That more axes were going to fall in the wide world of the Flyers in the days following Ron Hextall’s firing was inevitable, and even more so following an embarrassing come-from-ahead loss on Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators. But the cuts and firings made by the Flyers today came from all different directions and at all sorts of folks, so let’s just dive right in.
First, the firings: Assistant general manager Chris Pryor and assistant coach Gord Murphy are no longer with the team. Team president, current-GM-of-sorts, and czar of torture Paul Holmgren announced that news in a statement as such:
Pryor was in his 19th season in the organization, working previously as the director of scouting before being promoted to his most recent (and now final) position as AGM and Director of Player Personnel in August 2016. In recent years, he worked closely with Hextall on amateur scouting and the NHL Draft.
The fact that Pryor is gone, in light of the Hextall firing as well as the numerous statements by Holmgren and Dave Scott that the team would likely be looking for more of an outside voice in their next GM hiring, is not that much of a surprise. The timing of it — two days after the initial Hextall firing, and a day after a press conference in which Holmgren and Scott both talked about the youth and prospect pipeline that the team has — raises at least a few eyebrows, but again, there’s a pretty good chance he wouldn’t have been with the team once the new GM was found anyways.
Murphy, meanwhile, was brought in by Hextall in June 2014, replacing John Paddock and working primarily with the team’s defensemen. He is the first coach to be let go by the Flyers since the removal of Joe Mullen following the 2016-17 season.
If you want to look for motivations here, both Pryor and Murphy could somewhat reasonably be considered “Hextall guys”, as one of them was Hextall’s top lieutenant and the other was hired by him. It certainly looks at least a bit like Holmgren is getting rid of the old guard in preparation for what comes next.
Also of note here is the phrasing in Holmgren’s statement that the Murphy firing was made “in close consultation” with Dave Hakstol, who himself is essentially dangling in the wind until a new general manager comes in and decides his fate. Holmgren did state emphatically in Tuesday’s presser that Hakstol’s job status was not the breaking point between him and Hextall, and he said that he’d give his full support to Hak and would help him out however he could.
Maybe Holmgren said to Hakstol “we need to make some sort of move behind the bench,” so as to show that changes are coming without completely blowing things up and devolving into absolute chaos, and this was what they settled on (over, among others, penalty kill coach Ian Laperriere). Maybe Hakstol actually just didn’t like Gord Murphy and this was his call. We may never know.
Anywho, on to the player moves:
Goulbourne was called up by the Flyers (for the second time this season) and played in three games. That call-up was clearly done in an attempt to bring a jolt of energy to a team that the then-general manager felt needed one. With that general manager gone, Holmgren (somewhat ironically, given the fact the he of course was the one who drafted Goulbourne) send him back down to the Phantoms. The Flyers now have 13 healthy forwards on the team.
Pickard, meanwhile, was grabbed by the Flyers off of waivers from Toronto just before the season began, when there was uncertainty over the availability of each of the Flyers’ four top NHL goaltending options at the time (Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Anthony Stolarz, and Alex Lyon). He appeared in 11 games for the Flyers, starting eight, and posted a .863 save percentage in those games. His most recent game was against the team that waived him, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it did not go well as he was beaten for four first-period goals.
It always felt as though Pickard’s long-term status with the team wasn’t guaranteed, as Hextall’s move to bring him in felt like a somewhat impulsive decision to make sure the team simply had enough healthy goalies to begin the season. Had he played well and given the team some good goaltending, maybe he’d have even stuck around while one of Stolarz or Neuvirth gets waived instead. But the stop-gap move didn’t work, and if Pickard goes unclaimed he’ll most likely get sent down to the never-ending goalie carousel in Lehigh Valley.
Pickard getting waived means that another goalie is ready to return, and apparently Neuvirth was skating at practice this morning. With two more days off after today before the team’s next game, presumably they believe he’ll be ready to dress for a game by then. (We will see how long that lasts. For Neuvirth’s sake, hopefully it’s longer than we’re expecting.)
Finally, let’s keep our eye on one other sentence in the Pryor/Murphy statement: “We do not anticipate any further personnel moves in the near term.” If we take that at face value, what it most likely means is that the team will likely hold off on making more significant changes again until a general manager gets hired. Scott said yesterday that the team was hoping that would be a matter of “weeks, not months”, so we may well be at it again before too long. But after this crazy week, we’ll keep our eyes peeled in the meantime, even if the team says we don’t quite need to.