Despite a tremendously flawed process, beset with poor foresight and several missteps, the Flyers managed to instill a renewed sense of hope and excitement into their fanbase after firing unpopular head coach Dave Hakstol on Monday. They lost control of the narrative and still managed to come out looking good in the eyes of their fans. A lot of the issues could have been avoided by remembering the past.
Current team president Paul Holmgren served as Flyers GM from 2006-2015. During his tenure, the Flyers were a big-splash, aggressive team. They gave ample fodder to rumor mongers and routinely had the details of trades posted somewhere online long before they happened. Under Ron Hextall, that stopped. The Flyers were a quiet, largely conservative team that didn’t make waves too often. They were never featured in trade rumor talk.
When Hextall was fired on November 27th, one of the “philosophical differences” attributed to him was his unwillingness to involve those outside his inner circle in the decision making process. But that manner of management led to a tight ship. When Hextall and his confidants were removed, the Flyers seemed to be caught unaware how quickly they could lose control of the flow of information. It started at press conference to announce Hextall’s firing, when CEO David Scott mentioned to reporters that the Flyers had internally discussed former Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville when he was fired on November 6th.
New Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher accompanied the team on a road trip through western Canada. A blowout loss in Winnipeg was followed by a heartbreaking loss in Calgary, where the Flyers blew a 2 goal lead with under 2 minutes to play in regulation. Rumors started to swirl at that point that Hakstol was in jeopardy. They intensified during the next two games, both one sided losses to Edmonton and Vancouver. As the Flyers flew home on Sunday, reports emerged that Hakstol was fired and that Quenneville would replace him.
The Flyers denied those reports Sunday night, but less than 24 hours later Hakstol was fired. The team seemed to be in spin mode at that point. The press release was written to portray the firing as happening Monday morning, and sources who claimed a deal with Quenneville was either imminent or even complete, back pedaled. The Flyers announced that practice would be Monday at 12:30, preceded by “off ice training”. Sunday night closed with rumors and denials and little solid information.
Monday morning opened with a bit of a bang, when the team announced that uber-prospect Carter Hart was being recalled in the wake of an injury to Anthony Stolarz, that would cause him to miss 2-4 weeks. Normally a recall of this nature would create it’s own excitement, but on the heels of the Hakstol reports many felt they were going to continue to leave Hakstol swinging in the wind and hope that Hart’s debut would quiet a angry crowd.
Fans were glued to social media when the team took the ice at 12:30. Soon reporters were tweeting that Hakstol was not on the ice and that assistant coach Kris Knoblauch was running the practice. Shortly after it was confirmed that Hakstol had been terminated.
My guess is, and this is simply that-a guess-is that the Flyers decided Hakstol was going to be replaced by Quenneville, but that it was going to be after the Christmas break. The team was blindsided by the reports and tried to delay heading into Monday. Seeing the fan reaction-despite many expressing sympathy for Hakstol being in a tough position, not many expressed a desire to see him remain as coach-the Flyers knew it was untenable and removed the coach.
Even if the path taken was a difficult one, at the end of the day the Flyers made a decision that energized the fanbase. Fans were excited to watch again. They cheered Hart making routine saves. They saw a light at the end of the tunnel and it obscured the rough road that got them there. Now we just have to hope that light isn’t a train on it’s way to run us down.