"Sometimes," Pat Gillick said last summer as the famed baseball executive was being added to the Phillies Wall of Fame. "The little pieces fit in the puzzle more than big pieces."
If you are among the many trying to figure out how Ron Hextall can be fired before the coach he hired has been, think of what played out a decade ago across the street from the Wells Fargo Center.
Ed Wade was a good talent evaluator who wasn't nearly as good as a general manager. Whether it was clinging too dearly to the players he drafted, or making trades and signings based on resumes rather than results, Wade's tenure as the Phillies GM, by 2005, produced the same Groundhog Day effect with local fandom that Hextall's has created in this era.
The Flyers have stopped the practice of having fans guess the paid attendance. They don't need any more ridicule, disdain, or doubt than is currently out there. The only thing worse than booing the home team is not showing up to do so. Especially amid a $250 million remake of the building itself designed to, um, improve the fan experience.
Gritty could morph into 100 Grittys. That's not going to do it, something Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott has become painfully aware of. That building upgrade – his baby — will be close to completion by the start of next season, by the way. It needs a Jim Thome-like infusion, and it needs it soon.
So the time for patience may be running out, if it hasn't already.
That's what happened to Wade, who oversaw an even more extensive rebuilding than the one Hextall embarked on after Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren promoted him in 2014. Unlike Wade, Hextall took over a team with significant talent but with more significant salary cap problems, problems he has just recently dug them out of.
His stubbornness then – resisting the impulse to add to that talent at the expense of draft picks – set in motion the oft-touted youth movement that has thus far begat players such as Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick, and Travis Sanheim, with others such as Philippe Myers, Samuel Morin, and yes, Carter Hart, poised to join them soon.
It has also produced a steadfast and as-yet-unwarranted loyalty to the coach he wooed away from a cushy college job. And this loyalty to Dave Hakstol, more than any other piece, may have led to Monday's shocker.
There has to be some reason the Flyers have been the NHL's most streaky team. There has to be some reason they haven't been able to get the penalty kill right. The first question when Holmgren and Scott meet the media Tuesday will be whether Hextall was fired because he wouldn't fire Hakstol.
But here's an alternative view.
Dave Hakstol didn't pick one of the five goalies the Flyers have used since last February. Hextall wasn't canned because he would not promote Carter Hart prematurely.
It had more to do with what his Plan B was, which in most places would look like a Plan F. For the life of me, I do not understand how you can enter another season believing your net would be fine with one goalie who is incredibly injury-prone (Michal Neuvirth) and another (Brian Elliott) who had undergone two surgeries on his groin and core in a span of months – and who is 33.
Oh, Plan C? That's Alex Lyon, an undrafted free-agent signee, and Anthony Stolarz, who missed all but a few games last season after tearing the same ACL twice.
Plan D is Calvin Pickard, picked up off waivers.
Then there was the penalty kill, currently ranked 30th. Having re-established Matt Read late last season as a penalty-killing pro, Hakstol watched him walk along with veteran Val Filppula at the end of the season.
Signing James van Riemsdyk to a five-year, $35 million deal without replacing your only two veteran penalty killers is like buying a Mercedes instead of fixing cracks in your foundation. Much-maligned special-teams coach Ian Laperriere has been forced to use young players who have little experience doing so at any level. Have you ever seen so many shots from the point make it all the way to the net?
Wade's work outside of development did him in. With the exception of Thome, his trades and signings were, to be kind, unproductive.
Gillick knew how to put a roof on. He got Jayson Werth for nothing, Picked up Greg Dobbs, J.C. Romero, and Chad Durbin for close to nothing. Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton, too. And traded "assets" to none other than Wade to acquire Brad Lidge.
The Phillies core — Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino — whose mettle was beginning to be questioned, instead became popular names for area offspring who are now approaching or are in their teens.
The Flyers core is at that stage and aging. Some of their kids, like Provorov, have lost their swagger.
Amid the Phillies championship celebration on that cold October night, Gillick gracefully called it "Ed Wade's team."
He was right, and he was wrong. As will be anyone who succeeds in finishing what Hextall started.
Wade went on to rebuild Houston, but he didn't see that one finished either.
Some guys build foundations.