April 15, 2015
Ron Hextall sat down (and later even stood up, crazy I know!) with reporters for about an hour at Skate Zone in Voorhees for a press conference that was pretty all-encompassing as far as the Flyers' major issues after a season that saw his team finish with the league's seventh-worst record are concerned.
For instance, Hextall talked about Sean Couturier's usage (by mostly preaching patience with the 22-year-old), addressed the manner in which the team handled Steve Mason's midseason injuries (by dismissing the concerns), and even spoke in-depth about leadership (by agreeing with the general premise of what I said yesterday). Some subjects he was fairly expansive on, and other opinions were conveyed vaguely in only a few words.
More than anything, I thought today was about two big picture topics that have also been much talked about in the last month: Head coach Craig Berube's job status and the Flyers' commitment to both rebuilding and trying to compete at the same time. Let's tackle each of those topics individually:
If you were hoping today was the day Chief would officially get axed, you're disappointed, although I think it's pretty safe to say Hextall didn't give Berube a ringing endorsement. The Flyers posted the first part of the presser online:
The first thought that naturally pops into your head when hearing something like that is to wonder if Hextall is seeing if a better option (in his mind) would become available. San Jose's Todd McLellan and Boston's Claude Julien, two coaches who have experienced sustained success recently, might receive pink slips after disappointing seasons for both of those franchises. Mike Babcock's situation in Detroit has been well documented, as well. For what it's worth, when asked directly if he is playing the waiting game, Hextall denied it.
"No, this is singular in itself," Hextall said. "So, there’s no waiting around to see if someone comes available or what else is out there. No, not part of the equation."
The one objection you can have with Hextall's stance is that the team's current situation wasn't sprung on him overnight last Saturday when the season ended. He's had a pretty decent amount of time to evaluate the entire team, including Berube. When it comes to hiring/firing coaches, Philadelphia (especially its media) is a city that likes decisive action, but Hextall isn't going to provide that this time around. Nope, he's adopting a strategy similar to the one that the man who runs the Flyers' co-tenants at the Wells Fargo Center prefers.
"Well, again, you evaluate everything," Hextall said. "82 games in six months, it’s a long time. It’s a lot of stuff for me to sift through. "Like I said, I’m not a knee-jerk guy. That’s not the way I operate. So when I come to that decision, Craig will be the first to know."
So, not an endorsement at all for Berube, but not a firing either. I'm probably more confused than before, which is likely exactly how Hextall wants it.
I wrote about this a few weeks ago when Ed Snider initially was interviewed by the Daily News, but Hextall reiterated what is now the Flyers' company line: They're going to attempt building for the long term and trying to compete next season at the same time. Needless to say, it's going to be a tricky balancing act.
"Our goal next year is to make the playoffs," Hextall said. "I’ve said this, I’ll say it now, and say it again: If we can do something with our personnel to be better in October, we will do it without question, assuming it’s not sacrificing our future. We’re not going to trade young players. We’re not going to trade pick as a rule. But if we can do something [via] free agent, trade, [or] something along those lines, we will absolutely do it."
Hextall has now made the team's plan heading into the offseason extremely clear. The Flyers aren't going to have a fire sale, and they're not going to take a step back in hopes of taking three steps forward like the Sixers are attempting to do. Now let's see how the general manger executes that vision.