Ron Hextall

Back to the old ways? Flyers say look at us now

Back to the old ways? Flyers say look at us now

When Paul Holmgren made the call to relieve Ron Hextall of his duties as general manager, there was a common refrain among fans fearing of win-now, shortsighted decisions.

Here we go, the Flyers are headed back to their old ways.

Well, in reality, the Flyers weren't a whole lot different to begin with. Hextall deserves credit. He did many positive things. He changed the Flyers' way of thinking and operating. He fixed a troubling salary cap situation and built up the farm system.

But in the business of winning, the Flyers very much stayed the same. In Year 5 of Hextall's process, the Flyers were in last place of the Metropolitan Division at Thanksgiving for a second straight season. Twice they had missed the playoffs and twice they had lost in the first round after squeaking into the tournament.

Less than five and a half months following Hextall's firing in late November, the Flyers, an organization often criticized for a reluctance to steer from the past, look awfully different, fueled by outside perspective and experience.

Did you ever think two coaches with a winning pedigree from days with the hated rival Penguins would be brought in with open arms as assistants?

Here we are.

How about hiring a head coach who was working in the division just over a year ago and beating the Flyers in a huge Game 7 during the 2014 playoffs?

Here we are.

The hiring of Chuck Fletcher as general manager created a trickle-down effect of change, with fresh faces and potentially new ways to drive a team into contention.

Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr come from a background with the Wild in Minnesota, where they rekindled a buzz in a passionate hockey market.

Alain Vigneault is now the head coach. He arrived to the Flyers with two Stanley Cup Final appearances, three Presidents' Trophy winners and a Jack Adams Award (top coach).

Fletcher and Vigneault hired two assistants Monday with notable track records. Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo have a combined 1,296 games of NHL head coaching experience. Therrien led the Penguins to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, while Yeo won a ring with Pittsburgh in 2009 as an assistant.

Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott spearheaded this outside perspective. All along, it may have been a part of their vision when they hired Fletcher. No, the team hasn't made wholesale changes and Fletcher isn't looking to do so (or at least not yet), but the Flyers are different.

On April 18, the day of his introduction as head coach, Vigneault said he was aware of the frustration among Flyers fans with the state of the team.

"I understand people's disappointment, but I would say that's all behind us," he said. "Chuck is here, he's new. I'm here, I'm new. Nothing I can do about what happened in the past. I can focus on the present and hopefully make the future what we all want it to be. I'm going to be on high alert, I'm going to work my butt off to get this done and I'm very confident that it's going to work out."

Fletcher knows the Flyers' past.

"For me coming in from the outside," Fletcher said, "I know when Paul Holmgren approached me about being the general manager of the Flyers, I'm like, 'Wow.' This is a premium job in the National Hockey League.

"It has happened long before I got here, but the Flyers have always done things the right way and we'll continue to do that."

With new, outside point of views from Fletcher, Flahr, Vigneault, Therrien and Yeo.

Yes, the Flyers are hungry to win again, sooner rather than later. But you can't say they're back to their old ways.

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Old acquaintances, new acquaintances and Flyers flavor as Alain Vigneault gets head start

Old acquaintances, new acquaintances and Flyers flavor as Alain Vigneault gets head start

These are chaotic times for Alain Vigneault.

Exciting, of course, but chaotic — much different than last April and throughout the 2018-19 season when he was without a job.

"After a year off and figuring out I'll never be the golfer that I thought I would be, it's time for me to get back to work," he said Thursday with a smile.

Back into the workforce in full force.

Not only does Vigneault have a new job, he's got two of them … starting at once.

He was introduced as the Flyers' new head coach Thursday. He is also the bench boss for Team Canada in the 2019 IIHF World Championship from May 10-26.

As busy as it is, coaching in the worlds will give Vigneault a head start on getting to know two of his most important players with the Flyers: Sean Couturier and Carter Hart.

Team Canada will also provide a unique situation with plenty of Flyers ties.

The tournament will serve as a job interview of sorts for Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh. The statuses of the team's assistant coaches Dillabaugh, Kris Knoblauch (power play), Ian Laperriere (penalty kill) and Rick Wilson (defensemen) appear nebulous with a new head coach in town.

Because of his time with Hart, Dillabaugh will join Team Canada.

"Right now, we have a solid, young goaltender that all I've heard about were positive things," Vigneault said of Hart and the Flyers' situation in net. "We're going to be able to work with him at the world championships. We decided [Wednesday], with Hockey Canada, to also bring a goalie coach — we're going to bring the Flyers' goalie coach to the world championships. He's worked with Hart and he's had real good progression with him."

On Thursday, near the top of Vigneault's to-do-list was to discuss the Flyers' staff with general manager Chuck Fletcher and meet the current assistant coaches. Fletcher said: "We're going to talk a little bit more today and a little bit over the next week or two. I don't think it's going to be a rush to hire or a rush to judgment here."

Couturier will be playing for his new coach and his old coach Dave Hakstol, who is on Team Canada's staff. Former Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is also a part of Team Canada's management group.

Don't expect Vigneault to seek out advice from Hakstol regarding the Flyers. That would be a tad bit awkward.

"I'm going to lean on him for the tournament but I'm not going to ask Dave or Ron Hextall anything about players with the Flyers," Vigneault said. "I've said to Chuck that I want to come here with everybody fresh, clean, no preconceived notion. Players are going to come and they're going to show me what they can do. 

"Those would be two great sources for me to ask, but I'd rather trust my eyes, talk to the guys, get to know them and get a personal feel for who they are, what they can do and what they can bring."

Players like Couturier, Hart and Claude Giroux shouldn't have a problem showing what they bring to the table. They're three of the Flyers' surest bets right now.

Giroux chatted with Vigneault on Thursday at Flyers Skate Zone.

"Everything I've heard about him is this passion to win," Vigneault said of the Flyers' captain.

As for Giroux on his new coach: "Very excited," he said via text message to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Marc Farzetta. "Heard a lot of great things."

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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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