Flyers fire general manager Ron Hextall; coaching staff remains for now
In a stunner, the Flyers fired their fifth-year general manager as the team sits buried near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division.
When he was hired as the Flyers' general manager in the spring of 2014, Ron Hextall called it his "dream job."
On Monday morning, Hextall got nightmarish news. In a stunning move, the Flyers fired Hextall but did not immediately replace him.
"We thank Ron for his many significant contributions, but it has become clear that we no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team," club president Paul Holmgren said in a statement, adding he will hold a news conference Tuesday morning to elaborate on the decision. "In light of these differences, we feel it's in the organization's best interest to make a change, effective immediately."
Holmgren said he has begun the process to select a new general manager. Dean Lombardi, a Flyers senior adviser who helped Los Angeles win two Stanley Cups during his 11 years as its general manager, is believed to be among the strong candidates. When Hextall was the assistant GM with the Kings, Lombardi was his mentor.
Former Flyer Chris Pronger, a Hall of Fame defenseman who works as the Florida Panthers' senior adviser, has also been mentioned as a candidate. Holmgren coached Pronger in Hartford and was the general manager who made a deal with Anaheim to bring the defenseman to the Flyers.
Danny Briere, a former Flyer who is vice president of operations for the ECHL's Maine Mariners (owned by Comcast Spectacor, the Flyers' parent company) and hopes to be an NHL general manager someday, is not quite ready for the Philadelphia job, sources said.
Hextall, a former standout Flyers goalie, was ultra-patient as he brought along prospects slowly. His teams never won a playoff series, but he dug the franchise out of a huge cap hole he inherited from Holmgren, the previous general manager, and he rebuilt a weak farm system.
The Flyers, crippled by injuries to their top two goalies, have lost five of their last six games and are just 10-11-2. Even when No. 1 goalie Brian Elliott was healthy, the Flyers were woefully inconsistent. They finished with 98 points in 2017-18 and are on pace for 78 points this season. In the summer, they added marquee free agent James van Riemsdyk, who missed 16 games earlier this season because of a knee injury.
"You have to feel responsible; we're the ones playing the games," right winger Jake Voracek said of the firing. "It's obviously something you don't want to see, but it's a business."
"This is an organization that has very high standards for itself, and when we're kind of underachieving on the ice, stuff like this can happen," van Riemsdyk said.
Hextall did not return a phone call for comment. He was at the Flyers' practice facility Monday morning but left before news of his firing was announced.
>> WATCH: Interview with coach Dave Hakstol
Van Riemsdyk called Hextall's dismissal a "shock to the system," and Wayne Simmonds and Jordan Weal, forwards who were also with Hextall when he was an assistant GM in Los Angeles, also used the word shock to describe the news.
"I don't think anyone saw this coming," said Simmonds, whose team lost an embarrassing 6-0 decision Saturday in Toronto in the last game of the Hextall era.
"Anytime a coach or GM gets fired, obviously as players you feel responsible," captain Claude Giroux said. If the Flyers had played better, he added, "that doesn't happen."
"We can tell that nobody is safe; it's all about winning," Voracek said.
"We're not where we want to be," fourth-year coach Dave Hakstol said. "We're a better hockey team than where we're at, record-wise, and we all have to own that and go out and do a little better."
In a risky move, Hextall hired Hakstol out of the college ranks (North Dakota), and it wouldn't be surprising if the new general manager brought in a new coaching staff.
"Anything can happen. Is he [Hakstol] getting fired? Are there going to be any trades? I don't know. I have no no-trade clause," Voracek said. "It can happen to anyone. It happened to Hexy. It can happen to me. It can happen to any one of the guys."
Hakstol called it a "tough morning for all of us, and certainly for me personally."
"That being said, Ron brought me here to do a job and I'm going to continue to focus at doing that job to the best of my abilities. And that's what I told the players. We have a job to do today. Let's go out and do it the best of our abilities."
As for his own future, Hakstol said, "I don't control that. I feel a responsibility for what happened today. Nobody feels good about that in our room. That being said, I wholeheartedly meant what I said. I've got a job to do … so that doesn't change."
Added Hakstol: "I'm not looking over my shoulder. I never have; I never do. I focus on the job at hand and moving forward."
The Flyers made the playoffs in two of Hextall's four full seasons. They were eliminated in the first round each time, losing to Washington and Pittsburgh, respectively.
Overall, the Flyers were 165-128-58 in Hextall's four-plus seasons.
"We had some good years. We made the playoffs a couple times, and obviously, it wasn't the result we wanted," Giroux said. "Obviously, we wanted to make more appearances in the playoffs and go a little further."
The Flyers, buried near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings, will return to the ice at 7 p.m. Tuesday against Ottawa at the Wells Fargo Center.
"I do believe we have a good team in here; we're just not getting it done," Giroux said. "… It's not a secret. We all know we have to be better as a team."
>> READ MORE: What they're saying about the Flyers firing Ron Hextall