Hextall’s patience failed to move Flyers forward
The Philadelphia Flyers did things a little differently.
After the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, and St. Louis Blues all fired their head coaches over the past month as a result of their disappointing starts, the Flyers decided to go in a different direction on Monday by keeping their coach (for now) and instead parting ways with Ron Hextall, the general manager who assembled the roster.
Team president Paul Holmgren said in a statement that it had become clear they “no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team.”
What exactly that means still remains to be seen. Was there a disagreement on the fate of head coach Dave Hakstol, with Hextall maybe not wanting to fire with the guy he hired? Or was Holmgren and Flyers ownership simply fed up with a lack of progress and what has become a stale, consistently mediocre team?
The results do not lie. In the Flyers’ four full seasons under Hextall they made the playoffs twice, missed the playoffs twice, never recorded more than 98 points in a single season, never recorded fewer than 84 points in a season, never finished higher than third place in the division, and never got out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
At times they would lose 10 games in a row, and at times they would win 10 games in a row.
There was never any consistency, except for the final mediocre result in the standings every year.
A quarter of the way through season five the team looks to be headed for a similar finish, and management had apparently seen enough.
[Related: Flyers fire GM Ron Hextall]
What stands out about Hextall’s tenure with the Flyers is that he didn’t really do anything to hurt the team long-term. They are not in a worse position today compared to when he took over. If anything, he did quite a few good things early on to help improve their situation. He ditched a lot of troublesome contracts in Vincent Lecavalier, Nicklas Grossmann, Luke Schenn, Braydon Coburn, and the end of the Chris Pronger contract, while also getting some decent value back in return.
In exchange for those five contracts he acquired Jordan Weal, Radko Gudas, and the first-round draft pick that would eventually become Travis Konecny, all of whom are still members of the team today. That is probably more than could have been reasonably expected based on what he was giving up at the time.
In the first round of the 2015 NHL draft they selected Ivan Provorov and Konecny with the seventh and 24th overall picks, both of whom are now core parts of the team.
They selected Carter Hart, their (hopeful) goalie of the future, in the second-round of the 2016 draft.
And while trading Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera may have downgraded the team in the short-term, the trade did net them first-round picks in 2017 and 2018, giving them multiple selections in each of those rounds.
His outlook was clearly more long-term, not only with the way he made draft picks the key part of the (Brayden) Schenn trade, but with the way he refused to part with any of the team’s young prospects in an effort to make the team better right now.
Just take a look at all of the players and assets Hextall traded since the start of the 2016-17 offseason.
Filppula, Tokarski, and Mrazek were all basically acquired out of desperation due to injury situations at center and in goal in those years, but the main focus is clear -- draft picks and the future.
That patient approach was also evident when it came to free agency where the Flyers were mostly quiet under Hextall. It wasn’t until this past summer when they brought back James van Riemsdyk on a five-year contract that the really tried to make a big splash on the open market.
Before JvR, the two biggest free agent signings under Hextall were Dale Weise and Brian Elliott.
The common theme you keep coming back to here is simply, this move isn’t great, but it’s also not really terrible. Do you know what that gets you on the ice if you keep making moves like that? A team that isn’t really great, but also not really terrible. In the end that will probably be Hextall’s lasting legacy the Flyers’ general manager.
His patience and methodical approach to building the team might work out in the long-run, but it was clearly not working for an ownership that seemingly grew tired of not seeing any real progress at the NHL level.
It’s okay to have faith that Hart might one day, finally, solve the Flyers’ cursed goalie position. It’s okay to believe in Shayne Gostisbehere and Provorov as the foundation of the defense for the next eight years. It’s okay count on Nolan Patrick and Konecny to be your future at forward.
But you can still do all of that while also making some improvements in the short-term to try and take advantage of a roster that still has top-line veteran players in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Wayne Simmonds on it.
You don’t have to keep turning to a revolving door of mediocre goalies as stop-gap options until Hart is ready.
You can try to find some better defenders to complement Gostisbehere and Provorov, even if it means trading one of your many first-round picks or a couple of prospects.
Hextall was seemingly unwilling -- or unable -- to do that. It resulted in a team that was stuck in neutral for too many years, and leads us to where we are today.