In an interview with NBCSPhilly’s Michael Barkann on Wednesday afternoon, Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall sat down to discuss the state of the team, the direction of the organization, head coach Dave Hakstol, and more as of a result of the Flyers dropping their ninth-straight game on Tuesday evening.
Tuesday night following the loss, Hextall told the media that if the team wasn’t playing well, that he would go and say something to the team. He was asked about what positives the team had, despite this streak, and what he would point out to the fan base, who have rational complaints about the state of the organization. Hextall knows that the team is better than their record shows, but the results haven’t been there.
“Nine-game winless streak isn’t acceptable in probably most franchises, but certainly not in this one. So let’s start off with that,” Hextall said. “My job and the coach’s job, in some degree, is to evaluate how well we’re playing, not just the results. If I didn’t know the results of the last nine games, I wouldn’t have an issue with the way we were playing, because I would probably guess we were 5-4 or somewhere in there, which isn’t great, but we would still be in a pretty good spot. So, our evaluations aren’t how well our team plays. If we were playing to an 0-9 level right now, that’s different than being 0-9 and playing better than that.”
Hextall was imperative to note that the he and the team are definitely not content with what is going on at the moment. Furthermore, he talked about how much the adversity is actually bringing the team together.
“It’s a tough time for everyone involved and we’re going to rectify and find a way to battle through this,” Hextall continued. “No one’s jumping ship. Y ou just asked me the positives and I would say this – our players haven’t started pointing fingers, like our players have stuck together. And trust me, I’ve been in some locker rooms where if you go 0-9, guys start to blame other people and get frustrated and our guys have stuck together. And that’s a credit to them.”
At this point last season, the Flyers were in the midst of a 10-game winning streak, among the top five teams in the league, and things were going great. But yet, they failed to make the playoffs and things spiraled out of control. Hextall used last year’s streak as a marker on this year’s team and their current situation.
“That’s a great analogy too, because our 10-game win streak we probably could’ve lost three or four of those games,” he said. “But everybody’s excited that we won 10 games, as were we. The results were there, but were weren’t playing to a 10-game winning streak. So trust me, I don’t look at this now and go 0-9. We’re playing better. I looked at it back then, 10-0 and we’re not playing 10-0. So you do have to keep a balance and a realistic view of your club.”
“Again, the positives of our guys sticking together,” Hextall continued. “The positives of the kids. Our kids have played pretty well. With Andrew MacDonald out and Radko Gudas out, they’re playing probably more minutes than they should play and probably a little higher in the lineup than they should play. And they’ve done a pretty good job.”
Hextall was very stern about developing the young players while also giving them the best chances to grow and succeed. He noted that they were in a situation with MacDonald and Gudas that he hadn’t seen in a long time in the NHL.
“Last year, obviously, Provy and Konecny come in a do a good job. And this year, with the kids that we have in our lineup,” he said. “Currently, Martel has been in our lineup, Morin has been in our lineup. I think I looked a few days ago with Gudas and MacDonald out, our defense corps was 20, 21, two 22-year-olds, and a 24-year-old. That’s five of our six. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before. I know Carolina’s defense is pretty young this year, but that’s a young defense. For them to hold their own, that’s a good sign. That’s part of the future moving forward. Now, we’re in the present right now and we’re trying to win hockey games. We’re not going to dwell on whether we have a young defense, we need to win hockey games.”
Hextall was asked about his position and the notion that he is supposed to be trying to build a winner every night. On Tuesday evening, he told reporters that there isn’t a day that goes by during the season that he isn’t trying to make the team better. Hextall continued that notion on Wednesday, noting that the Flyers are in a similar situation to the timelines to that of the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings, which he saw first hand.
“You know what? I have always said talk is cheap. It does take time. I think if you take a look at Chicago and Los Angeles, and do the timeline when they built, it takes time,” Hextall said. “In saying that, we can be competitive right now. The first eight games everybody was excited. I thought it was a little bit of an overreaction, it’s a small sample size, but we did play well. Our record was good and could’ve been a bit better. I think we gave one game away there. Right now, again, we’re not as bad as 0-9, which thank goodness for that. We need to find ways to win. The one thing you can say – three or four games, we’ve found ways to lose. Critical mistake at a critical time and we have to knock those off.”
