Ron Hextall Begins Flyers Rebuild in Earnest

Ron Hextall Begins Flyers Rebuild in Earnest
James A Conley

There’s an old adage about having “your guys” working for you, should you be the guy who is put in charge of, say, an NHL team.

It was true of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jim Rutherford, whose first action as the Pittsburgh general manager was to show lame duck head coach Dan Bylsma the door. It will probably be the case when whoever it is to replace Peter Chiarelli in Boston takes a seat and finds Claude Julien in the building.

In Philadelphia, a broader organizational rebuild is going on. It began with the demotion of former GM Paul Holmgren and the hiring of former player Ron Hextall to the same chair, and followed with some in-season trades at last month’s deadline.

Now, the rebuild is extending to the bench, where second-year head coach and former Flyer Craig Berube was let go by the team Friday morning.

From the Flyers,

The Philadelphia Flyers have relieved head coach Craig Berube of his duties with the club, according to general manager Ron Hextall.

Berube was the 18th head coach in Flyers history and was named to the post on October 7, 2013. He recently completed his second season as head coach and leaves the position with a record of 75-58-28 (.553).

Berube was an assistant coach early last season and was tabbed to replace Peter Laviolette, who was fired just a handful of games into the 2013-14 season. After taking the Flyers to the postseason, Berube was brought back for 2014-15.

Despite carrying two of the league’s top-ten scorers, the Flyers couldn’t overcome serious depth problems (finishing 21st in total offense), and ended this season well out of postseason contention. A season-long injury to top defenseman Kimmo Timonen deflated what began as a seriously thin defense corps, and years of indefensible roster maneuvering by former GM Holmgren left the team battling against a tough salary cap position all the while.

And, after reports surfaced that certain players weren’t exactly pleased with Berube, it became clear where this all was headed.

Now, the Flyers throw themselves into an offseason boat that is likely to include a dozen other teams in search of a new head coach, a group that could include prominent franchises like Buffalo (all those prospects, though), Boston, San Jose, Toronto and perhaps even Detroit.

All that competition aside, if Hextall is going to rebuild this team, finding a coach whose vision aligns with his own is the ground floor.

The Flyers aren’t without their assets, and any new coach is likely going to have to come in with a plan to maximize and support the speed and skill that already exists at the top of the roster. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are lethal offensive weapons on the first line and on the power play (where the Flyers ranked 3rd overall this season), and Wayne Simmonds isn’t far behind. We’ve profiled here how good Steve Mason has been, and a little more goal support should illuminate what have been otherwise great numbers from the oft-maligned goaltender.

And, at the trade deadline, Hextall at least began his job of maximizing the roster around those assets, trading Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn for a fine haul of picks and prospects.

That said, no matter who Hextall brings into Philadelphia, the biggest job will still be the untangling of the team’s hideous salary cap conundrum — a job that has to be handled independent of whoever takes over behind the bench.

This roster still carries a number of bloated contracts to players like Andrew MacDonald, Vincent Lecavalier and R.J. Umberger, and still has yet to recover from ill-fated deals that moved out players like Jeff Carter, Sergei Bobrovsky and Scott Hartnell. Moving those big contracts and freeing up money to sign more useful players for the new coach to work with still falls on Hextall and his staff, even if the mess they are to clean up isn’t of their own doing.

(And that can only become more difficult if the salary cap remains stagnant next season.)

The Flyers aren’t likely to name Berube’s successor anytime soon. A number of would-be candidates are still unavailable, not the least of which are Mike Babcock (whose team is still in the postseason), Todd McLellan (whose team still has yet to formally part with him) and perhaps even Julien, who is likely to be let go once Chiarelli’s successor is named.

However, the rebuild is definitely on in Philadelphia, where short-term moves aimed at competing for the postseason have finally taken a backseat to a more long-term approach favored by Hextall.

That’s a path not often taken by the cash-rich and usually successful Flyers, but it’s long overdue that they take it. Finding the ideal coach to help lead them down that path is only one of many moves yet to be made.

I’m on

James A Conley

James is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His work also appears at Pensburgh, ThePensNation, Sports and Shnarped. Shower him with your praise and adulation on twitter, @SlewFooters.

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