Change Abound: Goulbourne, Pickard Demoted; Pryor, Murphy Fired
When Ron Hextall was fired on Monday morning, we all knew it he was just the first domino to fall. An NHL team doesn't fire their GM and pretend everything else is fine, they fire him because changes needed to be made.
This is especially prevelant in the case of the Philadelphia Flyers. Coming off an embarassing 4-3 collapse Tuesday night against Ottawa, one where Jakub Voracek said the team felt "scared" after the Senators scored their 2nd goal, and without a game until Saturday, more changes were likely to be made. The hammer dropped on 4 individuals Wednesday morning - 2 players (1 waived, 1 outright demoted), a coach, and an assistant GM.
After a brief 2-game stint in his 2nd callup of the season (he didn't play at all the first time), Goulbourne was sent back to Lehigh Valley Wednesday. It makes sense; with the return of Michael Raffl, Philadelphia now has 13 healthy forwards, meaning they didn't need Goulbourne in case of emergency.
However, with Ron Hextall gone, it is very questionable whether we'll ever see Goulbourne in the NHL again. Over the past year and a half, Goulbourne had been called up on 3 seperate occasions - all times when the Flyers were playing uninspired hockey and looked like they needed an energy boost. Rather than buy some Red Bull for everybody, Goulbourne was Ron Hextall's solution to the problem (keep this phrase in mind, you'll notice a theme). Predictably, in 11 career NHL games, Goulbourne has done little of note - a thunderous hit on Alex Pietrangelo on his first NHL hit to set up a Scott Laughton goal remains the only notable contribution he's made to the team. Assuming the next GM doesn't share Hextall's sentiment of seeing Goulbourne as an energy booster rather than a 4th-line AHL enforcer, it would take a miracle or a plethora of injuries to bring Goulbourne back up.
Pickard was certaintly the more surprising of the 2 players sent down - just 5 days ago he delivered an impressive 31-save shutout against the New York Rangers. He was largely viewed as 3rd on the Flyers goalie depth chart since he was acquired off waivers from Toronto prior to the start of the season, which meant he received a lot of playing time, since both Neuvirth and Elliott have had injury troubles this season.
The fact of the matter is that Pickard simply did not play like an NHL-caliber goaltender for any extended period of time while he was a Flyer. He may have a respectable career .909 save%, but in 11 games with the Flyers it was just .863%. More than likely, Anthony Stolarz's solid appearance Saturday in relief of Pickard (who allowed 4 goals on 6 shots) and Tuesday pushed him over Pickard. That leaves just one healthy NHL goalie for the moment, but it seems like Michal Neuvirth will be back Saturday as he was updated as day-to-day recently (Elliott was downgraded to week-to-week status).
Pickard will be available for the other 30 NHL teams to claim off waivers until Thursday at noon; if not claimed, he will likely be assigned to Lehigh Valley as well. It is worth nothing that because Pickard played more than 10 games/was on the roster for more than 30 days, I don't believe Toronto has the option of claiming him and being able to send him down to the AHL without putting him through waivers again (I could be wrong - the CBA can be confusing). Although after the way he played against them Saturday, I'm not sure they'd want him back anyway.
While neither of the 2 player transactions are major deals, the other two moves are certaintly significant. Murphy, hired in June 2014 by Hextall, was responsible for coaching the Flyers defense, which has certainly had it's ups-and-downs in his tenure. Like Hakstol, not all of the problems were Murphy's fault - the defense has lacked a legit top-4 his entire tenure, and it wasn't his decision (at least not in full) to play useless veterans like Brandon Manning and Andrew MacDonald in roles too great for their limited skillsets.
Yet the fact of the matter is that the defense, especially early in the season, has lacked structure. While better at 5-on-5 than the PK (that's not Murphy's responsibility), the Flyers have often hung their goaltenders out to dry throughout the year. The struggles of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere this year have not helped things either. The fact of the matter is that there were likely to be consequences after Tuesday's collapse, and who else to fire but the defensive coach after the team blew a 3-1 lead in 5:29 span?
Of all the changes made today, Pryor's firing was probably the biggest. Pryor was in his 19th season with the Flyers, his 3rd as Assistant GM and Director of Player Personnel. He had been director of hockey operations from November 2006 - August 2016 (when he was named Assistant GM), making him a large part of the Flyers draft day selections over the last decade, something that had always been a strength under Hextall. There was a good chance Pryor would be let go when a new GM was hired, but instead, he was let go Wednesday morning along with Murphy.
So what do these 4 moves have in common? Surely there isn't that much of a connection between a fringe-NHL enforcer, a 3rd string goalie, defensive coach, and assistant GM? The answer: they were all put in their current positions by Ron Hextall. Goulbourne may have been selected by Holmgren and Pryor hired by Bobbie Clarke, but all of them had been promoted to the levels they were at Monday by Hextall. Now that Ron is no longer with the organization, "his guys," both in terms of those who he brought in and those who shared the same "philosophical differences" with Holmgren and management as Hextall did are on thin ice.
These will almost certaintly not be the last moves made, although for now, it appears the firing spree will be on halt. Holmgren said, "We do not antcipate further personnel moves in the near term," basically stating that until a new GM is found, everyone is safe. Once that vacany is filled, change will be right back in the forefront of everyone's mind as the new hire looks to make his stamp on the Flyers either behind the bench, on the ice, or both.