What Ron Hextall did on Tuesday night was probably what any GM would do. He spoke about his team.
It was rather impromptu and unexpected, but when you’ve lost your ninth straight game, the players hold a closed-door meeting and fans are chanting for the coach’s head, you kind of should step in and say something. After all, you’re the one who built it.
What Hextall did over the next five minutes or so was a combination of being completely delusional but also issuing a warning, or better yet, a challenge to the Flyers. The premise: I still believe in this team and think it can compete for a playoff spot, but I’m not afraid to take action if this continues.
And what Hextall may be trying to say is to look at the standings. For real. The Flyers have lost nine straight games and have just five points since their last win on Nov. 9, over three weeks ago. And they are six points out of a playoff spot. That’s not impossible, and if the mentality is to right the ship in the next game, something the Flyers have been saying for over two weeks, then you could easily be knocking on the door of a playoff spot already by just finishing off a game that you essentially had control of with 20 minutes or less to go and turning that singular win they have been looking for into a streak the other way.
But Hextall didn’t shy away from looking at the honest nature of the locker room. It’s fragile. It’s tense. It boiled over and came to a head after another loss on Tuesday. And so Hextall couldn’t deny what was happening. There wasn’t going to be some big announcement of a major change when this is still the plan.
But how long before there is one? That’s the reason Hextall addressed the media.
For your GM to come out and publicly make statements about how the team has played “pretty good” over the course of the season and say he still believes the team can make the playoffs is meant to be a motivator. Because at the same time that he said that, he also issued the challenge on Saturday.
“We gotta stick with it. We gotta stick together,” Hextall said. “We gotta win Saturday. That’s our focus right now. We gotta win Saturday.”
That’s the first challenge. Saturday is a must-win. The cliche is overused in sports, but you heard it directly from the GM here. Saturday’s game against Boston is a must-win.
From there, the Flyers hit the road for three games in Western Canada. If Saturday’s game is a must-win, you have to think that two of those games are the same. The Flyers need to start the turnaround on Saturday and carry that into the Western Canada trip and win a couple more. And if they don’t, that might be the beginning of the end.
Hextall isn’t going to drop the hammer on something when he thinks it’s still early. This isn’t going to be what happened years ago with Peter Laviolette getting fired after three games and Craig Berube getting promoted to fill in. Hextall doesn’t make those sort of knee-jerk reactions, which is why he followed up Tuesday’s comments with Wednesday’s about Dave Hakstol.
But again, if this was supposed to do anything, it was to serve as a motivator and a challenge. If the Flyers don’t win Saturday, if they continue losing on the road next week, it may be time for a bigger change.