Hextall’s Plan Requires Patient Fans

Since the day Ron Hextall became General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, he has preached his philosophy of building the team from within by drafting and nurturing young talent. Hextall has kept that promise with a fruitful 2015 draft and a vow to not rush the Flyers growing stable of young prospects. This fan has been on board with Hextall’s plan from day one, and I believe that developing young talent is the only way for the Flyers to “right this ship” and become a Stanley Cup contender again. What I didn’t realize until this week was how difficult it would be for fans to be patient with the implementation of Hextall’s plan when face-to-face with that that young talent in action.

Let’s start with 18-year-old forward Travis Konecny. In his brief time in the Flyers camp this preseason, he was on fire, showing impressive speed and tenacity. I did not see him play in a preseason game, but I saw a clip of him speeding down the ice and making a big hit. His skating was so fast that for a minute I thought the clip was on fast forward. He impressed Flyers management, but was sent to his junior team earlier this week to gain more experience. When I heard the news my reaction was: I get it but I don’t like it. I knew he probably wouldn’t make the Flyers’ opening night roster, but I was hoping he would stick around camp for a while longer.

The second case in point, and perhaps the most difficult one for Flyers fan to swallow, is the case of 22-year-old defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. I saw him score a goal Saturday night in the Flyers’ preseason game against the Islanders, his third goal in three games. He had a lot of ice time, making it obvious that the Flyers’ brass were giving him every opportunity to prove himself, which it seemed he did. But then came the news that he had been sent to the AHL Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Based on the social media reaction, most fans seem to get it, but some are confused and disappointed about this decision.

Of course the real answer as to why Ghost (and perhaps several other highly-touted prospects) are no longer in the Flyers camp is not so much because of Hextall’s plan as it is because there is no place for them on the Flyers roster even if Hextall wanted them there. Unfortunately for Hextall, he inherited a handful of under-producing veterans with expensive, lengthy contacts that are going to take a while to get rid of (one way or another). Until then, the talented kids will gain experience in the juniors and minors while us fans wish we could fast forward to a few Octobers from now. But if we patiently wait, I believe that Hextall will prove that his plan worked, and today’s prospects will become tomorrow’s Cup-contending Flyers.



Tough Decisions

Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall has some tough decisions to make…soon.  His team seems dead in the water and is sinking fast in the Metropolitan Division standings. Though it is still early in the season, it is tough to see any signs that this team will look any different (i.e., better) anytime in the near future without some big changes.

Unfortunately, Hextall’s choices are very limited as a result of bad decisions by his predecessor involving bad trades and costly, long-term contracts with players fast approaching the down side of their careers.  As a result, Hextall has no cap space to sign new blood and little “trade bait” with which to obtain much needed help, especially on the blue line.  It has been rumored that Hexall has been talking to other GMs for months trying to make a deal to help his ailing team, but thus far nothing has materialized.

The reality is that to get value you have to give value.  And the most valuable Flyers players (Voracek, Giroux and Simmonds, in my opinion) are too valuable to be traded.  Why give up the best that you have for something similar or perhaps worse? And, I would imagine that Hextall is having trouble crafting viable trades involving just about everyone else.

Of course Hextall could offer up one or more of the promising young defensemen-in-waiting in juniors and the AHL, but I shudder at the thought.  Fortunately, Hextall has it made it clear that he values home-grown players and intends to develop them properly.  That is why highly touted blue liners Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin, Shane Gostisbehere and Travis Sanheim are not with the Flyers right now.  Heaven knows the team could use their help.  But that’s not Hextall’s way.  He is aware of the risk of ruining young players by rushing them to the NHL, and he has vowed that he will not do that under any circumstances.  But, wow, this team is in pretty dire circumstances.  Maybe it is time to give Hagg a shot?

When the Flyers blue line was decimated by injury in late October, Hextall called up Ghostisbiere for several games.  I was at his first NHL game and it was thrilling to see him play.  Even though he is not as bulky as he probably needs to be to play full-time in the NHL, he showed flashes of pure skill and great on-ice decision making that you don’t see every day.  But, to many fans’ dismay, Hextall decided that Ghost needed more time in the AHL.  Ironically enough, he suffered a torn ACL within a few weeks of returning to the Phantoms.   Though the surgery and related rehab is going well, he will not be back on the ice for several months.  On the other hand, Morin seems physically ready to play in the NHL, but probably needs more time with his junior team to mature his game.  He had an excellent training camp with the Flyers and hung around until the end of it, but ultimately was sent back to his junior team.  Early in the season he suffered a broken jaw that kept him off the ice for over a month.  He is playing again now but is technically untouchable by the Flyers until his junior season is over.

My opinion is that as soon as these promising young defensemen are ready to play in the NHL, the Flyers will undergo an immediate  major upgrade.  The problem is:  what does the team do in the meantime to stay afloat without sacrificing the future by giving up current prospects and future draft picks?  I’m glad I don’t have Hextall’s job because I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.  The man is facing tough decisions indeed.