Joseph Stalin’s Politburo had better job security.
Carter Hart, still in his in blocker pads and skates, stood in the center of the Flyers’ dressing room and commanded the scene. By dint of his 6-foot, 2-inch frame he towered over the assembled press. By dint of his reputation as one of the best young goalies on Earth, he towered over his undressing teammates. Calmly, he discussed his unexpected promotion Monday, as well as the firing of the man who would have been his head coach, Dave Hakstol.
Hart said all the right things, but, after hearing thirteen days before that he wouldn’t be promoted for at least a month, he had to be thinking: “What the heck is going on here?”
Moments before, heroic winger Wayne Simmonds stood in the same spot, also saying all the right things. But Simmer, the club’s most tradeable commodity, had to be thinking: “I gotta get out of this place.”
In a moment that begs for franchise stability, the Flyers are anything but stable. The team is a dichotomy of talented young players who need stability and accomplished veterans anxious about their futures. Meanwhile, an executioner’s chorus of gravelly voices from the SkateZone balcony offices create an inharmonius clamor as the bodies pile up.
Don’t trip over the rolling heads.
This had been a second bloody Monday morning in four weeks. General manager Ron Hextall was guillotined Monday. Nov. 26, four years into a six-year rebuild. Dave Hakstol, the head coach he’d left behind, officially got the axe ... well, at some point between Sunday night, when Hart was learning of his promotion while attending the AHL Phantoms' Christmas party, and Monday afternoon, when the Flyers took the ice without their head coach; without any head coach, in fact.
Fletcher promoted Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon, who did not attend practice Monday. Seriously. Gordon will join the team at the pregame skate Tuesday, and he will coach the Flyers until ... well, at least until Wednesday.
"My expectation is that Scott will be the coach for the rest of the year,” Fletcher said.
Rent, don’t buy, Scott.
Less than two weeks ago, Fletcher’s “expectation” was that Hart, 20, would be anchored in the AHL for the foreseeable future.
“I really believe goaltenders need seasoning, again, whether that means it’s two months, four months, a year, I wouldn’t want to bring Carter Hart up right now," Fletcher said Dec. 5. "That’s not to say in a month or two or three I wouldn’t, or next year.”
Fletcher must count in dog-months, because Hart will make his NHL debut Tuesday night. Not coincidentally, he also will put fans in the Wells Fargo Center seats Tuesday night. Nothing humiliates old-school Flyers brass like a half-empty barn.
As he prepares for the biggest night of his life, what must Hart be thinking about his future in the orange and black? Can he have any faith in an organization that can’t even fire its coach correctly?
A report from courierpostonline.com on Sunday indicated that the Flyers fired Hakstol that day, which seems correct: “At the end of the road trip I’d come to that conclusion,” Fletcher said, and the trip ended Saturday night. Nonetheless, the Flyers denied the report. Hakstol never took the ice again.
The report also said the Flyers had agreed to terms with former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, but that hasn’t happened. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps Quenneville took a good look at what’s going on in Philadelphia and decided to keep skiing with his family. Couldn’t blame him.
In between the alarming ouster of Hextall and the inevitable dismissal of Hakstol, assistant general manager Chris Pryor and defensive assistant coach Gord Murphy -- both Hextall allies -- were fired. Fletcher was hired, and replaced them with his own familiar lieutenants, assistant GM Brent Flahr and defensive coach Rick Wilson, whom he coaxed out of retirement.
To review: Within a two-week period the Flyers added a new GM, a new assistant GM, a new assistant coach, a new head coach and the Goalie of the Future. And Fletcher is nowhere close to being done.
Clearly, no player is untouchable. Asked if the rest of the assistant coaches were safe, Fletcher replied:
“There’s no intention right now to replace our assistant coaches.”
Update your resumes, boys.
In this environment, with a team that has three wins in its last 14 games and, with 28 points (12-15-4), is last in the Eastern Conference, Fletcher insists a playoff run is realistic. In this environment, how does he expect unsteady youngsters like Ivan Provarov and Nolan Patrick to find themselves? How does he expect Simmonds and other veterans, like Jake Voracek, to perform?
And, significantly: For whom are they auditioning?
For Fletcher? For Quenneville?
For Paul Holmgren, the team president and previous GM, who fired Hextall? Bobby Clarke, the executive vice-president and the GM who preceded Holmgren? How much you wanna bet that Homer and Clarkie have Quenneville’s phone number?
Incredibly, not even Hart is secure. Asked if the boy wonder is here for good, Fletcher replied:
“That’ll remain to be seen.”
So, they called the kid up so they can fill a few seats ... and, behind a shoddy defense and turnover-prone forwards, maybe ruin his confidence.