VOORHEES – The scene was about as eerie as it gets.
At a midday practice at the Skate Zone on Monday, there were the Flyers skating on the ice but the head coach was nowhere to be seen.
That’s because the Flyers had already fired Dave Hakstol, ending a three-plus-years tenure with the team.
After the firing of general manager Ron Hextall on Nov. 26, it seemed like a fait accompli that Hakstol would be next on the gangplank.
A 1-3-1 road trip (four of the games in western Canada) pretty much sealed Hakstol’s fate.
General manager Chuck Fletcher was paying attention and called it a “disconnect’’ between the players and the coaching staff.
The Flyers then announced that Lehigh Valley Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon would serve as interim coach, possibly for the remainder of the season.
At a mid-afternoon press conference, Fletcher explained the timing and the reasons for the shake-up.
“Dave’s a very prepared coach, his resume speaks for itself, he’s had a lot of success in hockey,’’ Fletcher said. “There’s been a lot of pressure on him. He handled himself with dignity and class.
“To me, we need a new voice. We need to have the coaching staff have the message to the players and hopefully have the players receive that message.
“That’s why the decision was made today.’’
Philadelphia is eight points out of a playoff berth. Granted, there is still plenty of hockey left to be played but Gordon, former coach of the New York Islanders, will have his work cut out for him.
Hakstol, who was hired out of the University of North Dakota (an unconventional move, considering he had no professional experience at any level), had mixed results with the Flyers.
They made the playoffs in two of his three full seasons but with high hopes for the 2018-19 season, a bad start wound up costing Hextall his job.
On this recent road trip, the Flyers’ shortcomings surfaced again.
They blew a two-goal lead in the final 68 seconds at Calgary and wound up losing in overtime, 6-5.
This collapse was followed by lifeless losses at Edmonton and Vancouver.
All this was witnessed by Fletcher.
“My intention was to take some time, try to get to know the team,’’ Fletcher said. “Going on the road last week and having all that time, clearly I came away tremendously impressed with Dave but to my eyes there was a disconnect between what he was preaching and how the players were playing.
“As the leader of the team, that responsibility falls on him. I felt at this point we needed a new voice. I will say this, there’s an onus on the players to buy in as well. I addressed that with the players today before practice.’’
There were mistakes that just kept coming up.
“The chances we continue to take, the puck management, the game management, the turnovers we committed,’’ Fletcher said. “We made it really hard on ourselves. We keep shooting ourselves in the foot.
“Give Calgary credit, they’re beating everybody right now. But we have to close that game out. That’s mindset, that’s attitude. The coaches aren’t telling them to go out and turn pucks over.’’
Hakstol finishes with a record of 134-101-42, including a 12-15-4 mark this season.
Fletcher said this move was not a hasty one.
“Obviously I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks,’’ Fletcher said. “What’s the right move? If I got to the point where I was going to go in a different direction, I wanted to be fair to him.’’
There were rumors that Fletcher might try to hire recently fired Chicago coach Joel Quenneville but the GM said there was nothing to them. Quenneville is still getting paid (under contract) by the Blackhawks and he would need permission to talk to them.
Fletcher said the Flyers’ assistant coaches (Ian Laperriere, Rick Wilson, Kris Knoblauch and goaltending instructor Kim Dillabaugh) will remain in place.
No decision has been made on a candidate to replace Gordon at the Phantoms’ helm.
Gordon, 55, has NHL coaching experience, having run the New York Islanders bench from 2008-09 to early in the 2010-11 campaign. His career mark with the Isles was 64-94-23.
He’s taken the Phantoms to the playoffs the past two seasons, including the conference finals last year. His career record with Lehigh Valley is 154-86-23, including a 15-9-1 mark this season.
Fletcher said Gordon will be a legitimate candidate to become the Flyers’ next permanent coach.
“I didn’t think it was fair to bring in someone from outside the organization on an interim basis,’’ Fletcher said. “Scott has a long track record of coaching success, particularly at the American Hockey League level.
“People I respect rave about his character, his preparation, his intellect. The fact that he’s been in the organization will allow him to get up to speed quicker than someone from the outside.
“Hopefully he will bring an opinion that we need, a voice that we need. He knows the kids at Lehigh, a lot of the players that have come through that are playing on the team (Flyers). It should give him a better chance to get caught up to speed, which is what we need.’’
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