The man who endured the worst weekend in hockey can only hope his employer puts him out of his misery and fires him within the next eight days. At least that way, Dave Hakstol would be home for Christmas and away from the Philadelphia Flyers, who are firmly in the running for the most dysfunctional organization in professional sports.
As of noon Monday, the only personnel move the Flyer had made was to recall goalie Carter Hart from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, a hugely heralded rookie pro who is tied for the 25th-best save percentage in the American League. Granted, the move was made out of desperation since the goalies for the Flyers seem incapable of either being able to stop a puck or stay healthy, but to put your prized prospect into that cesspool might not be the greatest idea at the moment.
Which brings us back to Hakstol, who was enjoying life and security as the coach at North Dakota before former GM Ron Hextall dragged him into this mess. The most-fired coach of the past two seasons, Hakstol found himself again in the midst of speculation this weekend. After an uninspiring 5-1 loss to Vancouver Saturday, which came on the heels of an uninspiring 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers two nights before, which came on the heels of the Flyer blowing a two-goal lead with 1:08 left in an overtime loss to the Calgary Flames, Hakstol had one foot out the door. Both feet, actually, if you put any stock into several published reports that Hakstol was going to be fired Monday morning and replaced by Joel Quenneville.
It prompted the Flyers to refute the reports, coming out with a statement claiming, “Dave Hakstol is our coach.” With that kind of ringing endorsement, Hakstol promptly went out and took the ‘For Sale’ sign off his lawn. But really, who is kidding whom here? Yes, technically, Dave Hakstol is still the coach of the Philadelphia Flyers. But it is, for all intents and purposes, over. Whether it happens later this week, in the New Year or after the season, Dave Hakstol is effectively finished as coach of the Flyers. If the play of his players hasn’t sealed that, this weekend’s speculation fest sealed it.
First, contrary to what many fans and fake news conspiracy theorists like to believe, these reports do not materialize out of thin air. Somebody said something to somebody and planted the seeds for this thing to germinate. From the time the Flyers fired Hextall last month – one of the theories was because he refused to terminate Hakstol himself – and replaced him with Chuck Fletcher, Hakstol’s days in Philadelphia have been numbered. And after being outscored 22-8 in four losses in western Canada, it was not a stretch for observers to think Hakstol was skating on some very thin ice. Even in the face of the Flyers’ denials, there are still multiple reports that Hakstol will be fired very, very soon.
So the Flyers might want to consider doing the right thing here and firing Hakstol now, or at least before they play the Detroit Red Wings at home Tuesday night. You can argue all you want about how big a part Hakstol plays in the fact that the Flyers have the worst goaltending in the league this season and that defensemen Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere have taken several enormous steps backward in their development, but does it really matter anymore? Hakstol has clearly lost the dressing room, he’s lost the fan base and he’s lost the confidence of his employers. To string him along for even another day, or another minute, at this point is simply cruel.
Unless the Flyers are thinking of totally cleaning house, surely one of Hakstol’s assistants Kris Knoblauch, Ian Laperriere or Rick Wilson could keep the bench warm until they sort this situation out permanently. At this point, it couldn’t be any worse if they decided to put Gritty behind the bench.
But one thing is clear. Dave Hakstol does not have a future as the coach of the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers have a ton of money and are accustomed to paying players not to perform for them. Just ask former goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who will receive $1,642,857 every year through 2026-27 from the Flyers just to stay away from them. Surely they could afford to do the right thing here and allow their coach out of an untenable situation that is only going to get worse for him and the team the longer he stays in his job.
UPDATE: The Flyers announced Monday afternoon that Hakstol has been fired.
"After meeting this morning with Dave Hakstol and thoughtful consideration, I have decided to relieve him of his duties as head coach," Philadelphia GM Chuck Fletcher said in a statement. "As I continue to assess the team, I feel that this is the best course of action for our group moving forward. I'd like to thank Dave for his service to the team and the organization. Scott Gordon will serve as head coach on an interim basis."
More to come.