Ron Hextall can’t predict the future.
There is no crystal ball on the desk of his office outlining the Flyers' offseason path. Free agency is two months away while trade talk is frivolous with the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs still in session.
But he does know his team is no longer playing.
And he has a reason why.
"We need some upgrade up front,” the Flyers’ general manager said last week. “We need some goal scoring, playmaking — [that] would be our number one need."
That realization likely became much clearer in the postseason, when the Flyers lost their first-round series to the Capitals in six games.
Part of the problem was Washington and its top-five defense and penalty kill.
Don’t think Hextall will rest on that when writing his offseason to-do list.
"The best team doesn't always win a series,” he said. “If you look at the series, you look at the special teams, and a few things that could have happened there, we could have won that series. Were we the better team? I think you can certainly argue that Washington was the best team in the league, but you can still beat the best team in the league. It's happened in sports over and over."
The Flyers scored a playoff-worst six goals — one of which was an empty-netter. During the regular season, they ranked 22nd in the NHL with 2.57 goals per game. The previous season, they were slightly better at 2.59 and didn’t make the playoffs.
Each season from 2007-08 to 2013-14, the Flyers were a top-10 goal-scoring club. The past two seasons, they slipped to the bottom 10.
“We need to get better,” Hextall said. “We made the playoffs and lost in the first round. We're not going to sit around all summer here and rest on making the playoffs and losing to Washington in six games. So yeah, we need to get better. That's my job.”
While Hextall understands the Flyers are not a finished product, he expects more from the current group.
“It's also every player’s job to find ways to make himself better this year and to contribute to the team and make us a better team,” he said. “It's also the coaches’ responsibility, too, to look at what we did right and what we did wrong. It's certainly my responsibility to do what I can to make our team to make it better."
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol put things in a “broad sense.” But really, he described the difference between an elite team and one on the fringe of the playoffs.
“I felt like the difference in the series at the end of the day was our opponent made more plays than we did,” Hakstol said. “Both teams played extremely hard, both teams played a physical series and a very competitive series, both teams defended hard. They made more plays than we did. We have to address that as a group and it’s something we have to build in and do a better job of beginning on Day 1 of training camp next year.”
Like Hextall said, it comes down to playmaking.
The Flyers’ front line has talent, but can it be better? It was just barely enough to make the playoffs and not nearly enough to succeed in them.
Claude Giroux finished the 2016 postseason with just one point and lots of frustration.
He won’t forget it.
“When you have a tough time, it’s important to not just brush it off, it’s important to look at it and kind of study what you did and how can you get better,” Giroux said last week. “You just learn from it. We fought really hard in the series to come back in Game 6. We need to learn that’s how we’ve got to play. Obviously the situation that we’re in right now, it’s a little tough. We’d love to be still playing but we just need to learn from this.”
Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek combined for one goal.
“I don’t think we’re that far,” Simmonds said. “I think we’ve got a great core, a great group of guys, everyone likes each other — we’re pretty tightknit. I think this year, we built and we got better and better through the year.”
Some added ammunition at the top could be the difference.
How will Hextall acquire it? He goes back to his organizational philosophy.
Hextall will look to improve but won’t stray from the plan.
"We'll try everything,” he said. “First of all, the first thing we have to look at is where we can get better from within. Whether people improve in fitness levels, players on the way up, those are ways we can get better. Then we'll certainly look at the free-agent market and if something makes sense, we'll look at the trade market and if something makes sense, we'll do it.
“But I can't seem to find right now what's going to come about because I truly don't know who's available July 1."
He did have a message, a challenge of sorts, for the team already intact.
"You know what, I think it should be open competition every year,” Hextall said.
“Obviously you have your top players, but there should be competition at the goalie position, on D and up front. I think it will be a very competitive camp next year. I don't know exactly who we'll have in place, but obviously a lot of the guys that are here now will be back.
“So I think it will be a very competitive camp and guys need to be ready for it."