Based on the hundreds (thousands?) of empty seats at the Wells Fargo Center recently, Flyers fans have become apathetic, and, quite frankly, who can blame them?
Management had to find a scapegoat, apparently, and that person was general manager Ron Hextall, who stunningly was fired Monday morning.
They got rid of the wrong guy.
Citing philosophical differences, club president Paul Holmgren canned Hextall. In the statement he released, Holmgren said nothing about how Hextall had masterfully gotten the Flyers out of cap hell — created by Holmgren when he was the general manager. Neither did he mention the numerous draft picks Hextall had acquired over his five years, or that he had rebuilt a failing farm system.
Holmgren said he is searching for a new GM, and it wouldn't be surprising if that person cleaned house when it came to the coaches and made Joel Quenneville — who was recently fired by the Blackhawks — the head coach.
Hextall hired Dave Hakstol as head coach. That has not worked out. And this year's team, which had high expectations after adding prized free agent James van Riemsdyk in the offseason, has floundered.
Maybe Hextall was dismissed because he wouldn't fire the man who coached his son in college. We might never know.
For the last few seasons, watching Flyers games has been like watching Groundhog Day. The same problems have been repeated. No one seems to know how to fix them.
Poor starts to games. Poor starts to seasons. Poor penalty-killing work.
That explains why you can buy tickets cheaply on StubHub the night of the game, infuriating the season-ticket holders who have paid full prices to watch an underachieving team that seems stuck in neutral.
In 2016-17, the Flyers became the first team to miss the playoffs during a season in which it won 10 straight. Last season, they lost 10 in a row, then went on a four-month run and somehow made the playoffs.
Up. Down. Go on a 5-0-1 run, then lose five of six.
Look like a Stanley Cup contender for two weeks. Look like an AHL team the next two weeks.
Allow the first goal in 10 of the first 11 games. Score the first goal in the next six games. Allow the first goal in five of the next six, and fall into a 4-0, first-period hole in two of their last three games.
A few weeks ago, captain Claude Giroux said that great teams find a way to be consistent nightly. The Flyers can't be consistent from period to period, let alone game to game.
You can blame their latest skid, five losses in the last six games, on injuries to the goaltenders. But there is plenty of blame to go around. Defensive breakdowns and a ridiculous number of turnovers have led to an inordinate number of odd-man rushes, making it tough on their inexperienced goaltenders — guys playing only because of injuries to Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth.
Maybe they will rebound if one of their veteran goalies returns soon and stays healthy.
Maybe they'll make another run like last year, when they had the fifth-best record in the NHL from Dec. 4 until the end of the regular season, and sneak into the playoffs.
Sneaking into the playoffs, however, isn't good enough for a team that, on paper, is better than the one that went 42-26-14 and collected 98 points last season.
From here, this team has grown stale and needed a shakeup.
But not the one that happened Monday.
They needed to either sweep out the coaching staff — dedicated, hard-working guys who can't seem to get the players to play to their potential — or make a major trade.
Other than shrewd moves to free up cap space, Hextall had not made an eye-opening deal since he became the general manager five years ago.
Cap reasons prevented him from making a major deal in previous years, but the stage was set for a big trade in the coming days.
It was a good time for him to make a signature trade – as GM Keith Allen did in 1972 by acquiring Bill Flett, Ross Lonsberry, Ed Joyal, and Jean Potvin from Los Angeles for Serge Bernier, Jimmy Johnson, and Bill Lesuk; as GM Bob Clarke did in 1995 when he acquired Eric Desjardins, John LeClair, and Gilbert Dionne from Montreal for Mark Recchi and a 1995 third-round pick; as GM Holmgren did in 2007 by acquiring Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell from Nashville for a first-round pick.
Meanwhile, Dave Scott, the Flyers' big cheese, has remained silent, repeatedly turning down interview requests. Scott should use his position to put pressure on his players, coaches, and front-office executives to perform, to hold them accountable.
He should have talked long before Hextall, a good man who didn't deserve this fate, was shown the door.
Several years ago, while the Flyers were in a skid, team chairman Ed Snider talked to me at length about what had to be changed. He did this on more than one occasion, during more than one long stretch of mediocrity.
After one of those interview sessions, I thanked Snider for his availability.
"If you only talk when things are going good, then you're a hypocrite," he said. "You have to face the music when things are going bad."
That was the essence of the late Snider. He was honest and transparent, knowing he was a conduit to the people who paid for tickets.
Yes, he might have interfered too much and that sometimes led to unwise decisions (see the Ilya Bryzgalov debacle). But, for the most part, Snider's involvement created many more good decisions than bad.
In short, Snider kept all members of the organization on their toes with his deep-rooted passion for his beloved team.
He also kept the fans from being apathetic. Getting rid of Hextall won't do that.