Flyers axe head coach Hakstol in midst of 4-game skid

The house cleaning continued in Philadelphia on Monday, with the floundering Flyers firing head coach Dave Hakstol, three weeks after general manager Ron Hextall was let go.

New GM Chuck Fletcher made the call with the NHL club in the midst of a four-game skid and last in the Eastern Conference with a 12-15-4 record, 10 points shy of a playoff spot. Fletcher joined the Flyers for the last four games of a just-completed five-game trip during which they allowed 22 goals.

"After meeting this morning with Dave Hakstol and thoughtful consideration, I have decided to relieve him of his duties as head coach," Fletcher said in a statement released by the team. "As I continue to assess the team, I feel that this is the best course of action for our group moving forward."

Scott Gordon has been named interim coach. The former New York Islanders bench boss was in his fourth season behind the bench with the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate in Lehigh Vallley, where he guided the Phantoms to a 15-9-2 record this season.

"We let our goalies down, we let our fans down, we let everybody down," defenceman Radko Gudas told reporters recently. "It's not on [Hakstol's] shoulders entirely. It's the fault of ours."

Upon his hiring Dec. 3, Fletcher said he wanted Hakstol to succeed but the final straw was a 5-1 loss on Saturday in Vancouver, the fourth-year head coach's 277th game behind the Philadelphia bench.

Surprise hire

The third-longest tenured coach in franchise history lost his biggest backer in Hextall, who was dismissed by Flyers president Paul Holmgren on Nov. 26 after four-plus seasons because of "philosophical" differences concerning the direction of the team.

Hextall stunned the league in May 2015 when he hired Hakstol, a coach with no NHL experience, out of North Dakota and watched him guide the Flyers to a 42-26-14 mark last season and two playoff appearances in three years that were followed by first-round exits.

He leaves with a 134-101-42 record and one season remaining on a five-year contract worth a reported $ 10 million US.

Despite some success, Hakstol wasn't free of criticism, with the Flyers struggling in several areas that led to the team's downfall:

  • The NHL's worst home record this season at 5-7-2.
  • A power play that ranks 29th among 31 teams (12.9 per cent) and a 30th-ranked penalty kill (73.5 per cent).
  • Inconsistent goaltending — ranking 29th in goals against per game (3.74).
  • They have allowed the first goal in 21 of 31 games.
  • Philadelphia has been shut out or held to one goal in 10 of 31 contests.

Entering the season, Flyers management's expectations were to win a playoff round for the first time since 2012, but some have said Hakstol and the players never seemed to be on the same page.

Regression

The belief was that Hakstol, having worked with similarly aged players at North Dakota, could help develop the team's many prospects. While defenceman Ivan Provorov and forward Travis Konecny improved during his tenure, many young players have regressed in the first half of this season.

  • Defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere, who posted a career-best 65 points last season, has three goals in 31 games, is on track for 34 points and has a league-worst minus-18 rating.
  • Centre Nolan Patrick, the second overall draft pick in 2017, has one point in his last 14 starts and 10 points in 28 games overall.

Another knock on Hakstol was the Flyers routinely starting slow in games and unable to recover as evidenced by their winning just six times in 21 games after allowing the first goal.

According to the Courier-Post, a newspaper in South Jersey near Philadelphia, Hakstol it wasn't uncommon for Hakstol to reduce a player's role in-game "and shelter them from certain situations or opponents," further damaging their confidence.

"We've got to focus on what we can do to bring this locker room together," forward Scott Laughton said recently. "We've got to get back home and fix this quickly."

Philadelphia hosts the 14-15-5 Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday before tougher home matchups against Columbus (17-12-3) and Nashville (22-10-1) later in the week.

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