Modest progress was expected in Philadelphia this season, but not a chance to make the playoffs come mid-March. Yet, first-year head coach Dave Hakstol will lead his surging Philadelphia Flyers’ squad (80 points) into action against the Pittsburgh Penguins (84 points) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday March 18. A potential four-point Eastern Conference Wild Card swing is at stake and schedules are growing short, as the Pens having 12 regular season games remaining, while the Flyers have 13 in the tank. The last meeting between these NHL rivals took place in Pittsburgh on January 21, with the Penguins emerging victorious (4-3). Face-off can be seen at 1 PM ET on Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.
Flyers’ Nation rightfully remains infinitely cautious, almost 41 years removed from back-to-back Stanley Cups. Beloved stories about Fred, Bobby, Bernie, ‘The Hammer’ and the rest of the boys have indoctrinated the masses, all of whom don’t need last names mentioned. Every orange and black devotee is aware of what it will take to rejoice and then partake in parade number 3.
Time will answer all questions, as it always does. And through that chronology this query will be conclusively resolved: Was Ed Snider’s approval of Paul Holmgren’s executive bump in July 2013, the best organizational move in decades? Ron Hextall’s apparent surveillance mission with the Los Angeles Kings was completed and his less-than-one-year tutelage as assistant GM stood as an open invitation to the top front office job. The man who offered his soul to Lord Stanley in 1987, yet was rebuked, was rewarded by becoming top hockey dog in May 2014.
Hextall appears, increasingly, to be a standout general manager in a sport than dooms ineffective transactors. His patient prospect approach appears to spit in the face of his on-ice persona. However, ‘Hexy’ is no less passionate than he ever was. His career transition could be interpreted as masked competitiveness and not be proven wrong, eventually. Plucking Hakstol from nowhere evokes comparisons to Mike Keenan’s hire, without connected emotional outbursts of course. Somehow jettisoning Vincent Lecavalier (also recognized as Chris Pronger trade, the sequel) was just as striking as Hextall’s choice to stand pat at the trade deadline, which subsequently gave this talented, gutsy group a shot at gaining post-season experience this spring.
Shayne Gostisbehere is arguably the Flyers’ most valuable player. That’s also quite the statement, considering Claude Giroux’s quiet team-leading 59-point total, Wayne Simmonds’ team-leading 25-goal mark, Brayden Schenn’s seeming arrival and Michal Neuvirth’s unexpected excellence. With ‘Ghost’ this team has become a playoff contender. Without him, Philadelphia might be floating in the 70-point range. Instead, the Flyers are in the hunt with 13 games remaining. And, the ‘Hextall’ call is heard, once more.