The Philadelphia Flyers fired general manager Ron Hextall on Monday, with the team struggling and coming off a 6-0 loss to Toronto.
Hextall was dismissed after 4 ½ seasons on the job. The Flyers have a 10-11-2 record under coach Dave Hakstol and already have used five goalies this season.
Flyers President Paul Holmgren thanked Hextall for his “many significant contributions, but it has become clear that we no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team.”
He added that an immediate change was in the team’s best interests and he hopes to have a new GM “as soon as possible.”
The Flyers play Tuesday against Ottawa at home where a once-rabid fanbase has stayed away from Wells Fargo Center in droves, and the ones that come serenade a listless loss chanting “Fire Hakstol!”
Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor Chairman and CEO Dave Scott said they will not comment until a Tuesday news conference.
Hextall played 13 seasons in the NHL and had two stints covering 11 years with the Flyers. He also spent seven seasons as assistant GM with the Los Angeles Kings.
His ouster could be tied in to his steadfast support of Hakstol, the coach he hired with no NHL experience out of North Dakota in 2015. The move stunned the NHL and Hextall seemingly staked his career on Hakstol handling the grind of coaching in pressure-packed Philadelphia.
The Flyers haven’t won a championship since capturing Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975. They have reached the Finals and lost six times over that span.
Hextall had wanted to ease off the franchise’s win-now mode that had been a hallmark since the 1970s under late owner Ed Snider. Hextall inherited a salary cap mess from Holmgren, his predecessor, and inherited a talented nucleus of stars that included Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek.
But taking a page from their Wells Fargo Center neighbors, the 76ers, Hextall wanted his own process. That meant patience and building through the draft and restocking a farm system in disarray.
Sean Couturier, Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov and Nolan Patrick, the No. 2 pick of the 2017 draft, are among the crop of young players the Flyers counted on Hakstol developing into key cogs on a championship team. The Flyers now have roughly $7 million in salary cap space.
“I think Ron has established a philosophy that is probably long overdue,” Snider said when he hired Hextall. I have probably been a little too anxious to win another Cup.”
The Flyers did make the playoffs twice under Hextall but that seemed more of a quirk than a true step toward Eastern Conference contention. The Flyers won 10 straight games in 2016-17 and missed the playoffs; they lost 10 straight last season and made them. The Flyers went 42-26-14 (98 points) last season.
The new GM will make the call on the fate of the coaching staff — putting Hakstol firmly on the hot seat. Former Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup champion coach Joel Quenneville is available after he was fired this season.
The Flyers have lost five of six in large part to a goalie carousel that has yet to stop on a true No. 1. They have Carter Hart pegged as a future star in the minors but tried a stopgap approach this season to give Hart more seasoning. That decision — like the one to remain loyal to the Giroux-Simmons-Voracek core — has flopped.
Holmgren brought Hextall back from Los Angeles in 2013 for a year as an assistant general manager. Hextall’s failure as GM complicates his legacy as one of the more popular players in franchise history. He burst on the scene in 1986, won the Vezina Trophy and helped the Flyers get within one win of the Stanley Cup before losing to Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers on the road in Game 7 in 1987. Hextall was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP of the playoffs that year.
Hextall became the first NHL goalie to score a goal by shooting the puck into the opponent’s empty net. He also became the first goalie to score a goal in the playoffs. Hextall was known for his fiery temper as a player. His attacked Montreal’s Chris Chelios during the 1989 playoffs, sparking a brawl.
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