The Philadelphia Flyers fired head coach Dave Hakstol on Monday, the third-longest tenured coach in franchise history ... wait, how is that even possible? He was hired in 2015. [Checks record book] Yikes. That is, like, a lot of head coaches right there.
Anyway, the Flyers fired Hakstol on Monday in the first significant move for new general manager Chuck Fletcher. There were reports Hakstol was going to be let go. He asked Fletcher for a vote of confidence on Monday. Fletcher couldn't offer one. Flyers practice started without a head coach on the ice, and soon it was announced that AHL bench boss Scott Gordon would be taking over on an interim basis.
Thus continues a new era for the orange and black, and one that could end up successful with the right leadership, bold decisions and some good fortune. Here's my plan to get the Flyers on the championship track.
From a philosophical standpoint, play for now
The crux of the Ron Hextall firing/Chuck Fletcher hiring was that ownership had grown tired of waiting for "slow and steady" to win the race. Mostly because "slow and steady" hadn't gotten the Flyers around the first turn of the race since 2012 and basically left them in the starting gate this season.
Normally, you hate to see this kind of corporate meddling, but when have the Flyers ever qualified as normal? Bringing in a veteran hand with a solid track record such as Fletcher to douse a roster in Spray-N-Grow might be exactly what the franchise needs, as so many core players hover around 30 years old. The window to win is open now, the playoffs remain unpredictable and hiring Fletcher means an aggressive move toward championship contention that might be this incarnation's most logical play.
Fletcher, to his credit, said he still needs time to evaluate the roster and figure out what the team requires to bring it to that next level. Having Gordon as the interim coach could help him get a better sense of which younger players to keep and which ones to flip. Remember, one of the reasons the Flyers went outside of their organization for Hextall's replacement was to have someone without any loyalties to the players on this roster -- especially those acquired via the draft -- figure out what to do with them.
"There's still a couple of players that can play a little bit better than what I've seen," Fletcher said. "When there are coaching changes, there are role changes. This will be an interesting part of the evaluation."
Hire Joel Quenneville ... but maybe not right away
From the Department of Overstating the Obvious: There might not be a better fit for the best NHL coach currently without a job and a franchise that needs a new one.
One assumes wherever Quenneville ends up will be a place where he can chase a fourth Stanley Cup with a roster in its prime and with some promise for the future. One assumes he wants to work with management that'll have his back, and Fletcher's father is the guy who first hired Quenneville (as an assistant in the Maple Leafs' system). Their families have been friendly since, according to reports. One assumes he'd like to make a salary higher than the $6 million annually he's due for the next two years from the Blackhawks, who fired him after 15 games this season.
The Flyers have all of this going for them, as well as being something Quenneville likely craves as this point in his career: an unsolvable championship riddle. Could you imagine Joel Quenneville making more than Mike Babcock and leading the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup since 1975 before Babcock coaches the Maple Leafs to their first Cup since 1967? We bet Quenneville can.
At his press conference on Monday, Fletcher said he hasn't asked for permission from the Blackhawks to speak to Quenneville and hadn't spoken to him in over two years.
Time to pick up that phone, sir.
Of course, the thing is: What would compel Joel Quenneville to do anything but sit out the rest of the season and then sign on for the Flyers in 2019-20?
He is getting paid to do nothing but ski in Colorado and tailgate with Chicago Bears fans. He has coached a ridiculous amount of games -- regular season and playoffs, inside arenas and outside in stadiums -- since 2008. The Flyers have a .452 points percentage in 31 games and are eight points out of a playoff spot. Frankly, the best thing for Quenneville to do if he's going to take this job is keep his Midas touch away from the roster and let them increase their Jack Hughes draft lottery odds.
Pray Carter Hart and Nolan Patrick meet the hype
The firing of Dave Hakstol drowned out the big news on Monday, which was franchise goalie-in-waiting Carter Hart getting called up from the AHL. Hextall kept him on the farm despite the team's goaltending woes this season, but management clearly believes the time is now. Over the past three seasons, the Flyers have the fifth-worst team save percentage at 5-on-5 (.918).
The 20-year-old has been projected as the goalie of the future for a franchise that has been the NHL's most infamous goalie graveyard.
