VOORHEES, N.J. – Many people thought the Flyers on Monday morning were going to fire someone whose last name begins with the letter “H,’’ but they were just slightly off.
Rather than dismiss embattled head coach Dave Hakstol, the Flyers decided to part ways with general manager and executive vice president Ron Hextall, the man who hired Hakstol some three-plus years ago.
The move caught the local hockey community a bit off-guard because it was believed the team’s owner, Comcast – and specifically CEO Dave Scott – were still in Hextall’s corner.
But the Flyers got off to yet another slow start this season (currently 10-11-2) and when the team suffered disheartening losses at Buffalo (5-2) on Wednesday night and at Toronto (6-0) on Saturday night, the writing was on the wall.
Ironically, it was Hextall who defended Hakstol at every turn and now he’s the one who fell on his sword in the final act.
No successor has been named. Both president Paul Holmgren and Scott are expected to answer questions about the matter during a press conference scheduled for the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday morning.
From his hiring on May 7, 2014, Hextall preached a patient, build-from-within approach, meaning smart draft picks, prudent free-agent signings and not trading young talent for quick fixes.
Along the way, the Flyers only made it to the playoffs twice in his tenure, losing in the first round both times – to Washington in 2016 and Pittsburgh in 2018.
In the Flyers’ only press release on the matter, president Paul Holmgren said the move was made because “. . .it has become clear that we no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team.’’
Obviously, a professional hockey team can remain patient for only so long, so after a fifth straight season of slow starts, something had to give.
“In light of these differences,’’ Holmgren said, “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 did not make himself available for comment.
There are indications that Holmgren will take over the duties of interim GM while a replacement can be found.
In Hextall’s four-plus seasons, the Flyers registered a record of 165 wins, 128 losses and 58 overtime defeats.
The news broke around 11 a.m. while the Flyers were practicing at the Skate Zone but things, at least on the surface, continued on as usual.
Where this leaves Hakstol, whom Hextall hired in a groundbreaking move out of the University of North Dakota, remains to be seen.
For now, Hakstol says he’s preparing for Tuesday’s home game against Ottawa just like any other game.
“We all take some responsibility,’’ Hakstol said. “First and foremost, we have a job to do. Our job is to prepare and get ready and go win a game tomorrow.’’
The perception has been that Hextall “protected’’ Hakstol for two reasons: One, Hakstol coached Hextall’s son, Brett, at UND. Two, Hextall believed that a coach could make a successful jump from college to the pros and didn’t want to see this experiment fail.
“I haven’t had a chance to speak to Ron,’’ Hakstol said. “Obviously it’s a tough morning for everyone, certainly for me personally.
“That said, Ron brought me here to do a job and I’m going to continue to work and focus on doing that job to the best of my abilities and that’s what I told the players today.’’
Yet if the coach is considered a lame duck, can the players continue to make ultimate sacrifices for him?
“We’re not where we want to be,’’ Hakstol said. “We’re a better team than where we are record-wise. We all have to own that. We have to go out and do a little bit better.’’
Asked about his future with the Flyers, Hakstol shrugged.
“You know what, I don’t control that,’’ he said. “I feel a responsibility for what happened today. Nobody feels good about that in our room.’’
Hakstol doesn’t sound concerned about his job security.
He understands if a new GM comes in, he’s probably going to want his own guy.
“That’s reality,’’ Hakstol said. “That’s the reality of the business we’re in. I’ve never looked over my shoulder, never do. I focus on the job at hand and going forward.
“Those are questions that aren’t up to me.’’