Now that we can finally put the 2018-19 Flyers season to rest, it is time to assess what went wrong. The Flyers stumbled out of the gate in October and never really regained their footing after that. Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol were both gone by mid-December and the organization did a complete 180° turn-around thanks to Scott Gordon’s use of the Flyers talented prospects. While the team’s late season tear brought them back within the reach of the playoffs, they never drew within striking distance as they were typically 5-7 points out.
The Flyers entered the summer of 2018 with a few key issues that needed to be fixed. goaltending, defense, and a middle-six center all were glaring needs and Hextall failed to address any of it. Instead of picking a singular issue and fixing it, Hextall signed James Van Riemsdyk to a five-year contract. There were plenty of players that moved this past summer that could’ve made a huge impact for the Flyers; Erik Karlsson, Ryan O’Rielly, Max Pacioretty, Jeff Skinner, and Dougie Hamilton were all players that the Flyers could’ve reasonably added to fix issues on the roster. JVR was considered a big add at the time, and while he has finished the season strong, he didn’t address any of the Flyers major problems directly.
Ron Hextall had run the organization on the three simple words Philadelphians have come to loathe, “trust the process”. Over four years later, the organization has little to show for the delay except a couple of high-level prospects. After a failed offseason, the Flyers failed to break the .500 mark for much of the early season and Hextall never attempted to right the ship. Paul Holmgren stepped in and fired Ron Hextall on November 26. Chuck Fletcher was brought in to replace him and he recalled some of the Flyers top prospects, who in turn turned the season around.
Another one of Hextall’s biggest mistakes was the lack of attention to the goaltending. The Flyers were supposed to enter the season with a tandem of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, but Neuvy didn’t even make it out of the preseason without an injury. the Flyers were forced to claim Cal Pickard off of waivers, then Elliott went down with an injury. Anthony Stolarz took over as the starter, then he got hurt after starting nine straight. Alex Lyon and Mike McKenna also played during the season before 20-year-old prospect Carter Hart was recalled in early January.
Hextall should’ve known that going into the season with Elliott and Neuvirth wouldn’t be a good idea, especially since he was totally against letting Carter Hart in the NHL. Robin Lehner, Jonathan Bernier, Carter Hutton, and Jaroslav Halak were all available free agents this past summer, but Hextall didn’t pursue any of them.
Most fans were slowly turning on Dave Hakstol after last season’s hijinks and pathetic performance against the Penguins in the playoffs. The team entered this season with much more hype and immediately got pulled off course by Hakstol’s incompetent coaching. He was at the helm of this team for the first two months of the season until he was fired in mid-december. Scott Gordon was named coach in his place and helped turn the team around by letting the younger players play, and as it turns out, the Flyers have some talented players when they are allowed to play.
Something else that was essentially non-existent under Dave Hakstol, Scott Gordon did manage to light a fire under the team during his time behind the bench. Once Carter Hart was called up in January things changed for the better. They team was noticeably playing harder in their own zone to protect Hart, now a lot of that original fire faded away by seasons end, but it was nice to momentarily see the Flyers play a solid two-way game.
Another Lackluster Start
Something this Flyers team has become accustom to, starting the season slow seems like a yearly problem these days. Their record in October was 5-7-0, they then followed that up with a 5-5-2 record in November and a 5-6-3 record in December. You can’t get much more mediocre than that. The Flyers playoff hopes were essentially DOA by January and, even though they valiantly fought back, this team was doomed from the start thanks to a lifeless coach and general manager.
With the end of the 2018-19 Flyers season almost here, there is a sense of renewal on the horizon. After years of being lost in a never-ending process with Ron Hextall, the addition of Chuck Fletcher has given the fanbase a glimmer of hope for the first time in years. The youth is here and is more than holding their own, and the potential addition of a few key players in the offseason to fill gaping holes should be enough to lead this team to glory.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nbcsports.com