Ron Hextall on Dave Hakstol: ‘He’s the Guy’
When Flyers GM Ron Hextall addressed the media following Tuesday's ninth straight loss, he more or less deflected questions about the head coach and focused more on the players.
But in an interview on NBC Sports Philadelphia's Philly Sports Talk on Wednesday, he made clear that Dave Hakstol's job is not in jeopardy.
"He's the guy," Hextall said. "Dave Hakstol is our coach and he's going to remain our coach."
It can be gathered in the last two days, based on Hextall's comments, that he is trying to cover all bases in protecting his team and defending it. He defended the players' effort on Tuesday night, hold for a poor third period with no energy and focused the task on sticking together to work out of an increasingly long stretch.
Hextall did call the nine straight losses unacceptable.
With Hakstol, the GM was relatively quiet until the interview Wednesday, and he elaborated on the job Hakstol has done this season.
"Hak, first of all, is a very good coach," Hextall said. "He's as hard a working person as I've ever seen in the game. His staff works hard.
"If you look at our young players -- [Ivan] Provorov, [Travis] Konecny, Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton. Nolan Patrick's getting his feet wet. Hak's done a good job with those young kids. There have been lessons to learn along the way. Shayne Gostisbehere, throw him in there. There've been lessons to learn along the way and there always is with young players."
For a GM that put a focus on getting younger in the offseason and allowing kids to get a chance to play, the roster certainly shows the mindset. But the playing time may not reflect that at all times. Danick Martel, who was sent down to Lehigh Valley after playing in four games with the Flyers, was arguably one of the better heart and hustle players in the last four games, but saw less than nine minutes of ice time in each of the last two games. So if you wanted the kids up, why not play them as much as anybody else?
"Whether they get a couple minutes taken away, Hak does a lot of things behind the scenes for young players, older players that help them improve not only short term but also long term," Hextall said. "You get a 19-year-old kid in your line. You have a lot of work to do as a human being.
"I remember myself, as a 19-year-old or, again, some of the kids we have coming up. These are really young people and they've got a lot to learn about being a pro. When you put a 19-year-old in your lineup like Provy last year, Konecny last year, Nolan this year, there's a lot for those kids to learn. Hak's done a good job with these guys."
A nine-game losing streak and a 28-33-14 in the last 75 games dating back to the end of a 10-game winning streak last December make that statement difficult to understand to a fan base who longs for a winning team that can just play consistently.
"Obviously, our fanbase is going through a lot," Hextall said. "It's a tough time for everyone involved, and we're going to rectify it. We're going to find a way to battle through this. No one is jumping ship and I think you just asked me the positive, I would say this.
"Our players haven't started pointing fingers. Our players have stuck together and trust me, I've been in some locker rooms where you go 0-9, guys start to blame other people and get frustrated, and our guys have stuck together and that's a credit to them."
Hextall also reiterated that a nine-game losing streak, no matter how you look at it, is unacceptable. That said, he repeated an answer from Tuesday night, looking at the team's overall play and not the results.
"A nine-game winless streak isn't acceptable probably in most franchises but certainly not in this franchise," Hextall said. "Let's start off with that. My job, and the coaches' job to some degree, too, is to evaluate how well we're playing, not just the results. So our evaluations aren't how well our team plays.
"If we were playing to an 0-9 level right now, that's different than being 0-9 and playing better than that. Again, we're not happy with what's going on. Our players are going through a lot right now. Our coaches are going through a lot, management's going through a lot."
Of course, through Hextall's comments on Tuesday night, there was the proclamation that he believes this is still a playoff team, even after a nine-game losing streak and a 2-5-7 month of November. Hextall is being realistic about that when looking at the standings and seeing a daunting picture, but continued to express the same faith he showed on Tuesday night.
"We're six points out," Hextall said. "Now, six points are more than you think, don't get me wrong, because you have to catch up to the team in the eight spot or the wild-card spot, plus you got to jump the teams over. We have our work cut out for us. We understand that, but two years ago, we did it, I think, in the last 20 or 30 games. We have a lot of hockey left and we got to start playing the way we're capable of playing."
The Flyers are 25 games into the season. Game 26 is Saturday against the Boston Bruins, the first of the final 57 games on the schedule. It has to start there, in a game that Hextall has already called a must-win.
Kevin Durso is Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.