Dave Hakstol may have coached his last game as a Flyers coach – we won’t know for sure until tomorrow, but it sure seems like it – and if he has, there’ll be a press conference and General Manager Chuck Fletcher, flanked on one side by Flyers President Paul Holmgren and on the other by Comcast Spectacor Chairman and CEO Dave Scott, will feed the world one cliche after another about why a new voice was needed.
But what if Fletcher doesn’t necessarily believe what he’s about to tell you? What if internally, inside the hockey operations side of this organization, people truly believe that Dave Hakstol is a good coach?
What if this coaching change is really more about optics and pressure from above to hit a home run?
“That’s a great question,” one Flyers source said to me last night. “And I can’t tell you you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
That’s because Scott has been interested in pursuing Joel Quenneville almost since the minute he was fired by the Chicago Blackhawks last month.
And why not? Quenneville won three Stanley Cups in six seasons with the Blackhawks. The guy has a great track record and one that would certainly bring an instant infusion of interest and excitement to an apathetic fan base.
It was one of those conversations, though, that didn’t go well with former GM Ron Hextall.
So, Hextall was fired. For far many more reasons than this, but this was certainly on the list.
With the addition of Fletcher, Scott agreed to give him time to evaluate what he has on the roster and the coaching staff. But that willingness to be patient has dried up rapidly.
When the team looks as bad as it has in the past four games – all losses – and has fallen into last place by themselves in the Eastern Conference, and is tied for the third-worst record in the league, it can lead to a lot of public angst and make a bigwig like Scott concerned about the perception of his team.
But the Flyers are 2-4-2 since firing Hextall. It’s not good, but it’s not pathetic. There have been many worse eight game stretches than those in which you register six points.
And is six games enough time to give Fletcher to make all the evaluations he needs? Maybe, maybe not.
But the reality is, keeping the fanbase happy is also part of the business, and even if internally among hockey people there is a belief that Hakstol is still the right coach for this team despite all the outside noise, the people who sign the checks sometimes feel they have to consider more than just what the hockey people advise.
Personally, I have never been a huge fan of Hakstol as a coach. If you go back and read many of my posts from last season, you will see that I would have made a change at coach last season.
However, once I was given real insight into what was going on behind the scenes during Hextall’s tenure, even I felt like Hakstol probably deserved a chance to redeem this team post-Hextall.
Frankly, I would have been, and still would be O.K. with letting him coach the rest of the season.
But that’s likely because I don’t see this team as one that’s good enough to make the playoffs this season. After all, they’re eight points out of third place in the Metropolitan Division and 10 points out of a wild card spot. They would need to go on an extended hot run to make up those differences AND hold on to a playoff spot.
That’s very unlikely to happen folks.
But the problem is Scott and to an extent Holmgren already told us at Hextall’s firing that the impetus for the organization is to “win now.”
That might have been delusional on the part of Scott, because I never really felt Holmgren believed it was possible as the team was currently constructed – which is why he was chaffed with Hextall.
But Scott’s influences are not all rooted in actual hockey. Sure, he leans on Holmgren and now Fletcher to give him an update on the team’s progress, but really, his decisions are driven by the business side of things. When 12-15% of tickets out are not coming back through the door with regularity, that bothers him. When television ratings are down, even slightly, that bothers him.
And to be fair to Scott, that should bother him. The business side is what matters most, ultimately, to a corporate owner.
But sometimes corporate decisions are being made for wrong-headed reasons.
It’s like when an immensely popular television show is cancelled on one network and picked up by another. Why was it cancelled? Business decisions. Money talks baby, even if it wasn’t the smartest call.
So, Hakstol really doesn’t have a chance here.
And Scott REALLY wants to pursue Quenneville. Not because he’s necessarily the right coach for this group, but rather because that hiring would be viewed as hitting it out of the park by the public and might put some more butts in seats.
But how different from Hakstol really is Quenneville? At least from how he handles his personnel?
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