He firmly believes that the Flyers are a playoff team. He’s said it since day one and isn’t going to stop saying it. In fact, Hextall pointed to the fact that a few years ago, they erased a deficit with less than 30 games left in the season to make the playoffs.
“I think we’re six points out. Now six points is more than you think, don’t get me wrong, because you have to catch up to the team in the 8th spot or the wild card spot, plus have to jump the teams over,” he said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us, we understand that. But, two years ago, I think we did that in the last 20 or 30 games. So, we have a lot of hockey left and we have to start playing the way we are capable of playing.”
In year three of a five-year plan, Hextall and the Flyers are in a similar situation to that of the Philadelphia 76ers and Phillies. He was asked about his expectations moving forward and when it would be appropriate for the Flyers to start competing and transitioning to being a legitimate team.
“Basketball is a little different because we get 20 players on the ice every night, well 19 with the backup goalie. So you certainly can’t follow that timeline,” Hextall joked. “But again, I think I looked after 20 games and we were right around the same as we’ve been the last four years in terms of points after 20 games. But, I believe we were the 28th oldest in the league and we’re now around 7th youngest in the league. So, as much as right now things aren’t real positive, we don’t feel real positive about things right now – the way they’ve gone recently. There are some positives. And again, we’re a competitive team, we’re a young team, and we’ve got a lot of young kids coming, and we’re going to get better. We’re going to play better.”
Outside of the ninth-straight loss on Tuesday evening, the bigger storyline that emerged was the continuing growth of murmurs – in this case chants – of firing Dave Hakstol. Hextall was asked whether or not Hakstol is his guy, what he has done for player development, and why he thinks Hakstol is the right man to lead this team to the next step.
“Hakstol, first of all, is a very good coach. He’s as hard of a working person as I’ve ever seen in the game,” He said. “If you look at our young players – Provorov, Konecny, Leier, Laughton, Patrick getting his feet wet – Hak has done a good job with those young kids. There have been lessons to learn along the way. Shayne Gostisbehere, thrown him in there. There have been lessons to learn along the way and there always is with young players. Whether if they get a couple of minutes taken away, Hak does a lot of things behind the scenes for our young players, older players that help improve them; not only short term, but also long term.”
He was asked again about Hakstol’s future. Hextall’s response was emphatic and firm.
“He’s the guy. Dave Hakstol is our coach. He’s going to remain our coach.”
Hextall then went on to talk about how the veterans, despite struggling at this point in the year, have been the big components to the team’s success this season. He looked at the top line and said that it would be the coach’s decision to keep them together. But the point that stood out was how, despite some success for Jake Voracek, Claude Giroux, and Sean Couturier, the team is really pressing and doing everything in their power to win… and it’s just not working.
“The veterans have obviously been a big part in the games that we have won this year,” he said. “I think if you look at Voracek, Giroux, and Couturier, they’ve done a terrific job for us. I don’t think you can look at one error that Voracek made, that obviously ended up in our net. It’s more looking at ‘what’s Jake done this year?’ and he’s done a lot of good things. A mistake like that gets magnified right now because we’ve lost nine games in a row. If we had won three before that, win two after, it’s gone. Right now, everything is magnified and we understand that our team is pressing a little bit. Jake’s pressing, G’s pressing… everybody wants to win. Our guys, as much pain as our fans are probably going through right now, our players feel that and probably more because they’re the ones on the ice controlling everything.”
The Flyers return home to take on the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center. They are looking to end their worst winless streak since February of 2008, where the went 0-8-2 in a span of 17 days. Though the Flyers may not know the outcome of their season, Hextall affirmed that the organization is staying true to their process, their beliefs, and sticking together during the most-trying time this group has faced during Hextall’s tenure.
Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images
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