Real change comes slow.
The 2018-2019 season has been one of the most overly dramatic seasons I have seen in my 23 years watching the Philadelphia Flyers. Not since the final days of Eric Lindros has there been a more emotional narratively dramatic season.
Quite frankly, the fan base is not happy, the media is not happy, and perception around the league is that the Flyers are lingering. What makes things even more challenging is the fact that the Metro division is slowly getting stronger. The New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers have just hit their luck by winning the 1st and 2nd overall picks, respectively. The Washington Capitals just won the Cup, The Islanders are the most improved team in the league, the Blue Jackets are about to perform one of the greatest upsets in playoff history, The Hurricanes had their best season in years, and the Penguins are still the living in the twilight years.
Combine all of that with a 30% increase in ticket prices and a new management team. The credibility jar is just about withdrawn. However, perception is not usually reality and most success is measured retrospectively.
Ron Hextall had a plan, it was a patient plan. A plan, that up until recently, he rarely provided any details on what his expectations were for a cup contention team. After losing his job earlier in the season Hextall revealed, in an exit interview, what
Hextall only made it 5 years into his 6-year plan. It’s a shame because only now is it actually coming into fruition. While it was not his full term, he might have forced this city to wait just long enough to finally fill out their organization with talent at all levels. Hextall took over in 2014 with Craig Berube as head coach. And after one year on a tight leash, Berube was let go. Berube was fired for the infamous Dave Hakstol, Hextall’s personal choice as head coach.
Hakstol was brought in on a 5-year deal, just long enough to get to the end of the six-year timeline. Coincidentally the Flyers would finally be rid of almost all bad contracts, the entire defensive core is full of young talented defensemen, Carter Hart is NHL ready, and the Flyers have arguably the deepest prospect pool in the NHL, especially if you include NHL level,young players.
Earlier this year the Flyers acted like the young team that they are and failed out the gate. Lead by a small group of veteran forwards the Flyers lacked the depth to play a consistent game on a nightly basis and the Flyers flinched. It was clear that Paul Holmgren and Dave Scott didn’t know the plan. And that’s where Hextall’s biggest failures lay. Hextall never properly communicated and set expectations for a duration. There was never a clear year laid out to anyone outside of his tight group of fellow managers. Ron always preferred to keep things to his chest, understandably so in Philadelphia.
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The Flyers made a quick decision to improve their relationship with all of their stakeholders. Chuck Fletcher was brought in to lead the charge. Many thought that Fletcher would be quick to make drastic changes, but despite rumors and rumblings the Flyers didn’t move and Fletcher made the right decision to be patient. Fletcher saw the evolution of Hextalls plan. He can see the points above and that the windows
As the playoffs prove every year, winning isn’t only about talent. It’s about execution, about teamwork, and about being on the same page every game. The Flyers have yet to hit that level. Quite frankly the Flyers have not been a consistent team since the days of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, when the team was loaded with veteran talent. Peter Laviolette was the right man for the job that got the team to gain confidence and believe they were winners. Laviolette is a great coach for bringing it all together when a team is ready to compete.
Scott Gordon did not get re-signed. He had to get it done and he did not. Setup to fail, Gordon only failed to achieve what most coaches cannot do. Most of the time, the coach goes down with the ship. However, even with the offer on the table to coach the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, I do suspect there is another organization that would give Gordon another look. If he decides to come back and coach the Phantoms, the organization will benefit from such coaching depth. Another relic of the Hextall era showing his worth.
Now we get to Alain Vigneault, who many fans see as a coach who’s failed at the finish line twice. However, most people should have some perspective to know that the majority of NHL coaches don’t make it to the finals, let alone with two separate organizations. I do have some reservations on his ability to deal with a team that is primarily driven by players 26 and under. Outside of Giroux, Voracek, and JVR Vigneault doesn’t have much a veteran core. However, his success in Vancouver was with a young team who was just waiting to put it all together.
Players like Alex Burrows, Alexander Edler, Ryan Kesler, and the Sedin Twins were all the early stages of their career and Vigneault got them deep into the playoffs several times with and consistently competed at the top during the regular season. In New York, he had similar success with a deep team. It was really only until a rebuild was forced upon him, did the Rangers’ performance drop off dramatically.
Chuck Fletcher knew what he wanted and he wanted a guy like Vigneault if Joel Quenneville wasn’t available. Dave Tippett is another guy the Flyers were apparently very interested in and he can be viewed in a similar prestige. The Flyers were looking for a coach with a winning mentality. A coach that can instill confidence at all times because he is 100% sure in himself and his process.
The NHL is a difficult league to be consistent and Vigneault has been very consistent over the years and that should not be ignored. Barry Trotz wasn’t able to win until he got to the Capitols and no one questions his ability to finish anymore. You’re only a
The Flyers are loaded with young talent under the age of 24. That is fantastic for the future, but for the current team, it becomes difficult to put together a consistent effort. Fletcher has some money to play with this offseason and he will most likely look to add depth to all positions in the offseason and most likely the will be seasoned players. He will look to add to the current roster of young players.
Currently, the target is one 2nd or 3rd line center, a top 4 veteran defender, another bottom-six role player, and two backup goalies. Fletcher is focused on bringing in older voices that will set the tone from the start of the season to the end of the season. With a more experienced head coach and what should be an older, wiser, and consistent team, Fletcher is ready to make Vigneault look like the coach Fans are waiting for.
The Philadelphia Flyers are a team waiting to put it all together. At year 6 of Hextall’s plan the Fletcher era now truly begins. An era where a new plan is in place and it’s focused on competing not replenishing. It’s interesting to see that after all of the panic, after all of the firings, the social media bashing, and all the rumors, the Flyers are actually still right on track to where they should be. Maybe even a little bit ahead. If Chuck Fletcher continues to show he has a direct vision and acts on it without hesitation he can probably be aggressive enough to turn this team into a true contender in a short time.
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports