As you’ve likely heard by now, the Flyers, NHL parent club of the AHL Lehigh Valley Phantoms, have made some personnel and roster moves which will impact the local hockey club in unique ways.
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol was relieved of his duties Monday morning after a dreadful stretch of hockey by the NHL club. It was a long-rumored move following the change in General Managers when Ron Hextall was replaced. The move wasn’t made elegantly as reports of the change leaked out over the weekend via reliable reporting from trusted outlets with solid sources, then denied by the team, then culminated in the very change that had been reported in the first place.
For the Phantoms, it means that head coach Scott Gordon, who returned the Phantoms to the Calder Cup tournament following a seven-year absence, will take over behind the bench in Philadelphia on an interim basis. Defensive coach Kerry Huffman takes the reins in Allentown with Kjell Samuelsson taking over the defense under similar interim designation.
What does it mean for the Flyers?
The Flyers reportedly have their eye on Stanley Cup winning skipper Joel Quenneville. However, he’s still under contract–and getting paid–by Chicago after having been fired earlier this season. Does he want to jump in mid-season? Will Chicago allow it? Right now, Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher isn’t tipping his hand, and Quenneville is spending the holidays with his family. What happens next we can only speculate. After the recent botched coaching change, I’m sure they don’t want us to know anything in advance. Fletcher as the new Philly GM is “considering everyone” which will also include Gordon. It’s been said that the move will not be made until after the season. And, that makes a lot of sense given that more candidates may become available and there will be more time for due diligence.
What does it mean for the Phantoms?
Gordon is said to have the Flyers gig for “the rest of the year” but it’s been uncertain what that really means. Could he come back to the Phantoms at some point? Perhaps. Fletcher has also said that a search is underway for a possible Phantoms coach. This leads me to believe that if Coach Gordon is not the Flyers coach that he’s not necessarily ticketed to return to Allentown. He could be reassigned within the Flyers organization elsewhere if that’s what Fletcher desires. Coach Huffman could be replaced at any time as well, although it makes sense to me that he should stay, given his previous coaching experience and the fact that he is well-liked by players, media and fans alike as far as I’ve been told. Still, we need to remain cognizant that the Phantoms serve at the pleasure of the Flyers and that with a new General Manager in charge of players and coaches it makes sense that changes could be made up and down the organization with regard to the coaches as well as the players (i.e. trades, etc.). This goes double considering the recent foundering of the parent organization on ice and off.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure if we know anything 100% for the long-term. We’re all just “day-to-day” right?
Along with the coaching kerfuffle came the news that top-prospect Goalie Carter Hart would be on his way to Philadelphia along with Coach Gordon. Veteran netminder Brian Elliott has suffered an injury setback, it seems, as well as a 2-3-week injury to Anthony Stolarz last weekend. Michal Neuvirth returns from the birth of his child to serve as the backup as the Carter Hart era in Philadelphia begins. Alex Lyon returns to the Phantoms to take over the lead role in Allentown, while Branden Komm backs him up.
Hart makes the jump, with many who watch the Phantoms closely thinking he’s not ready. He has improved his game since making his professional debut earlier this season, though, with five solid games in a row starting with the trip to Canada at the end of November. His short-term numbers took a bit of a hit in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday, but circumstances surrounding those goals were suspect–despite WBS fans thinking they “lit him up.” We’ll get into some of that in “Hockey Night” tomorrow. So he’s on the edge of ready, in my opinion, but didn’t exactly shove his way to the promotion.
I think he’ll go up and be fine. He’s a supremely confident individual and despite the chaos currently present with the Flyers, he’ll have his AHL coach there with him and the spotlight not necessarily only on him. He’s been kind of openly campaigning for the promotion, if some of the reports I’m reading are to be believed. The concerns I have are two: First, what happens if he gets sent back when/if Elliott and/or Stolarz are healthy? He wasn’t pleased about being sent to the American League to start the season, I can’t think he’d be thrilled with being yanked up and down in the middle of the season. Second, I have my concerns about his ability to deal with the Philadelphia media after having been kept away from the AHL reporters following some early-season adversity. Just as he and his roommate Bunny had to learn about the electric bill, there’s more to being a professional than just the hockey and that’s part of what the AHL is for. Did he have enough time? We’ll see.
The NHL roster freeze starts at 11:59PM Wednesday, following the Phantoms home game versus the struggling Hershey Bears. Keep your eyes peeled for any Flyers move which may impact the Phantoms, prior to that deadline. Tonight is the debut of Gordon and Hart in Philly, while tomorrow is a “Hockey Night In Allentown.” I’ll have a preview post for you tomorrow to get you ready for the tilt with the Hershey Bears.
See you at the arena,