When the Philadelphia Flyers hired Ron Hextall to become the franchise’s general-manager-in-training, current GM Paul Holmgren heard the message loud and clear.
Win or else.
Holmgren has made a lot of expensive mistakes over the years, topped by the Ilya Bryzgalov Fiasco. He wasted tens of millions of dollars on a goofball goaltender that had less than zero chance of succeeding in Philadelphia.
So Holmgren knows he is on the clock this season. Already he has fired his coach, Peter Laviolette, and promoted company man Craig Berube to that role. He also traded forward Maxime Talbot to Colorado to bring back feisty winger Steve Downie.
Expect more changes as Holmgren tries to jump start this listing team and prod it back into the playoff race. That ugly 7-0 loss to the visiting Washington Capitals was the Flyers’ ninth in 12 games this season.
Holmgren left his executive suite to personally address the team between the second and third period of that Capitals loss.
“The second period was pretty rough,” Holmgren told CSNPhilly.com. “I thought we played pretty good for 15 minutes, and once they scored the first goal, we kind of just stopped playing. I think we just seem like we’re afraid to play the game right now, and we’re afraid to make plays, afraid to battle for pucks, afraid to skate after pucks. It’s tough to watch. I’m sure the players are very embarrassed like we all are. We’ve got to do better than that.”
Nobody is feeling more than Holmgren is this season, although these folks are getting uncomfortable by the day:
Claude Noel. Winnipeg Jets: This team never gained altitude this season. It has never played particularly well for Noel and his message is not resonating in the dressing room. Earlier this season he acknowledged his predicament.
“My job is to get the best out of our team and our players,” Noel told the Winnipeg Sun. “That’s very clear. That’s my job and if I don’t do that, there’s consequences. I clearly understand those things.”
Noel got a one-year contract extension that removed his lame duck stigma, but that additional term won’t dissuade GM Kevin Cheveldayoff from making a change if the current pattern holds.
Darcy Regier, Buffalo Sabres: Last month Sportsnet analyst Nick Kypreos asserted that Regier was all but fired as general manager. Then Regier made a favorable deal for winger Thomas Vanek, getting first- and second-round picks from the Islanders along with winger Matt Moulson.
Vanek is a pending unrestricted free agent who was seeking a fresh start. Moulson is also a pending UFA, but he may be more willing to sign an extension with the Sabres. And if Moulson won’t, the Sabres can deal him later this season to a contender for some more future commodities.
So this was a very good deal, the sort of blockbuster that can earn a GM good will.
Ron Rolston, Buffalo Sabres: With Regier’s stock stabilizing even as the losses mount in upstate New York, the heat shifts from the GM’s office to the coaching staff. Although this has become a retooling season – with goaltender Ryan Miller also on the trade block – relentless losing is bad for business.
Owner Terry Pegula has invested huge dollars in this team and somebody will have to pay for this abject failure.
Kevin Dineen, Florida Panthers: Last month GM Dale Tallon gave his coach the dreaded vote of confidence. “He made the playoffs in his first year as a coach,” Tallon said. “Last year you can’t judge his coaching on what happened. It wasn’t a coaching issue. I believe he’s going to do a great job for us. We were ripped with injury; I’m fine with our coaches.”
But the losses are mounting and attendance in South Florida is suffering. The Panthers staggered through a 1-3-2 homestand. They scored just 10 goals in that span before heading out to play nine of 11 games on the road.
New owner Vinnie Viola can’t be happy with this scenario. Tallon’s patience (or lack thereof) will last only as long as Viola’s patience holds.
Dallas Eakins, Edmonton Oilers: His NHL coaching career is just starting, but his team ranks among the NHL’s biggest disappointments. So far his bosses are more understanding than Oilers fans, who are tired of waiting for this talented team to gain traction.
“I have kids bugging my daughter at school. That’s not very much fun,” Eakins told the Edmonton Sun. “I’m walking my daughter to school yesterday and I have one kid yelling at everybody ‘There’s the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers!’ And my five-year-old daughter gets real excited because, ‘That’s my daddy.’ And then I have another kid yelling, ‘You suck!’”
Paul MacLean, Ottawa Senators: A four-game losing streak dropped the Senators two games below .500 after 13 games. MacLean is an excellent coach who enjoys the support of GM Bryan Murray, but this team expected to contend this season.
MacLean keeps scrambling his forward lines and defensive pairings, looking for solutions. Meanwhile Murray is trying to remain patient.
“I think it's a good group,” Murray told the Ottawa Sun. “We've got lots of talent. I don't think we've played the team game as well as we have to and defensively we have to become more conscious of who is on the end and how to play properly against them. In a number of games, the best players on the other team have beaten us and we've got to match up better and do a better job against them.”
Consider that a warning of some kind.