(Photo: Kate Frese)
If the five-game road trip was going to be an evaluation period for new GM Chuck Fletcher, he should have all the answers he needs.
Firing Ron Hextall needed to light a fire under the rest of the organization, a collective notice that jobs were on the line and a new GM was ready to wheel and deal and do what was necessary to change this team for the better if things didn't improve.
The Flyers actually opened the road trip with a 6-2 win in Buffalo, scoring six straight goals after falling behind 2-0 in the first. From there, here were the results:
- A 7-1 drubbing in Winnipeg on the back-end of a back-to-back.
- A 6-5 overtime loss where the team led 5-3 with less than 90 seconds remaining.
- A 4-1 lifeless loss in Edmonton.
- Another lifeless 5-1 loss in Vancouver.
By the time the Flyers took the ice in Vancouver, it probably didn't matter. There were already plenty of rumors swirling. Change is in the air and it's coming.
It may start with the coaching staff. It's hard to imagine Dave Hakstol surviving a trip like this, one that now leaves the Flyers in last place in the Eastern Conference and 29th in the league, just three points up on last place Los Angeles.
And that will only be the beginning. A large chunk of this falls on Dave Hakstol. The lineups are never consistent. He has rolled with a goalie doing modestly well and run him into the ground on numerous occasions. The system has its flaws and it shows. But that doesn't mean the team's lack of success falls on the coach alone.
The players are going to start to feel the effects as well. If there's a responsibility that falls on the players for Ron Hextall losing his job and likely Hakstol losing his, eventually, players start to lose their place on the roster in Philadelphia too.
Fletcher was brought in to turn this team around. In fairness to him, changes weren't going to come right away. It's understandable that an outsider needed to see this first-hand. Somehow, in the six games since Fletcher was officially hired, the Flyers have looked worse than before.
The goaltending is a mess and Anthony Stolarz is the latest to go down with an injury. They need stability in net and fast -- and no, the answer is not Carter Hart.
The special teams continue to struggle. Something isn't right with either group and it's time for change.
The defense is also not improving. Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere are the most noticeable when it comes to mistakes.
The forwards also look lackluster. Nolan Patrick isn't performing. Travis Konecny is in a slump. James van Riemsdyk isn't making the impact he was expected to. The frustration is also boiling over for the core that is still putting up modest numbers, like Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier. Something's got to give there too.
Look, Fletcher noted that he wanted to give Hakstol and this group of players a fair chance to dig themselves out of this hole. That was after Game 25. Six more games have come and gone. It's time.
The Flyers next play on Tuesday night, so there's limited time for anything to be done before the next game. The team flight back to Philadelphia from Vancouver is scheduled for Sunday afternoon, Eastern time, and isn't expected to arrive back in the city until after 5 p.m. So any moves could be on hold for now. That doesn't mean deals can't be worked and decisions can't be made.
This road trip was supposed to be the start of the evaluation process. With some modest success, the Flyers could have kept Fletcher from doing anything for the time being.
Fletcher wasn't brought in as a new voice to watch the team slip further in the standings and further out of a playoff race that was, quite frankly, still within reach as of Hextall's firing. A turnaround was possible mathematically.
But the writing has been on the wall. Hextall was dismissed, Fletcher was hired and it was only the beginning. The additional changes, however, could have waited until the offseason is the first major change made an impact. It hasn't, because making a front office change doesn't change the system or the product on the ice. It's clear now that both need an overhaul.
The earliest changes could come as soon as Sunday or early in the week. With the rosters freezing on Wednesday at 11:59 p.m., there is limited time to make changes. Just like the days following Thanksgiving, when it was apparent something needed to happen, it could be an interesting few days in Philadelphia again.