Ask anyone who has been a Philadelphia Flyers fan for more than two minutes and they will tell you that things change very slowly when it comes to this hockey club. No, I’m not talking about head coaches or goalies or general managers, I’m talking about the culture and fabric of the team itself. The way it does business, tries to improve and deals with issues that crop up over the course of an NHL season.
For as long as this team has been in existence, that culture has began and ended with Flyers chairman Ed Snider. Ever since he founded the Flyers in 1967, he has run this club his way and has had a hand, whether personally or indirectly, in every decision the club has made. Every trade, every personnel move, every former Flyer that found a way back to the club either on the ice or in the front office, Snider had a hand in making that call.
But most important is that when it comes to the Flyers, the concept of a “rebuild” has never been an option for Snider. For the Flyers to do something similar to what the Philadelphia 76ers have been doing the last two years in simply unthinkable.
Instead, fans have watched as the team made huge trades to shake up the roster or went out or paid ridiculous amounts of money for players because they were “the best” at their position. Snider has long believed that the way to win was to go out and buy the best and shiniest toys, no matter the cost, and hope that the wins will follow.
However, all you need do is look at what happened with Ilya Bryzgalov and Vincent Lecavalier to see how that worked out.
So you can forgive much of the Flyers Faithful when there was little doubt the situation would change when Snider named Ron Hextall the new Flyers GM in May of 2014. Hextall was a former member of the Orange and Black, had a good relationship with the Flyers chairman and it looked for all the world like it would be more of the same for the foreseeable future.
Indeed, during the 2014-15 season the Flyers played some seriously sloppy hockey, showing a lack of mental toughness and a failure to play the game at the most basic level. They failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in three seasons and head coach Craig Berube was fired shortly thereafter.
Once the hunt for a new coach began, many were betting money that Snider would do whatever he had to in order to convince Mike Babcock, the hottest coach on the market, to join the Flyers. Money, control, if Babcock was the best out there, Snider would give him whatever he wanted and it would perfectly follow the pattern of what he had done in the past.
So it came as a complete shock last Monday when Hextall announced that the Flyers had hired Dave Hakstol from the University of North Dakota as the club’s new coach.
For the Flyers to remove themselves from the circus around Babcock and instead hire a coach with no pro experience and a reputation for developing young talent represents a seismic change in the way the Flyers do business. It tells everyone that Hextall is actually running the show, not Snider. It shows that possibly the days of the Flyers going out and spending too much for too little may finally be over. And most important, it is a clear sign that the Flyers realize something needs to change within the organization. That maybe a small scale rebuild isn’t a bad thing and that developing young talent within the system has to be a priority.
No one was sure what to expect when Hextall was brought on as GM, but many were thinking it was going to be more of what we had all seen before: bad decision backed by Snider with no tangible results. Instead, we may be seeing the rebirth of the Philadelphia Flyers and a change in the club’s culture that has been long overdue.
The hiring of Hakstol is the first indication just such a change. Let’s all hope it’s the first of many.