December 24, 2018
The most compelling twist at the end of the Hextall-Hakstol era is that the former Flyers GM and coach were the last people to realize they were terrible at their jobs. In fact, knowing them, they still think they were doing just fine, thank you.
By all accounts, Ron Hextall was flabbergasted when he was calling into the office of Comcast executive Dave Scott earlier this month and told that his endless rebuilding program was over, finito, kaput. Somehow, Hextall saw no problem with a plan that would take seven, eight, maybe even nine years to bear fruit.
Did he learn nothing in the decade he played in Philadelphia? How did he never absorb the basic lesson that even the passion in America’s most emotional sports city has an expiration date? No real signs of progress on the ice, along with Hextall’s fan-unfriendly demeanor, made his dramatic fall inevitable.
In the end, the record should show that the fans actually ended the Hextall-Hakstol era by losing interest, thereby hurting the organization at the box office, in the stores, and ultimately on the bottom line. Not even Gritty could make Hextall’s dull team interesting. He had to go.
And so did his bold choice as coach, Dave Hakstol, whose appeal as the leader behind the bench for the past three-plus seasons remains a mystery. No one in Philadelphia sports since John Stevens was more relentlessly boring, to the fans and to his own players, than Hakstol.
The coach was so out of touch with the city where he worked, it seemed that his head had never really left North Dakota. No genius at strategy, Hakstol never found a way to inspire his players, either, and that major flaw led to chronic problems with slow starts, lack of focus, and panicked finishes.
His team was in last place in the Metropolitan Division when a report surfaced earlier this month that new GM Chuck Fletcher was planning to fire him. With no leverage, Hakstol still demanded a vote of confidence. The coach never indicated on what this confidence should be based, since the Flyers had never won a playoff series with him behind the bench.
So, a couple of weeks after his ex-boss with a similar surname was sent packing, Hakstol joined him on the employment line, replaced on an interim basis by the Phantoms’ coach, Scott Gordon.
The Flyers have played better since coach left, winning three of four and aided by Carter Hart, a 20-year-old goalie whom Ron Hextall had insisted was not ready for the NHL. The ex-GM, once a great goaltender himself, obviously wasn’t even good at scouting his own position.
It is my misfortune that this column runs on Christmas Day and I will come across as cold-hearted, but the truth takes no holidays. Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol are unemployed today because they did a terrible job of running and coaching the Flyers. They got exactly what they deserved.