Ron Hextall’s Easy Offseason Will Improve Philadelphia’s Future Fortunes
By: Ryan Kiray (@RyanK_THG)
New Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall is undoubtedly already preparing for the 2014 offseason.
In a move that surprised no one, Hextall assumed the GM’s throne in the City of Brotherly Love on Wednesday when Paul Holmgren became the team’s president. Holmgren’s tenure as GM is difficult to assess; positives like a trip to the Stanley Cup finals and the emergence of young stars like Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux are as frequent as negatives like the disastrous free agent signing of Ilya Bryzgalov and missed playoff berths. Hextall will be tasked with continuing Holmgren’s on the fly reshaping of the team and its continued trek towards the Stanley Cup.
Fortunately for Hextall, his docket is light this summer, and Holmgren left him a solid foundation on which to build.
The only truly significant free agent on the roster is Kimmo Timonen, and at his age it will be difficult for Hextall to foul up by offering a cumbersome long-term deal. Deciding what to offer Brayden Schenn will be a bit of a challenge considering that Schenn has yet to truly make the leap to top-six staple, but one big decision is hardly a heavy load for a GM. Hextall also has comparatively little to deal with compared to say, Ron Francis, whose Carolina Hurricanes are saddled with a number of rough contracts and a fleet of expiries. With prospects like Scott Laughton and Shayne Gostisbehere ready to compete for roster spots, if Hextall chooses to sit on his hands with his pending free agents, the damage will likely be minimal.
Hextall will be tasked with upgrading a disappointing defensive corps that left Steve Mason to bail the Flyers out too often during the team’s first round exit. Five of the Flyers’ regular defensemen will still be under contract next season, but there is no standout among the group and one or two (we are looking at you, Nicklas Grossman), could stand to spend a portion of the team’s games in the press box. Rather than chasing the probably unobtainable pipe dream of prying Shea Weber away from Nashville, Hextall will want to search for a top-four defenseman and some depth for the corps.
Philadelphia’s goals per game figures were pedestrian last season, but Hextall would do well to resist the temptation to do the Holmgren thing and go after an expensive, big name free agent. The right 25-goal scorer could cost less than $4 million per season, and allowing young players like Sean Couturier to develop as planned could take care of the rest. Given that the Flyers are in a tight cap situation and only recently managed to shed themselves of two cumbersome long-term deals, it makes little sense to retread failed paths and create another cap headache. However, as wiser men than this space’s author have opined, the fact that Holmgren held on to his job after the Bryzgalov fiasco speaks volumes about owner Ed Snider’s involvement in the addition of some of Philadelphia’s expensive deals; as the Shea Weber offer sheet shows, Snider has a disturbing penchant for trying to make his GMs buy a championship.
One can hope that Hextall’s management style is not indicative of the past Philadelphia Flyers culture in which he was raised; the day of bullying your way to the Stanley Cup championship is over, but too often Holmgren’s teams were caught in between the more skill-based style of the current era and the rough-and-tumble Broad Street Bullies style. Tough teams and tough styles are good in appropriate measure, and Hextall knows enough about that style to employ it to a reasonable degree. Hextall has a number of skilled players that cannot be easily obtained and a balanced elite roster is within reach. Hextall can also hit the ground running this offseason without worrying about causing lasting damage via typical first timers’ missteps. In short, a new era has dawned in the NHL; with a new era set to begin in Philadelphia, the new Flyers’ administration can (comparatively) easily continue to reshape its culture on several fronts. Hextall’s mark may take a few more years to show itself than is typical for new GMs, but in the long run the ability to change slowly and build upon a solid foundation will benefit both him and his team.