If you were looking for answers in the wake of the Flyers’ Monday decision to dismiss general manager Ron Hextall, you likely didn’t get what you were looking for in Tuesday’s press conference.
Not in the quotable sense at least.
What was more telling than some middle-of-the-road quotes were the frequent pauses and utterances of exasperation that Paul Holmgren seemed to default to whenever a previously-rumored storyline was put into a question. Rather than provide a full transcript, let’s go through a few of the biggest moments in what many deemed a nothingburger of a press conference.
Comcast Spectacor CEO Dave Scott led off the presser by reiterating his belief in Paul Holmgren’s ability to lead a search for Hextall’s replacement:
Scott: “Paul’s an experienced leader. He’s been here for 40 years. He’s gonna do a great job with the search.”
When asked whose decision it was to ultimately fire Ron Hextall, Scott responded, “It was Paul’s recommendation and I supported Paul.”
A question was asked about the “philosophical differences” mentioned in the press release announcing Hextall’s firing. Holmgren didn’t go out of his way to bury Hextall, rather he applauded the contributions Hextall made to the organization:
Holmgren: “Ultimately I’ll echo what Dave said about Hexy. He put the organization in a good spot. Our prospect cupboard is full. Best interest in the organization to find a new voice.”
Dave Scott’s answer was a bit more direct, with a focus on the need to win now:
Scott: “Can we get better now, not two/three years from now? Yes.”
A reporter pressed both men on why the GM was the first fired, rather than the head coach. Was Hextall fired for his refusal to fire Dave Hakstol?
Holmgren: “Absolutely not. It was Ron’s decision all along. He never discussed with me. We had 98 points last year. This quarter compared to the last five quarters under Ron were about the same. Up to the next GM to decide on the coach.”
Holmgren went on to say that he and Scott had multiple conversations over the past month, focused on whether or not a different GM could improve the team by utilizing assets to acquire players who could help win now. Holmgren was asked if he believed a general manager could improve the team without gutting the roster and/or making a coaching change. Dave Scott jumped in and said that he and Holmgren decided that there were some opportunities that could present themselves over the next month or two and they didn’t want to miss out.
That led us to Holmgren’s word of the day when referring to Hextall: “unyielding.”
Holmgren: “Ultimately I got to the point talking with Dave and talking with Brian Roberts, I felt it was necessary in order to push our team forward, to have a different mindset in that chair. Are there things Ron was thinking about doing to the team? I don’t know. He was unyielding in his plan and remained that way. Good for him. He’s a well thought out, deep-thinking guy. He put us in a good position. But in order to put the team in a better position moving forward, we needed to do what we did.”
Scott: “I’ll just say he was very confident in his plan and his vision and Paul said it – he wasn’t going to waver really from that plan. To me and to Paul, I mean this is the fifth year, you guys looked at the same data we look at. We thought it was time for a change.”
A reporter brought up the notion that Hextall’s long-view approach was diametrically different than the Flyers’ “old approach” of going all-in to win now. When asked if this change could signal a return to the old approach:
Holmgren: “Ron’s approach was good. He put us in a good position. Is there someone out there who has a fresh look upon things? I think any hockey guy can look at the Flyers and there’s a lot of good players, young players, veteran players. The difference between Ron and I… I was an aggressive guy. Ron was a deep-thinking guy. We’re here to do what’s right for the organization.”
This was what I took away as the most telling statement from the presser, that bold section. Hextall’s methodical approach had worn thin on the higher ups and likely led to his termination.
What about coach Dave Hakstol?
Holmgren: “He knows we’re looking for a GM. He knows. The players know. The coaches know. We all know. It’s about winning. We’re gonna remain active in finding the guy.”
Not a vote of confidence by any stretch. Scott went on to say that the timeline for a replacement would likely take “weeks, not months. It’s a full-court press.”
Back to Hextall. Will his replacement be encouraged to part with prospects to improve the team’s roster immediately?
Holmgren: “GMs have assets at their disposal. Ron did tremendous things at increasing our prospect pool. Whoever the GM is now has a lot at his disposal.”
There had been a report that Holmgren and Hextall had disagreed on whether or not to bring up young goaltender Carter Hart. This led to a long pause from Holmgren before answering without really ever answering the question:
Holmgren: *Long pause* “Without being specific, I wanna say… Are there things [Hextall] could’ve done differently to make things better today? I don’t know.”
The press conference eventually turned to the current roster and its window to compete, leading to Holmgren pointing out that the team has, “Good core players who aren’t getting any younger.” Dave Scott once again reiterated, “It’s my job to challenge Paul, Paul to Ron, what can we do to get better now, not years from now.”
One of the final questions was directed at Dave Scott, related to whether or not the business aspect of hockey (attendance, loss in merchandise, concessions, etc.) played a role in the decision to make a change or if it was only based on the on-ice product:
Scott: “They go hand-in-hand. I feel our fans deserve better. This is about winning hockey games.”
Anthony will have more on this later.
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