It’s been more than a year since the Philadelphia Flyers promoted Ron Hextall to GM. With Hextall at the helm, the thought was the Flyer great could restore the winning culture in Philadelphia in a hurry. That certainly hasn’t been the case.
Under Hextall in the 2014-15 campaign, the Flyers went 33-31-18, finished sixth in the Metropolitan Division ahead of only the veteran-laden New Jersey Devils and lowly Carolina Hurricanes. Philadelphia was a defensive nightmare, allowing the seventh-most goals against despite a season in which goaltender Steve Mason, when healthy, was among the best netminders in the league.
Despite a 1-0 win Monday, Hextall’s Flyers already appear to be in an early state of disarray. Under new coach Dave Hakstol, the Flyers were blown out 7-1 Saturday evening at the hands of the Florida Panthers, which resulted in a players-only meeting post-game. Through three games, the team has scored four goals and it’s their depth players, not their top-line guys, who are contributing best right now.
On his first day as GM in May 2014, Hextall told media, “There's nothing anyone here won't do to win a Stanley Cup.” It’s early in the season, sure, but maybe it’s time for Hextall to pull out all the stops. As it stands right now, things aren’t looking good for Philadelphia and it could get a lot worse.
That’s not to say Hextall has done nothing. His first major move of Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for R.J. Umberger was a puzzling one, but he did great work over the course of his first season to acquire a 2015 first-round pick, second-round pick, and two third-round picks in trading away Tye McGinn, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn. At the draft, Hextall flipped some draft selections and came out of the first round with blueliner Ivan Provorov and winger Travic Konecny. A good haul, to be sure.
Unfortunately, Hextall took over the GM role less than a month after Andrew MacDonald signed a six-year, $30-million contract extension. Hextall tried everything to move MacDonald but couldn’t, so he demoted the defenseman in order to save $950,000 in cap space. MacDonald’s contract makes him near impossible to trade.
But even with MacDonald demoted, now might be time for Hextall to finally take his deep cut in Philadelphia. With the roster struggling out of the gate, the Flyers need some kind of spark and a roster shakeup could be just the thing to kickstart this group.
There are some untouchables in Philadelphia, though. Captain Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier are going nowhere. Those four players, plus goaltender Steve Mason, are Philadelphia’s core. Matt Read could be on that list, but the 29-year-old has a decent cap hit, can produce and is one of the most movable trade chips the Flyers have. So, that said, where does the shakeup start?
Already, Luke and Brayden Schenn have been mentioned as two potential trade chips in Philadelphia. While defenseman Luke and his $3.6-million cap hit are unappealing in a lot of ways, Brayden is an intriguing player who could draw significant interest. He was a crucial component in the Los Angeles Kings’ acquisition of Mike Richards in 2011, but Brayden is set to reach restricted free agency in July 2016 and the Flyers may not be able to afford a big raise for the youngster. The better move than dealing Brayden would be shipping out high-priced veterans and clearing a path for a youth movement in Philadelphia.
Umberger and Vincent Lecavalier have no-trade clauses and big salaries which could make them hard to move, but with deep-pocketed owner Ed Snider, the Flyers could afford to absorb some salary in order to get assets in return for the two veterans. Lecavalier, especially, could be open to a new locale and another chance at having a decent final run in the league.
There's also defenseman Mark Streit, the soon-to-be 38-year-old who still has two more seasons at a $5.25-million cap hit remaining on his deal. That’s going to be tough for Hextall to move, but even taking on a third of the cap hit would open up a ton of cap space considering the Flyers have less than $70,000 as of Tuesday.
The Flyers overhaul isn’t going to come in the form of shipping out one of the big names, but rather by recuperating whatever possible for the big-money veterans currently clogging up the roster. By moving them, Hextall gives himself financial flexibility and roster spots that should be available for young talent that steps up from the AHL.
On the blueline alone, it’s hard to imagine Shayne Gostisbehere and Samuel Morin couldn’t crack the Flyers lineup were there spots available to them. Instead, the top-six blueliners consist of three players over the age of 33 while Gostisbehere and Morin start the season with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Promising prospect Provorov could also be due a spot as soon as next season.
If Hextall can’t move out the veterans over the course of this season, he doesn’t have much chance of improving his roster in the coming off-season. He’ll have roughly $10 million in cap space with Brayden Schenn, Michael Raffl and Ryan White all due new deals and only 15 players under contract.
Philadelphia came oh-so-close to a Stanley Cup in 2010, but the only holdover from that roster, six seasons later, is Giroux. If the Flyers want to become competitive again, another major overhaul — and this time one that’s well done — is in order. The building blocks are in place with top-end talents in Giroux and Voracek, D prospects such as Provorov and Gostisbehere and the goaltending situation appears shored up with Mason. But until Hextall gets rid of veterans weighing down the roster, don’t expect the Flyers to be challenging for the Stanley Cup.