Whenever the Flyers have a major announcement to make — and frequently, such announcements involve someone losing his job — they hold the subsequent news conference in the Wells Fargo Center's Hall of Fame Room, located up a carpeted staircase near the arena's executive entrance. At around 10:30 Tuesday morning, there were media members and arena and team employees scattered near the dais where Flyers president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott would soon sit. It was a scene so familiar that the presence of an orange-and-black bellhop or concierge would have been appropriate.
This way to The Firing Room…
This time, the ax fell on the neck of general manager Ron Hextall because the rebuild that he had initiated had, in the minds of Holmgren and Scott, dragged on too long. Hextall had been promoted to GM in May 2014, so if you want to consider that date the starting point, the Flyers are in their fifth season of a process that he wasn't inclined to accelerate.
"That's a long time in hockey," Holmgren said.
Before Hextall became their GM, of course, the Flyers already had gone 39 years without winning a Stanley Cup. It's understandable if you're wondering why waiting a few more seasons for a championship had become too great a burden for the franchise to bear. The answer is simple. Until Hextall took over their operations, the Flyers had generally gone about business in this manner: Trade everybody for everything, and if that doesn't work, try it again. Despite Scott's and Holmgren's belief that Hextall could make changes to improve the team in the here and now, Hextall was recalcitrant in his refusal to sacrifice prospects or young players to that end.
"He was unyielding," Holmgren said.
"He was very confident in his plan and his vision," Scott said.
>> READ MORE: Hits and misses in Ron Hextall's era as GM
So the Flyers did what they do when they decide that being better now is more important than being better, for a longer period of time, later. They removed the obstacle. Often, they have perceived their head coach to be that obstacle, but the clear sense from Tuesday's news conference was that Holmgren and Scott believed that Dave Hakstol is a good coach who needs a better team: a stable goaltending situation, perhaps more overall tenacity on the roster, some new alchemic formula that would allow this group of players to reach its full potential.
Hextall's replacement will determine Hakstol's future with the organization, but this much is certain: The men making that hire did not view the head coach as a primary problem. Ron Hextall was not fired because he would not fire Dave Hakstol. He was fired because the Wells Fargo Center has been emptier this season than it has been in years, and because the people above him had decided that, no matter how much time might actually be required to replenish the Flyers' farm system or return the franchise to the glory it knew in the mid-1970s, five seasons was long enough.
"We needed to make more progress," Scott said.
The Flyers don't do waiting. They never have. They never change. Someday, maybe, they'll see the connection there.