This is a peculiar time for Ron Hextall.
In one facet, it's his time, precious for a build-from-within disciple who must feel like a kid on Christmas when the NHL draft arrives.
Then again, it's a weird time. Shortly after the Flyers' general manager unwraps his gifts and adds them to the toy bin, NHL free agency hits. Not a time when Hextall likes to play. Quickly, Christmas turns into the first day of school.
It's that time of year again for Hextall. The question is, have the times changed for the GM?
With the Flyers entering Year 4 under Dave Hakstol and looking to take the next step forward, some wonder if Hextall is ready to make free agency his new time. After all, much of the organization's youth is here and contributing, the core isn't getting any younger and the Flyers have more financial wiggle room — thanks to Hextall — with $17.2 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.
But if Hextall's vision was ever in danger of shifting, an expansion team's marvelous story lent credence to his plan, reinforcing the belief in the way he operates and constructs his own hockey team.
When asked Thursday about the constant chatter regarding his core's clock and the team's youthfulness catching up to it, Hextall spoke with conviction and at length.
"They might have different roles; you almost might not depend on them quite as much because your younger guys are coming up and taking a bigger piece of the pie," Hextall said. "So all of a sudden you don't need one guy scoring 85 points, he can score 75 points or 70 points because we've got these kids coming up that are scoring more and more.
"That's how you build a team. You don't build a team by having three top players and they go out every power play and they win you games. It's just not the way it works. You saw — Vegas is a good example. They were the best team in the league. Not the best talent, they were the best team. Teams still win. Teams still win. And that's what we've got to continue to build."
So if you were hoping Hextall was tinkering with the thought of making a free-agent splash, think again. He will stick to his guns and always has, constantly stressing the importance of never deviating from the course set at the journey's start.
None of which is to think Hextall won't utilize free agency to improve. He will make additions strategically and judiciously, but doling out money and years to a stud won't happen.
And the moment Hextall reaffirmed his M.O., the pressure picked up.
On all levels.
On Hextall's faith in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and the mainstays delivering star-like production.
On the young foundation pieces taking heftier strides to lighten the loads for the veterans.
On the scouting and development personnel finding and molding game-changing talent.
And on the confluence of Hextall's motives and ultimate goal.
"We are still the ultimate team sport and I think Vegas proved that to all of us this year. The more we move along here, the more society, pro sports seem to put a spotlight on a star, and that's fine, but that star has got to have his teammates in our sport or you're not going to win," Hextall said. "You look at Washington, they had a lot of really good players in the playoffs. Devante Smith-Pelly. Do they win without Devante Smith-Pelly? A couple guys get all the credit but look what this guy did. We are still the ultimate team sport, we really are."
The ultimate test will be the Flyers proving it themselves.
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