Flyers

For Flyers, it's not a popularity contest — and it shouldn't be

For Flyers, it's not a popularity contest — and it shouldn't be

While the Eastern and Western Conference Final series pick up, the Flyers will continue to outline their offseason plan as much as possible.

One thing that won't sneak into Ron Hextall's agenda is outside pressure.

If it did, he wouldn't be doing his job.

But Hextall is human. From the seat in which he sits and dissects decision after decision, he feels the daily stresses of general managing a hockey team with such a passionate following. Those fans haven't seen a playoff series victory since 2011-12 and a Stanley Cup championship since 1974-75.

That isn't lost on him.

"We all have pressure," Hextall said last month. "Pro sports is pressure. There's pressure on all of us. Now how you handle that pressure, you better handle it right. My philosophy is I do what I believe is right.

"I'm not going to do something to make me popular. I'm not going to do something that's going to take away from the success of our team to put a few more people in the stands."

Nor should he — that's not how you general manage.

Don't like him? Tough. 

Hate his patience? Sorry.

Hextall can't care about that — he made it clear he's not here to be liked. Even as the Philadelphia sports scene rises back into contention, Hextall will stay the course he carved out from the start and the one that ownership has faithfully backed.

"We're not going to change what we set out to do four years ago," Hextall said. "We put a plan in place. To go sideways now would be the wrong thing to do.

"It sort of took two years to get the wheels in motion and we're on plan. Are we happy where we're at right now? Hell no."

There's merit behind the Flyers' belief in their pace and path to an ultimate goal of contending for multiple Stanley Cups, not just one.

Dave Scott, the president and CEO of the team's ownership group, Comcast Spectacor, expressed no concern following last season in which the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third time over the past five campaigns. Despite the drop-off in 2016-17, Scott said it was "a terrific year from the business perspective."

"It was probably one of the best years we've ever had," Scott said in April 2017. "Ron's our guy. We believe in the system, we like the vision, we like the strategy, the pipeline. These young players coming up, there's a lot of excitement. From the business side, it's been terrific."

During the 2017-18 regular season, the Flyers were third among the NHL in average attendance at 19,517, according to multiple websites. They were sixth in 2016-17 with 19,644. This season, the roster also became younger and more competitive (trends that should continue), resulting in 42 wins and 98 points, both highs under Dave Hakstol, who will be entering his fourth year in 2018-19.

These are reasons why Hextall won't make reactionary moves this offseason.

He never does and won't start now just because the pressure gauge is ticking to new heights. If fans haven't yet comprehended the Flyers' motives, they'll have to start trying.

Or they can make their own decision, a power they've always possessed.

"If we're successful, the people are going to be in the seats," Hextall said. "If you look around the league, we’ve got very good attendance. That's a little bit harsh when you talk about attendance. Our attendance has been very good. Our fans are terrific.

"We're not going to make a change to appease people or because we are supposed to or for whatever reason. We're going to make changes to get better."

Popularity be damned.

Chuck Fletcher reportedly will hire Brent Flahr as Flyers assistant GM

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Chuck Fletcher reportedly will hire Brent Flahr as Flyers assistant GM

Chuck Fletcher reportedly has found his assistant general manager, and it's not at all unexpected.

The Flyers will hire Minnesota senior vice president of hockey operations Brent Flahr as their AGM, according to The Athletic's Michael Russo.

Per Russo, Flahr is expected to join the Flyers this week during their Western Canada trip.

Flahr will replace Chris Pryor, who was fired along with assistant coach Gord Murphy two days after the Flyers fired Ron Hextall on Dec. 3.

So who exactly is Flahr and what his main duties be with the Flyers?

Flahr has worked with Fletcher in Florida, Anaheim and Minnesota and was Fletcher's right-hand man from 2009 until last May. Flahr took over as interim GM after the Wild fired Fletcher. This season, he's strictly been amateur scouting while maintaining his title of senior vice president of hockey operations, according to The Athletic.

"Brent is one of the top talent evaluators in the NHL and was an integral member of Anaheim's scouting staff on their 2007 Stanley Cup team," Fletcher told NHL.com in 2009 after hiring Flahr as his AGM in Minnesota.

The 44-year-old is expected to head the Flyers' amateur scouting department, which Pryor oversaw as director of player personnel and assistant GM.

During his time with the Wild, Flahr was responsible for drafting Matt Dumba, Alex Tuch, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin, among others. That's just a short view into Flahr's background.

With Flahr reportedly on board, the Flyers' front office under Fletcher is now taking shape, which is good timing because the holiday roster freeze is eight days away.

There have already been heavy rumors the Flyers would like to a veteran defenseman, a goalie and a top-nine forward.

With hiring an AGM now off his to-do list, Fletcher can now fully focus on improving the NHL team. Buckle up, the new few weeks figure to be a wild ride.

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Michael Raffl has trade value, and Flyers have a decision to make

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Michael Raffl has trade value, and Flyers have a decision to make

CALGARY, Alberta — Western Canada was Michael Raffl’s sound of music last season.

When Dave Hakstol reshuffled his lines heading into last season’s game at Calgary, the Austrian took on a Frankenstein-like awakening, scoring the game-winning goal in each of those three victories when the Flyers swept the Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver road trip for the first time in 21 years. 

Raffl also contributed a point in five straight games during that stretch, the longest such streak of his career.

“We’ll have to wait and see, but I’m very excited,” Raffl said of playing with Jake Voracek and Sean Couturier. “It’s definitely not the same. I’ve felt as good as ever since I came back. It’s a great opportunity for me to step up and do something.”

Now five games back in his return from a lower leg injury, Raffl has been one of the Flyers' better forwards and the 30-year-old could be on the verge of putting together a stretch of solid performances that could increase his value. 

Which leaves you asking: what exactly is Raffl’s future in Philly, and should the Flyers look to strike if he gets red hot again? 

It was generally assumed under the Ron Hextall regime that Raffl would test the free agent market this offseason after signing a three-year extension in February 2016. With Chuck Fletcher now calling the shots, the situation is a little more difficult to read. Raffl had an injury-plagued season in 2016-17 and was inconsistent through 2017-18.

Right now, re-signing Raffl is probably not too high on Fletcher’s pecking order with the Wayne Simmonds dilemma coupled with extensions for Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny.

“I was struggling my first contract year and I basically wasted a year just thinking about wrong stuff,” Raffl said. “I’m not going to let it bother me again, so I’m chill.”

Cool and calmness aside, the next two months could ultimately determine the next chapter in Raffl’s career.

For a player that doesn’t get a sniff on the power play, his numbers could be in the 30 to 35-point range for someone with his size, skill and ability to control the puck. He plays significantly better when paired with Voracek and more skilled forwards, while he also has a tendency to take his foot off the pedal when he’s relegated to a third or fourth line.

Raffl becomes a valuable asset for a general manager looking for versatility in their bottom six. He’s a strong forward who plays big, kills penalties and plays both wing positions. He can also even be a net-front presence on a second power-play unit.

“I believe he relishes those opportunities,” Hakstol said. “One of the reasons he’s been successful is, he doesn’t change his game. He stays within what gives him success. He plays straight line, power hockey. Possession hockey.”

Raffl also has an expiring contract at a very manageable $2.35 million cap hit, which makes his situation even more appealing.

There’s value with Raffl that could pique a team’s interest.

The Flyers just need Raffl to be playing at his peak.

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