Grading Hak/Hex: Patience, Politics, Patrick

Updated: November 21, 2017 at 2:45 pm by Wes Herrmann

Since last week’s column, the Philadelphia Flyers have not won a game. In the three games, one was a shutout and in the other two, the Flyers squandered two-goal leads. To no one’s surprise, Flyers Twitter is up in arms, calling for trades and firings. But maybe to some surprise, a large amount of the criticism has shifted from coach Dave Hakstol to general manager Ron Hextall. Patient Hextall, Nolan Patrick, Brian Elliott and Sam Morin sum up this week’s look at the Flyers’ staff.

Hextall Stands Pat On Offense

Last time, I wrote about how Hextall decided to not recall Danick Martel from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, who leads the AHL in goals with 14. Since then, it seems like the left winger has started regressing back to the mean.

He hasn’t scored since and his shooting percentage, which was at 28 percent last week, has dropped to 23 percent in two games. Despite that, fans are still calling for Martel in Philly — and there’s merit to that. The Flyers are having problems scoring and Martel isn’t having any issues there.

Now fans are claiming that Hextall won’t recall him because of politics. Again, the fans may be on to something.

Dale Weise and Jori Lehtera, two veteran underachieving wingers, have spots on the Flyers and were brought in by Hextall. Weise has been Hextall’s biggest free-agent signing and Lehtera was acquired in the Brayden Schenn trade to sweeten the deal for the St. Louis Blues so Hextall could get two first-round picks.

Lehtera has been a healthy scratch before, and even started the season in the press box, but Weise has been a consistent presence in the lineup all year. That’s where I believe in the politics bias. Hextall has guaranteed $9.4 million over four years to Weise and would logically want the former Montreal Canadien to succeed.

That may be changing, though. Weise was not a part of the Flyers’ top four lines in practice Monday and should be in the pressbox Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks:

Still, I’m not sure Martel is effective enough to turn around the offense and Oskar Lindblom may not be ready for the NHL quite yet.

What’s best for Flyers fans to remember, is that the team was always going to be a bottom playoff seed at best. With four rookies, an evolving defense and the new franchise center on the roster, fans should just be looking for steps in the right direction over the year. I think we’ve seen signs of that with Sean Couturier and Travis Sanheim.

Reworking Patrick In Slowly

After missing eight games, Nolan Patrick was finally back in the Flyers’ lineup Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets. However, if you blinked, you probably missed him on the ice.

Patrick played just 7:58 of ice time, very little in the third period and none in the overtime or power play. To say that Hakstol was working him in lightly is an understatement.

In the game, Patrick didn’t garner a ton of attention playing in the middle of Weise and Wayne Simmonds. He didn’t record a shot on net, but sandwiched a Jets player behind the Flyers’ net with Travis Sanheim in the second period, showing he wasn’t going to shy away from the rough stuff.

On Saturday, against the Flames, Hakstol loosened the reins a bit, but didn’t drop them completely. Patrick played 13:52, almost six more minutes than the previous game, but still not as much as he’s capable of. However, the Winnipeg native earned second-line distinctions after centering the third Thursday, was returned to the second power play unit and scored his second goal of the season.

Some questioned why Patrick was played so little in his return, but I think Hakstol got it right here. He increased those minutes easily in the second game and Patrick was able to reward Hakstol for it. Expect that to continue Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks.

Patrick is going to play a lot of games in his career. Just because he played about eight minutes in his first back from a possible concussion, isn’t any reason to jump down Hakstol’s throat.

Riding Brian Elliott

If you looked at the Flyers’ loss streak in their last four games, you’d probably wonder why Hakstol kept going back to Elliott and then figure the coach was back to his old ways of riding one netminder. This time, though, the one-man net has been justified.

Before Saturday’s game, the Flyers had given up six goals in their three straight losses. Two of them were by the Wild on an empty net on Tuesday, meaning that Elliott had allowed just four goals in three games.

His was carrying a .949 save percentage and a 1.33 goals against average. During most weeks, that’s good enough for three wins, but the rest of the Flyers couldn’t get it done for him, scoring just two goals in those three games.

Against the Flames Saturday, Elliott’s play faltered a bit, but wasn’t the reason Philadelphia lost. However, the offense finally broke out of its shell and scored four goals.

Unfortunately for the Flyers, they weren’t able to put together a complete game from the offense, defense and goalie. If the team wants to make the playoffs, that will have to come together way more often than not.

On Saturday that came down to Elliott. Still the start should have gone to Elliott and not Michal Neuvirth. After the game against the Flames, though, it may be time to switch to the Czech Republic native. We’ll see if Hakstol continues his correct decisions in net.

Read Waived for Morin?

Sunday night, the NHL finally announced that Radko Gudas was suspended 10 games for his slash to the back of Matthieu Perreault’s head. Monday, it was reported that Andrew MacDonald will not be ready for Tuesday or Wednesday’s game.

The team had just six healthy/non-suspended defensemen and no open spots forcing Hextall to place Matt Read on waivers for the second time this season. The 31 year old was not claimed the first time, so it should be safe to assume he won’t be this time either.

Because of the time this column is posted it’s unknown whether Hextall decided to recall Sam Morin or one of the Phantoms’ veteran blueliners like TJ Brennan or Will O’Neill.

Fans of course want to see Morin in the orange and black. The hulking rearguard had a strong preseason and was a surprise cut at the beginning of October. He’s a part of the team’s future and plenty would argue that Morin should already be playing ahead of Mark Alt.

But Alt has been a solid replacement on the bottom pairing and Hextall and his staff wanted Morin to work on a few things in the AHL. On top of that, this recall may only last a few days before MacDonald is ready. If whoever is recalled will sit anyways, serving as a seventh defenseman, there’s not much reason to recall Morin. Any AHL veteran can do that.

It would be a pleasant surprise to see Morin recalled and played over Alt. But Philly fans have seen from both Hextall and Hakstol that they prefer the safer approach, much like every other management staff around the NHL.

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