So this is what stability feels like.
In the wake of the Sixers’ public flirtation with star hunting and the Phillies missing out on Manny Machado, the Flyers will leave July with the lone prized acquisition, with no offense to Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilson Ramos.
Who would have thought?
It wasn’t long ago the Flyers were reminding us that they were the friend who just wanted to chill at the Jersey Shore. Since Ron Hextall took over as general manager, summers have been quiet.
Once upon a time, the Flyers were the wacky pal in town who insisted on taking the check even when they couldn’t afford it. For as long as I remember growing up on the outskirts of Philadelphia, craziness has always surrounded the Flyers’ organization and, boy, was it fun.
The Flyers operated with an all-in mentality under the late Ed Snider. They went for it every year but always came away with disappointment. The summers were lively. While the ice at the rink went dark, they were big players in free agency. July 1 was always circled on calendars.
Off the ice, there was the Bobby Clarke-Eric Lindros feud. That has since been resolved. After the 2011 playoffs, Snider claimed the Flyers were “never going to go through the goalie issues we’ve gone through the last couple of years again.” Seven years and an Ilya Bryzgalov buyout later, the Flyers still haven’t discovered a successful formula in net. Five years ago, an Inquirer columnist and Snider engaged in a verbal sparring match and "culture change" was born. Perhaps, though, the past month is a reminder that the culture has since changed.
Under the current regime, the Flyers have gone from making headlines to shifting to a long-term vision that’s a slow burn.
Hextall’s ideology we’ve written about plenty. Draft and develop, yada yada. But lost in the columns is, how would he blend his long view with the present? This summer provided a distinct answer as Hextall revealed a side of him that we haven’t seen before, a willingness to strike big.
The Flyers struck loudly too. By signing James van Riemsdyk, they landed the second-best player available and did so by working behind the scenes during a time period that not many projected Hextall to buy.
Sure, the Flyers finished last season with 98 points and made the postseason, but they were painfully ousted in six games by the Penguins. It was a series that reminded us the Flyers still have a ways to go.
Over the past few years, the Flyers have fallen to fourth in the Philly sports scene. The Eagles won the Super Bowl. The Sixers have two superstars. The Phillies are in a pennant race. The Flyers are just … there, and it’s a weird feeling. That soon should change.
What the JVR signing accomplished is, the Flyers now have seven top-six forwards, a defense that is a year older and a goalie tandem that, when healthy, was adequate last season. Expectations are going to rise.
Winning a playoff series should be the primary focus for 2018-19. It will be a disappointment if they do not. It’s not a popularity contest, and it shouldn’t be, but for those of us who grew up with the Flyers always being No. 2 or 3 in the city, it’s an odd time to be a hockey fan in Philly.
The JVR signing also validated Hextall’s ability to balance the future with today. Hextall has acquired plenty of chips as GM, and last month, he finally began putting them down on the table. One of the chips he acquired over time was cap flexibility, which allowed him to sign JVR.
Hextall put the Flyers back in the headlines, even if bringing JVR back didn’t move the needle much, and Hextall didn’t broadcast it either. That’s important to note. The culture has changed, and for the better.