It would be surprising if fourth-year coach Dave Hakstol is behind the Flyers' bench Tuesday when they face Detroit at the Wells Fargo Center.
It would be surprising if someone else – whether it’s the Phantoms’ Scott Gordon as an interim coach, Joel Quenneville, Red wings assistant Dan Bylsma, or recently fired coaches Mike Yeo (Blues) or Todd McLellan (Oilers), or another former NHL boss – wasn’t directing the underachieving Flyers.
The Flyers have lost four straight and have fallen to 16th out of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference.
Changes are coming.
For the sake of the team, new general manager Chuck Fletcher needs to make a decision on Hakstol’s status now.
It’s not fair to Hakstol or the players to have the coach’s fate hanging over their collective heads. The coach’s limbo situation has created tension. Lots of it. You can see it in the player’s body language and by the way they are playing without any trace of confidence.
All parties need direction, need to know who will be the coach for the final three-plus months.
Dave Scott, the CEO of the Flyers’ parent company, Comcast Spectacor, said Sunday there was “nothing new to report” when asked about the status of Hakstol, who is expected to be replaced shortly.
When Fletcher was hired on Dec. 3, he said he wanted time to evaluate Hakstol and wanted him to succeed. After Fletcher was named, Hakstol even had lots of input in naming Rick Wilson as an assistant coach.
Since Fletcher was hired, however, the Flyers (12-15-4) have looked like a team trying to get all their coaches fired. They have lost five of six games in that time.
Fletcher joined the Flyers for the last four games of their five-game road trip. They lost all four he attended, allowing a total of 22 goals in those games.
It’s a small sample size for the new GM, but Fletcher is aware of Hakstol’s past (no playoff series wins), aware the team has been maddeningly inconsistent during his three-plus seasons, aware that the dwindling fan base is screaming for a coaching change on social media.
The Flyers haven’t responded to Hakstol, and while the players deserve lots of blame, it’s easier to dismiss one man than an entire team.
Hakstol is a dedicated, hard-working man, but he is also someone who never seemed to be on the same page with his players. Former Flyers GM Ron Hextall hired Hakstol out of the college ranks, partly because he was supposed to speed up the development process of the young players.
That has rarely happened.
Fact is, many of those young players have taken a step backward this season, including Shayne Gostisbehere (minus -18, last in the NHL), mistake-prone Ivan Provorov, Nolan Patrick (one point, an assist, in his last 14 games), and, to a lesser extent, Oskar Lindblom, who was a productive second-line left winger earlier in the season and a healthy scratch in Saturday’s 5-1 loss in Vancouver.
Under Hakstol, the Flyers have perpetually gotten off to slow starts in games – and in their seasons. They always seem to be chasing the game, chasing teams above them just to sneak into the playoffs.
Their special teams have been abysmal this year – their penalty kill is 30th in the 31-team league, and their power play is ranked 29th. Overall, the Flyers have looked disinterested on too many occasions, lacking the urgency that is needed in today’s parity-filled league.
You can blame some of the Flyers’ faults on goaltending injuries and you wouldn’t be wrong. But it goes beyond having to use the organization’s fifth goaltending option in recent games. After all, the Flyers were still a sub.-500 team in games in which No. 1 goalie Brian Elliott (6-7) was in the lineup.
There is no cohesion on the ice. No identity. No resiliency.
“It’s tough,” forward Jordan Weal said after Saturday’s loss. “I don’t know what hockey gods we pissed off to not get the bounces.”
It’s more than bad bounces that have put the Flyers at the bottom of the conference.
Their young defense looks disorganized, and despite a talent-filled lineup up front, the Flyers have been shut out or held to one goal in 10 of 31 games.
Too frequently, they get outworked early in games, fall behind, and usually stay there. They have allowed the first goal in 21 of 31 games. They have won six of 21 games when surrendering the first goal.
There is nothing that makes you think the Flyers will start clicking under the same coaching staff.
Which is why it wouldn’t surprise anyone if a news conference is called and a coach is introduced Monday. A new voice is needed.
In the last decade, Bylsma (2009), Darryl Sutter (2012), and Mike Sullivan (2016) are coaches who took over in mid-season and won a Stanley Cup that year.
No one expects the Flyers to win a Stanley Cup at the end of this season, but they do expect to watch a team that plays 60 full minutes on a regular basis.