What to do? What to do? What to do? These thoughts have to be going through General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers Ron Hextall’s mind night after night these past few weeks. Moreover, I’m pretty certain every Flyers fan in their mother is thinking the same thing. Crazy thing is the orange and black remain eight points out of a playoff spot, and twelve points out of first place.
The Flyers have to keep their game simple to break this ten game losing streak. They have gathered points in five of the ten games lost during the streak, but c’mon already. Did anyone believe Hextall when he stated, “If you look at the way we’ve played from the start of the year, I’m pretty good with the way our team has played. Pretty good with the way our team has played the last nine games,” after another loss this past Tuesday. Ohhhhhh heck no.
With that statement it meant two things. Head Coach Dave Hakstol’s job was safe for now, and Hextall has no intentions of selling the house. Just yet that is. A trade is brewing for a second or third line forward, but is a major trade far off the horizon? Is Hakstol’s job really safe?
Hakstol and Over Reliance with Veterans
One thing that we have learned on this losing streak is Hakstol’s stubborness. I have defended him to no end with how he has groomed the young in the past. However, I cannot do that anymore. After the apparent benching of the young Travis Konecny, in the third period against the Boston Bruins this past Saturday. Hakstol showed his over reliance with his veterans for no reason at all.
“That’s their decision to try and change some things up. You gotta find some answers and I guess that was part of the plan tonight. Just the way it is,” Konecny said.
Konecny (3 goals, 6 assists, plus 3 on current season), was one of the better forwards against the Bruins. He finished the game second on the team in shots with four, and also led the team in scoring chances through two periods of play. Konecny had just 36 seconds of ice time in the third period, bringing his total ice time for the game to 10:12. Moreover, Jori Lehtera finished the game with 12:03, and Dale Weise finished the game with 13:01 of ice time. Are you kidding me? I understand Konecny in week’s past was struggling to find his groove, but he has actually played well in the three games played this past week.
“I played a couple shifts. Actually I started in the third and I was still on the power play so I don’t think it was a matter of my play. We were just trying to get some of the other guys in more often. We were double shifting [inaudible] on two lines so if that’s what helps us. Trying to get the team going then I have no problem with it,” Konecny said following the game Saturday.
Fortunately, Konecny remained professional, as Hakstol had this to say about the benching, “Well he wasn’t benched, he did get on the ice. But, that ice time is a little bit earned as well in terms of, we put together a unit that could allow us to switch up the matchup against Bergeron, obviously to free up Coots’s line a little bit more on that. The mix was put together after that with kind of top nine in mind and a bottom three and TK was in the bottom three at that point in time.”
It’s a slap to the face of hard-working Flyers fans to see Lehtera and Weise gather more ice time, than a player who may actually have impacted the game. To prove this point even further, Why is Taylor Leier in the press box as a healthy scratch? This is just mind-boggling. I mean does it stem from his bad penalty killing? C’mon give the kid a break. Leier has been one of the most consistent energy forwards all season. He should be playing, as it can’t get much worse.
Hakstol’s over reliance on his vets will cost him his job. Hextall has traveled with team on this three game Western Canadian swing. If the Flyers don’t take two out of three games, then I could honestly see the orange and black making a coaching change. This team just seems dead after the first ten minutes, in each of the past two games played.
Of course, with a losing streak comes assumptions and rumors swirling. The Flyers are currently active on the market for a second or third line forward. However, Hextall WILL NOT mortgage the future this early in the season. As previously stated, the Flyers are only eight points out of a playoff spot, and twelve points out of first place. The last time the Flyers lost ten in a row was 2008. They made the Eastern Conference Finals, where they eventually fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games.
“I still believe we’re a playoff team. That falls on all of us. We’re all in this together. Nobody’s jumping off any ship here. We’re in it together. Right now it’s hard to find a positive. I think one of the impressive things is this group hasn’t started pointing fingers at each other. That’s a sign of strong character. It’s a sign that we’re going to come out of this,” Hextall stated this past Tuesday night. This doesn’t sound like a man that’s panicking by any means.
Just if…just if…Hextall isn’t committed to mortgaging the future at this point, then he should call up Mike Vecchione, Danick Martel, or Oskar Lindblom. Let the young kids play. I’d rather lose with the kids, then this current team of vets that include Lehtera and Weise. Yes, I know they would clear waivers and be sent down to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms with Matt Read. However, Flyers fans aren’t going to pay for a ticket if it’s not fun to attend with a stale product. The Philadelphia Eagles and 76’ers are winning games. Of course, the orange and black at the moment aren’t, and the Wells Fargo Center may remain half full until a deserving, fun product is put onto the ice.
If the Flyers are way out of the playoff hunt by the trade deadline on February 26, 2018. The orange and black may make a trade of their core. A major trade is unlikely with how close they’re to a playoff spot. In hindsight, the two most attractive pieces to move at the deadline are Claude Giroux (versatile forward with $8.275 mil cap hit), and Wayne Simmonds (versatile forward $4.75 mil cap hit) UFA in 2019-20. Giroux has been linked to the Montreal Canadiens for years now, and I’m sure they wouldn’t mind adding a piece of scoring depth to their team. Simmonds is a beast and a vocal leader on and off the ice. He does everything well, to include the penalty kill and power play.
The Flyers have to get back to the basics of hockey, and play the game simple to break this streak. After the road trip, this could very well be the end of Hakstol as head coach of the orange and black. Hakstol will have no one to blame but himself for the crazy benchings of the youth (to include Leier), when they are performing better than most the vets on the ice. To instill some positivity with Flyers fans, it was never about this year, rather it’s about next year.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports