likelihood, only Hagg will actually crack the lineup to start, and that will remain a head-scratcher for a fan base that's been asked to sit on its collective hands.

And they’re not alone. Even members of the Flyers' Cup teams have expressed to me personally a desire to see the kids play. The decision is even more puzzling to guys like Morin and Sanheim, who both believe they did everything possible to earn their spot.

“Yeah, I’m very excited,” Morin said Monday. “I think I had a pretty good camp. I deserve it. We’re going to see what happens. I’m just living one day at a time. I’m just really excited to prove I can be in the NHL and be a regular.”

For Hextall, this is nothing more than business as usual. He rarely deviates from the script that comes straight out of Hollywood, just not crafted by Disney.

During his time with the Kings, then-general manager Dean Lombardi nurtured his defensive corps in much the same manner.

Alec Martinez — Three seasons of college hockey followed by 2½ seasons with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL. Became a full-time NHL regular at age 23.

Jake Muzzin — Four years in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) proceeded with 2½ years with the Monarchs. Became a full-time NHL regular at age 23.

Slava Voynov — Three full seasons (266 games) with the Monarchs. Entered the NHL at age 22.

Martinez and Muzzin remain core pieces to the Kings' defensive unit and Voynov was equally as talented, perhaps even more so. However, Voynov was indefinitely suspended for allegedly assaulting his wife, and hasn’t suited up in an NHL game since October 2014. He has since returned to Russia to play in the KHL.

Compare those players with Hagg, 22, Morin, 22, and Sanheim, 21, and you can see Hextall will not serve up one of his defensemen until they are properly aged to his standards. You can place Drew Doughty and Ivan Provorov into a category of all their own.

During his brief press gathering Sunday night following the decision that Oskar Lindblom would begin his North American career with the Phantoms, Hextall had this to say: “American League time hasn’t hurt one player in the history of professional hockey.” In other words, to Hextall, no one regresses playing in the minors … ever.

It seems fitting the Flyers will begin their season just a few hours away from Napa Valley, because Hextall refuses to pluck one of his guys off the vine until the time is absolutely right. There’s no one right way to serve up an NHL defenseman, but there is, in Hextall’s vision, a certain recipe for disaster. Don’t think for a moment the ingredients that go into that will ever change, especially now that Hextall just recently hired Lombardi, who I’m sure packed up his “How to Build a Stanley Cup Champion” cookbook and brought it with him.

When asked about his three impressive, young defensemen specifically, Hextall smiled and said, “When you look at the career of a young player, going to the minors is OK, even if its for a couple years. It’s not a death sentence. You’re still a pro hockey player and you’re still one injury, one day away from a call-up. It’s not as disastrous as you try to paint it, maybe.”

Even Hextall understands that sometimes the best-laid plans have to shelved. It was an injury to Mark Streit that opened the door for Gostisbehere, who burst onto the scene two years ago and never looked back, despite just 21 games of AHL experience.

When will Morin and Sanheim earn their spot, permanently?

If you have a magic 8-ball lying around, now would be a good time to dust it off, and give it a good shake.