Ron Hextall

Trade talks or contract talks? Right now, doesn't sound like Wayne Simmonds is going anywhere

Trade talks or contract talks? Right now, doesn't sound like Wayne Simmonds is going anywhere

Last year it was Brayden Schenn who was dealt on draft night. 

Could this year be Wayne Simmonds?

According to a report Tuesday by Michael Russo of The Athletic, the Flyers are gearing to potentially trade Simmonds. Russo’s report mentions the Flyers as one of 15 different teams the Minnesota Wild could possibly swing a deal with under new general manager Paul Fenton.

While the speculation comes as little surprise, general manager Ron Hextall said last week immediately following his pre-draft press conference that he expects to have preliminary discussions with Simmonds' agent regarding a contract extension.

“Yeah, we’ll talk at some point,” Hextall said. “We had pro meetings, the week before was four days of amateur meetings. Combine before that. It’s a real busy time. That gets pushed back to later.”

Hextall certainly didn’t make it sound as if he’s gearing up to deal Simmonds this weekend, and he typically doesn’t resort to smoke screens as a way of misleading reporters. 

The Flyers' power forward has been a regular in Voorhees, New Jersey, throughout his rehab following surgery to repair a tear in his pelvis area. Hextall feels Simmonds is already on track to be 100 percent for training camp and anticipates a monster season from the 29-year-old right winger as he not only enters the final year of his contract but is also out to prove that last season was a fluke.

“I’ll be honest with you, Simmer’s a fast-twitch muscle guy, I don’t have any concern with him,” Hextall said. “I saw him [Thursday] morning, he’s gonna work his way, he’s with [team director of sports medicine Jim McCrossin]. He’s got great guidance. ... I have the expectation for Simmer to come back and be as good as new.”

Last year, Hextall mentioned he had not anticipated trading Schenn until the deal with St. Louis was pieced together on draft night. Something similar could also happen with Simmonds, who has a limited no-trade clause in his current contract, which allows him to submit a no-trade list of 12 teams. 

All of which leaves you wondering whether a big deal goes down in Big D.

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What should the Flyers do with Simmonds?

• Simmonds played with more injuries than he can remember

• Hextall doesn't plan on trading up in draft, but ...

• How much will Flyers change? That's Hextall's challenge

Is skating hockey's most fixable flaw? Flyers aim to find out

Is skating hockey's most fixable flaw? Flyers aim to find out

If the Flyers had to redraft 2007 all over again, knowing what we all know now, then Stars captain Jamie Benn in all likelihood would have been the franchise’s second overall selection right after the Chicago Blackhawks snagged Patrick Kane.

Instead, the organization chose James van Riemsdyk, who at the time was considerably more polished and NHL-ready than Benn was at the age of 18. In fact, you have to scroll down another 127 picks after the selection of JVR into the fifth round to see that the Stars finally selected Benn.

How could a player that eventually won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer in 2015 become somewhat of an afterthought and nearly dismissed on draft day? 

Poor skating ability. 

Despite having the size of a power forward, Benn was a below-average skater and teams clearly shied away from drafting him. From that moment, Benn was determined that an inadequate skating technique wouldn’t deter him from playing in the NHL.

Want an even better example? 

With a smaller 5-foot-10 stature, but tremendously skilled with a high hockey IQ, Tampa Bay's Brayden Point slipped to the late third round. His skating was the one area that needed major improvement. Point worked strenuously over the summer with former Canadian world champion figure skater Barb Underhill. 

Now, the Lightning center is a 30-goal scorer, and perhaps most impressively, Point is lightning quick. He finished second to Oilers superstar Connor McDavid in the league’s fastest skater competition during All-Star weekend’s skills competition.     

The Flyers have a similar player in their system that checks a lot of Ron Hextall’s boxes except for the one next to skating ability. It’s the single biggest reason Matthew Strome fell to the Flyers in the fourth round (106th overall) in last year’s draft after watching his older brothers go top five (Ryan — fifth overall in 2011, Dylan — third overall in 2015).     

“Matthew Strome is a pretty good example,” Hextall said last week. “With Matthew, skating is his weakness. He’s got one flaw, everything else is pretty good. So, you look at Matthew and if he can just improve it — he’s never probably going to be a great skater, but if we can just ramp him up two levels, he’s got a real good chance at playing in the National Hockey League.”

Playmaking ability or possessing a high hockey IQ are traits that require years of development, whereas poor skating is a mechanical flaw that demands rewiring the brain and breaking old habits similar to how a golf coach makes adjustments to a player’s swing.

“I can spend an hour with some players and they can get the stride right off. In one hour, some guys get way better,” said Slava Kouznetsov, who has served as the Flyers' skating coach since 2006. “Some guys spend weeks of training to get the same stuff done. It’s learning a new language. Some guys pick it up right away with the way the brain is wired, and some guys will never be able to speak the language. Some guys will take years to pick it up.”

Kouznetsov was able to fine-tune Steve Downie’s skating technique that was considered choppy with a short stride, which left him unable to have the required stamina to stay out during an entire shift. Downie was a late 2005 first-round pick who had other issues that plagued his nine-year NHL career, but without improving his skating stride, Downie would have never made it on to an NHL roster. 

The deeper you go into the NHL draft’s middle to late rounds, the more unlikely it becomes that those players will make the jump to the NHL. The success rate is somewhere in the single digits. There are simply too many holes in a player’s game that organizations can’t plug. Yet, the key is finding a skill that’s considered NHL quality and then hoping those problem areas are correctable.

More and more teams around the league believe skating is the one fixable flaw contingent on one significant variable.     

“First you have to teach the brain new ways, then you have to reteach your body to adapt to the new way,” Kouznetsov said. “Most important thing is you have to be willing to do that. That’s the biggest. You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make the horse drink.”

Which may be Hextall’s biggest challenge on Day 2 of the draft. Knowing and sensing which prospects will work tirelessly to fix those flaws, and which players are inevitably too set in their ways to overcome them.

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How much will Flyers change? Another summer is here for Ron Hextall

How much will Flyers change? Another summer is here for Ron Hextall

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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