Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.
The topic: Grading general manager Ron Hextall's offseason.
A week after free agency, Rogers Sportsnet in Canada ranked all 30 teams for most improved during the offseason.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were the no-brainer No. 1 by virtue of signing the top-rated free agent on the market in center John Tavares. However, there were a number of surprises.
I was stunned to see the Washington Capitals ranked third on that list after losing their head coach Barry Trotz and basically retaining what they already had with defenseman John Carlson and forward Devante Smith-Pelley.
Somehow, the Flyers checked in at 19th on Sportsnet’s list. How does a team that signed one of two available 30-goal scorers not crack the top 50 percent?
When evaluating a team’s offseason, there’s a simple two-fold criteria — who did the organization add and who did it lose, and is the franchise better off moving forward? In the signing of James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers clearly improved by adding a power forward at a very reasonable contract (five years, $35 million).
Additionally, the Flyers didn’t lose an indispensable player that can’t be replaced internally. Valtteri Filppula joined the Islanders and Brandon Manning is now part of the Blackhawks' organization.
Hextall locked up his restricted free agents and the Flyers can go into training camp with a 23-man roster and $10 million in cap space that will be needed as Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and Wayne Simmonds are all looming free agents.
The JVR signing alone should have placed the Flyers in the top 10 of the NHL’s most improved teams this offseason and for the first time since Hextall took over as GM in 2014, there’s an expectation that the Flyers can not only reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs next season but also advance past the first round for the first time since 2012.
With the Flyers' offseason all but officially over, now is as good a time as any to grade Hextall's fifth summer as general manager. Quite frankly, I have to say this might be his best one yet because he found a perfect blend of improving the now and the future.
By signing van Riemsdyk, Hextall gave this team an immediate boost. JVR upgrades the Flyers' top nine and the team now has forward depth. It should have three, strong lines.
One could say Hextall didn't do enough to upgrade the defense, but I like the signing of Christian Folin. He's a righty and a seventh-defenseman type. If anything, Hextall showed faith in his young defensemen by not bringing in anyone else. I like that approach.
Goaltending is status quo, but we knew that coming in. Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth and Alex Lyon will all see time this season and that's OK.
You didn't come away from Hextall's overall draft as excited as in years past, but with their first two picks, I think they struck big. Joel Farabee was the perfect fit, and Jay O'Brien feels a lot like a Morgan Frost-type selection. In a few years, we'll be praising Hexy for it. But for now, I think it was a mostly safe draft.
If I had to hand out a grade, I'd give Hextall an A-minus.
All signs pointed to now being the time for Hextall to become a major player in free agency and push the Flyers' process into a new gear.
The team had just watched the confluence of its core pieces experiencing career years and foundation pieces making big strides.
So what did Hextall do? On Day 1 of free agency, he signs a 36-goal scorer familiar with the organization and the Flyers' nucleus.
That's a significant win in my book.
And it wasn't the only objective taken care of by the general manager this offseason. While Hextall filled a need with van Riemsdyk, he didn't box out any of his youngsters from taking the next step and playing greater roles in 2018-19, an aspect he has always emphasized throughout his construction.
Substantially, the Flyers improved their top six and power play this summer and I like their internal options for help on the back end and in the bottom six.
Time will tell how productive the offseason truly was, but the Flyers should be better, and by a healthy margin. To me, Hextall passed with flying colors.