We've been saying it since the summer: Ron Hextall has a plan, and he's not diverting from that plan, no matter how good or bad the Flyers look for the rest of the season. And of course, we keep saying that because Hextall himself keeps saying it, and his boss Ed Snider keeps saying it, and everybody keeps saying it.
The question that lingers now is whether or not Craig Berube is part of that plan. Remember, Berube was not Hextall's hire as head coach, and he's certainly made some questionable decisions this season when it comes to personnel. (If you want a list, look at the replies to this tweet.) We don't know if Hextall agrees with those decisions, we don't know how much of this so-far-ugly season Hextall pins on his team and how much he pins on the coach, and we don't know if the two have philosophical differences.
Last week, Hextall made the public vote of confidence in Berube -- kind of. He said he doesn't have plans to fire his head coach, but as you always do when people in charge of teams say these kinds of things, it's easy to read into the fact that he didn't unequivocally back Berube as head coach.
"Well, I can say this, there's culpability from all of us - from myself, (Berube), the assistant coaches, the players, everybody. Everybody's in this and we all have to do a better job. So, um ... and I have no plans of replacing the coach."
There's the grey area there for everybody: "We all have to do a better job" ... but what if we don't do a better job?
And what about the open market? Berube is a first-time NHL head coach, wasn't Hextall's pick, and there's a real chance that there are some big ole names that will be free agent coaches either later this season or this coming offseason. Via Darren Dreger on TSN 1050 earlier today:
There was some speculation going into the weekend, certainly middle of last week, about Craig Berube in Philadelphia, and of course [Ken] Hitchcock [in St. Louis] and Todd McLellan and the San Jose Sharks And that all goes back to Mike Babcock.
My sense is, and I could be off base on this to some degree, is that if Babcock were going to agree to a contract in Detroit, he would've done it by now. Because I know that Detroit is willing to make him the highest-paid NHL head coach. So if $3 million isn't enough, he's obviously looking at the open market, and it can't be just about winning.
We all know that Babcock wants to win, every coach wants to win, but that team is largely over-achieving right now. So if didn't think that he could win in Detroit, then why would he stay long term? Some of those markets we just discussed may have a lot more money to spend.
Berube is the Flyers head coach right now, and it's probably true that Hextall isn't ready to fire him right now. But how much of that has to do with the Flyers current position, how much of that has to do with Berube's job performance, and how much of it has to do with the coaches that could potentially be on the market in July?
Babcock could be free then, as could McLellan or Hitchcock or any number of other good coaches. Dan Bylsma is still on the market, and Paul MacLean was fired today in Ottawa.
We can argue all day about whether or not these guys are better coaches than Berube, but if Hextall thinks even one of them could be a better fit, he'd be silly not to keep his options open for the foreseeable future. He'd also be silly to fire Berube right now, because then he'd be hiring a new coach in a market that could be so much stronger in a few months.
Of course, it's quite possible that Ron Hextall sees Craig Berube as his head coach of the future, and that he sees him as the guy to lead the team built here over the next few years to the promised land. The most likely reality is that things remain liquid -- that he's still evaluating things depending on how Berube performs over the rest of this season, and that no final decision regarding his long-term future here has been made yet.
Long story short, Hextall is a very calculated guy, and ... well, to be honest, it'd be a little silly for him not to keep his options open regarding his head coach. We should expect that nothing has been set in stone, aside from the fact that Hextall will be the one making the decisions for a hockey team that plays home games in South Philadelphia.