"As far as the history with goaltending, I haven't really thought about it as my problem -- it's a problem of past years. It doesn't really affect me," Hart told ESPN this season. "I'm worried about working on me so I'm ready when I get to that next level."
Six of the top 10 goalies in save percentage this season were homegrown products by their teams. The last time the Flyers had one this good was Sergei Bobrovsky. Let's hope Hart is the real deal -- and that the Flyers don't trade him after Year 2 only to see him win a Vezina Trophy elsewhere, as is the story with Bob.
If we're comparing the height of the bar for "become a franchise goalie for the Flyers" and "become a strong second-line center," then Nolan Patrick has the easier task. The problem right now for the 20-year-old, who was the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, is that he hasn't shown much that indicates he's close to being that player. Patrick has 10 points in 28 games this season, including one point in his past 14 games. His lines with Jakub Voracek have been eaten alive at even strength.
There were catcalls that Patrick was overrated when he was drafted, as well as concerns about his stability. He hasn't erased any of those doubts yet; but again, he's 20 years old. The Flyers sure do need him to expedite that potential, though.
Trade Wayne Simmonds
Simmonds is a coveted commodity, with a net-front presence, a goal scorer's toughness that has produced 97 goals since 2015 and a physicality that contenders crave. Which is exactly why the Flyers should flip him to one of the 21 teams that aren't on his no-trade list, getting a bounty of assets back for a player who goes unrestricted next summer.
He has been a valuable part of the Flyers and beloved player, but he's also now a redundancy on the roster, thanks to Hextall's signing of James van Riemsdyk to a five-year deal at $7 million annually. He is worth the raise he'll be seeking, but the Flyers need to reallocate those assets.
Target Alex Pietrangelo
The St. Louis Blues might be on the verge of blowing things up, with reports claiming that general manager Doug Armstrong is listening to trade offers on every player, if not actively shopping them.
Pietrangelo, like many of his teammates, is having an inexplicably poor season. But he's 28 years old and good for 50 points per season and over 25 minutes per game, skating in all situations. Pietrangelo has one more year left on his deal at $6.5 million against the cap.
A trade would cost the Flyers, but this is the type of linchpin defenseman their blue line needs and one that could cause some positive recalibrations in deployment. (Like getting Shayne Gostisbehere away from the toughest matchups.) Or, if this avenue proves too rich ...
Bring in Anton Stralman
Given the money the Tampa Bay Lightning have committed -- and are going to owe pending restricted free agent Brayden Point -- the 32-year-old upcoming free-agent defenseman is likely playing his last season for them. He makes $4.5 million against the cap and still has a few quality years of stay-at-home complementary defense ahead of him.
He's also not a bad role model for the team's younger defensemen to emulate. Of course, since the Lightning could be in a cap crunch ...
Offer sheet Brayden Point
Look, there's seemingly a better chance that Gritty is named the next head coach of the Flyers than any NHL team using offer sheets to immediately better themselves ... but if any team had the want and the financial fearlessness to do it, wouldn't it be the Flyers? And If there was ever an offseason to issue one, wouldn't it be next summer?
Let's get rid of those delusions of grandeur about Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, as it's difficult to conceive the Toronto Maple Leafs failing to match either of them even if the offer sheets are elephantine. Matthew Tkachuk would be just about a perfect Flyer, but the Flames would likely match any offer sheet, especially after his 40 points-in-34 games performance.
Which brings us to Point. Since the start of last season, Point has the 30th-best points-per-game rate (0.94) in the NHL. He brings the kind of two-way game -- explosive offense, shutdown defense -- that puts him in the conversation with the Patrice Bergerons and Anze Kopitars of the world. He has 21 goals in 34 games this season, and he's 22 years old. Point, Sean Couturier and Nolan Patrick up the gut for the next several years could be a very strong group.
The Lightning? They swear they'll find a way to pay him, despite having $6.377 million in cap space next season with just 14 players under contract. If the Flyers swooped in with Nikita Kucherov money (north of $9.5 million in average annual value), what happens? Well, likely the Lightning move out Tyler Johnson and another asset to match the offer sheet, but that doesn't mean you don't try when the player is this good.
When you're in win-now mode -- or at least, "win in the next three years" mode -- everything should be on the table. It's going to be an interesting few months for Chuck Fletcher.