Flyers

Future Flyers Report: A look at what lies ahead in Ron Hextall's plan

July 1 hasn’t been the same in Philadelphia for quite some time. It was once a day the Flyers were among the busiest buyers in the NHL. I don’t see a return to that anytime soon, either.
 
This summer was another the Flyers stayed away from crippling contracts pursuing short-term fixes on the open market. They filled a need with Brian Elliott and that was it.
 
Looking ahead, we shouldn’t expect this to change, either. This is the world we live in, one in which the salary cap dictates play and history knows the Flyers haven’t lived well in it.
 
This isn’t a column about this season. Instead, let’s use this summer as a predictor for what to expect in the summers of 2018 and 2019 because that’s when things become interesting.
 
It all ties together with Flyers general manager Ron Hextall’s ideology of drafting and developing, a drastic shift in the franchise’s historic operation that is entering Year 4 under Hextall.
 
Sound familiar? We can draw comparisons to the Sixers, but that’s a different sport with a different system. The NBA has a higher salary cap and is superstar-heavy. Teams need multiple stars to win and unless they get multiple top-three picks or get lucky, they have to buy them.
 
That’s not how the NHL works. This isn’t to compare the Flyers to the Sixers, hockey to basketball. But both teams that play at the Wells Fargo Center are rebuilding.
 
One has just been more vocal about it.
 
The Flyers are getting younger after two seasons of putting a stagnant roster on the ice. All signs point to as many as four or five rookies here in 2017-18: Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Mike Vecchione, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg.
 
We’ve written about the youth movement plenty since the end of the season. The Flyers drafted Patrick with the No. 2 overall pick. Lindblom is coming overseas. Morin and Hagg, who both impressed in their debuts at the end of last season, will bring more youth to the blue line.
 
There is plenty more to write about 2017-18, but let’s take a step back for a moment. Let’s take a look at where the Flyers are and what’s ahead on the “course” Hextall set out on three years ago.
 
Salary cap
Hextall was handed a bad cap situation when he took over. The Flyers have long struggled to adapt to the cap world, and Hextall has been cleaning up the previous regime’s mess.
 
The cap increased by $2 million this season. It's up to $75 million from $73 million in 2016-17. The Flyers have slightly over $6 million in projected space, according to CapFriendly.com. They still have some restricted free agents and Patrick to sign. They’ll likely begin the year with, give or take, about $2 million in cap space.
 
Hextall locked up Shayne Gostisbehere for six years with a $4.5 million average annual value. It’s a team-friendly deal compared to what free-agent defensemen land on the market.
 
Next summer, Hextall has three players and $9.6 million coming off the books: Valtteri Filppula ($5 million), Matt Read ($3.625 million) and Brandon Manning ($975,000).
 
Hagg and Morin will be RFAs. The cap will likely increase again. No problems there. But in summer 2019, that’s when things get interesting and could potentially spell trouble.
 
Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and Travis Sanheim will all be RFAs after the 2018-19 season. Wayne Simmonds and Jordan Weal will be UFAs. Both goalies, Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, will be UFAs as well but only one spot will need to be filled.
 
Remember, this is all projection. By 2019-20, we can expect one of the kids in net will be here. With more kids coming, they carry cheaper cap hits but will need cap space for extensions.
 
Looking ahead
We can expect the cap ceiling to continue to increase. Patrick should expedite the process but will not change how it operates. We should keep this in mind going forward.
 
The Flyers have some difficult decisions coming in the summer of 2019, which means don’t expect Hextall to shop in free agency next summer regardless of the outcome in 2017-18.
 
Drafting and developing require hitting on prospects. The Flyers have a highly respected prospect pool, but that has to translate to the NHL in order for this to work.
 
This will play out over the next two seasons. In 2018-19, more kids will join the fray. Where it gets compelling is summer 2019 when Hextall faces his first real tough contract decision.
 
Provorov and Konecny figure to land long-term extensions while we can guess Sanheim will get a decent bump in pay as well on a bridge deal depending on his development.
 
Those will be done. That isn’t the worry. We can take an educated guess Provorov will net a hefty extension with a cap hit larger than Gostisbehere’s. Think in the $5-6 million range.
 
Where it gets murky is Simmonds and Weal, who signed a two-year extension last Thursday. Simmonds will be the most interesting decision Hextall will face.
 
Simmonds will be turning 31 in August 2019 and, barring a major decline over the next two seasons, he’ll be in line for one final big contract. That is where it gets difficult for Hextall.
 
As a fan favorite and the Flyers’ top scorer, Simmonds is among the team’s leaders on the stat sheet and in the locker room. But what do the Flyers do when his contract expires?
 
Will Hextall feel obligated to bring Simmonds back because what he brings in terms of leadership and scoring despite knowing he’ll be paying for Simmonds’ decline years?
 
A lot of it has to do with where the Flyers are in terms of contending, what prospects are at the NHL level and where they are at that stage of their young careers.
 
Then comes the money question.
 
Simmonds signed what has proved to be an extremely team-generous six-year, $23.85 million extension in 2012 at an AAV of $3.975 million. The next deal will be much higher.
 
It will be a tough decision for Hextall and a bridge he doesn’t have to cross yet. But considering he has a long-term approach, it’s safe to suggest this is something on the mind of the front office.
 
So while it’s easy to focus on 2017-18, we also should keep in mind this is a long-term plan. The summer of 2019 will be one in which Hextall faces some difficult decisions. It’s one reason why we shouldn’t expect the Flyers to jump back into the free-agent frenzy in 2018.
 
There has been a lot of praise for what Hextall has done. Despite their rebuild, the Flyers have still been competitive. They made the playoffs in 2015-16 but missed last season.
 
The Flyers’ offseason has been a solid one. Hextall hasn’t boxed out young players by adding veterans in free agency. He, in fact, has opened up spots. They got lucky with the No. 2 pick. There are plenty of reasons to be excited for 2017-18. It should be a fun season — there is no doubt about that.
 
But before we place too high of expectations on the Flyers in 2017-18 because of the of young blood that projects to improve the team significantly, let’s put things in perspective.
 
The Flyers are still a few years away from being considered true contenders. While they should make the playoffs this season, they’re still not there yet.