VOORHEES, N.J. — Ron Hextall called it a "fit all around."
For Hextall to pull such a trigger in NHL free agency, it had to make almost perfect sense.
"Our philosophy four years ago was more to get our cap in order and gather young assets, and we've kind of been through that process now," the Flyers' general manager said Sunday. "It's coming to fruition in terms of guys we have on our team, and when we can add somewhere to strengthen our team, we want to do it and we'll continue to try and do it."
On Sunday, they did it unlike how they've ever done it under Hextall's watch by signing a big-time free agent: James van Riemsdyk, a 36-goal scorer, to a five-year deal reportedly worth $35 million (see story). Hextall said it was merely about getting better, but the Flyers are in position to take the next step — and can now do so in this manner. With $21.7 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com, and a need for a shoot-first goal scorer along the wing, Hextall was able and ready to act.
"The term we could live with; we can manage our way around the salary cap," Hextall said. "We've looked up, down and all around at different projections for the next few years and we felt comfortable with the term and with the player. We know the person. People inside this organization, obviously it helps.
"We're pretty comfortable with the start and the finish of the deal. If he was three or four years older, it'd be a little different. But we're very comfortable with this age group. He's a fit athlete, he's got good size, and he takes care of himself. We don't have concerns about the term."
van Riemsdyk, now 29 years old, was drafted by the Flyers at No. 2 overall in 2007. In three seasons from ages 20-22, he never scored more than 21 goals. After being traded to the Maple Leafs, he scored 27 or more four times with his 36 markers last season setting a career high.
"I've gotten some more experience. The real big opportunity to expand my role I got in Toronto just because it was a different situation with the team when I had gotten there," van Riemsdyk said Sunday via conference call. "So I got a chance to do some different things, play more of a prominent role on a power play, play some more minutes, stuff like that. I think I've been able to really expand my game in that sort of way, which has been great.
"Overall, style-wise, I think I'm still very similar. I think I'm still a cerebral type of player that can skate well, good offensive instincts and can make the smart plays in all three zones."
So while the Flyers got their "fit all around," there are still some holes left to be filled — shoring up the penalty kill, help on the back end and depth at center. The team's top six looks picturesque with these seven options: van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny and Wayne Simmonds. However, things fall off a bit in the bottom six.
Hextall had previously mentioned the desire to add a third-line pivot but nothing happened Sunday and he doesn't foresee anything changing. He said the team decided to move on from unrestricted free agent Valtteri Filppula, while centers Tyler Bozak (Blues) and Paul Stastny (Golden Knights) both landed three-year deals.
"The term, we just weren't willing to go the type of term," Hextall said. "We had a guy that we were in on, he's gone elsewhere. That's pretty much where we're at and we're not willing to commit on term for someone that is maybe not an upgrade from the guys that we have in-house."
The GM cited Jordan Weal and Scott Laughton as those in-house candidates. He also brought up the option of Giroux moving back to center, which would bolster the team down the middle but hurt it on the wing and possibly take away minutes elsewhere.
Hextall didn't sound overly concerned. After all, he just plugged the second-biggest free agent on the market into his process.
"We think we got better for today," he said. "We didn't give any assets up. We feel like we got a guy who's going to score hopefully 30 goals for us. That's a lot of goals over the course of a year. So we're excited about it."