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Patience runs out

Posted by Eric Fisher On November 26

Patience isn’t in the Flyers’ DNA, but they were giving it a try with Ron Hextall. Their traditional win-now attitude was replaced by a methodical rebuilding process.

But patience only lasts if you have faith. And it’s clear that the upper echelon of the Flyers organization lost faith in Hextall.

“It has become clear that we no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team,” Flyers team president Paul Holmgren said in a statement released by the organization. “In light of these differences, we feel it’s in the organization’s best interest to make a change, effective immediately.”

The organization was willing to remain patient as long as there was confidence that the team was headed in the right direction. If there’s no confidence that the team is headed in the right direction, why would the organization continue to demonstrate patience?

Hextall resisted quick-fix solutions while building through the draft. At some point, though, there needs to be progress on the ice. And, in Hextall’s fifth year as general manager, it’s difficult to argue that the Flyers are improving.

The problem isn’t simply that the Flyers (10-11-2) are losing too often. The problem is how they’re losing.

Falling behind 4-0 in the first period twice in three games is embarrassing. The Flyers didn’t appear ready to play at the start of their 5-2 loss to the Sabres last Wednesday or their 6-0 humiliation at the hands of the Maple Leafs on Saturday. This is part of a trend in which the Flyers usually allow the first goal, forcing them to play from behind in most games.

There are some mitigating circumstances. The Flyers have used five goalies this season. Three of them are currently sidelined by injuries. But the goalie carousel doesn’t account for the plethora of turnovers that turn into scoring chances game after game.

It would be more acceptable if the turnovers were the product of filling the lineup with young players such as Travis Sanheim and Nolan Patrick. Teams – and fans – can live with growing pains. But the turnovers are often committed by veterans such as captain Claude Giroux, who was brutally bad during Saturday’s loss to the Maple Leafs, and Jakub Voracek. That can’t be tolerated.

What’s also intolerable for this proud franchise is that the Flyers don’t play with the fire or spark that Hextall provided as a player. The only thing gritty about the Flyers this season is their new mascot.

Many blame head coach Dave Hakstol for the Flyers’ faults. In addition to the turnovers and slow starts, the Flyers’ special teams are awful. Their power play (15.7 percent) is ranked 25th in the NHL; their abysmal penalty kill (69.7 percent) is ranked 30th, ahead of only the Senators.

If the coaching is bad, it’s the general manager’s responsibility to replace the coach. But Hextall continues to support Hakstol, an unorthodox hire because he went directly from coaching in college (University of North Dakota) to the NHL without having any prior coaching or playing experience at the NHL level.

Given that building through the draft is the linchpin of Hextall’s strategy, it is disturbing that many of the Flyers’ younger players seem to be stagnating – at best. After a terrific season last year, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere has a minus-12 plus/minus rating. Third-year defenseman Ivan Provorov has regressed after a stellar sophomore season. Nolan Patrick, the second overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft, has displayed minimal improvement this season.

Defenseman Robert Hagg is the only young or inexperienced player whose play has improved significantly since last season. If the young players aren’t making steady strides, then why should anyone have faith that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel?

Were the Flyers going to win a playoff series next spring? From the way they’ve been playing this season, there is serious doubt as to whether they will even make the playoffs.

If there’s no faith that, in the fifth year of the rebuilding process, the Flyers are making progress, there isn’t any reason to have patience.

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